The 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia between August and September that year broke new ground by introducing 6 new esports events.

The competitive video games— League of Legends, StarCraft II, Pro Evolution Soccer, Hearthstone, Clash Royale, and Arena of Valor—were included as demonstration events and Tirth Mehta from Gujarat, India even won a bronze medal in Hearthstone.

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Gujarat-based player Tirth Mehta won a bronze medal in Hearthstone at the 2018 Asian Games

However, the nation still doesn’t have an officially-recognized organization for esports, nor does it plan for a national qualifier to select players to participate in international tournaments. The reluctance to acknowledge competitive gaming comes from a basic debate: Are esports real sports?

Real athletes

Although cyber athletes are not treated on the same levels as physical sports practitioners, the games they play are no less demanding. A report published by the German Sport University (Cologne) last September claims that esports players often carry out as many as 400 actions on the keyboard and mouse a minute, which is 4 times higher than the average person.

These people are required to move both of their hands asymmetrically at the same time, and the degree of stress this causes in their brains is not witnessed in any other form of sports, the report states. It further states that the amount of cortisol (a type of hormone associated with stress) produced by the body of an esports athlete is on par with an F1 racer. The pulse can reach up to 160-180 beats/minute, which is the same as a marathon runner.

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Pro gamers are subjected to as much stress as physical sports athletes

Furthermore, in many games such as League of Legends or CS:GO, teamwork and communication play as crucial of a part as in traditional sports. In these team-based games, each player has a different role and needs to read the situation and makes split-second decisions, being under immense pressure all the while.

Professional esports athletes might practice for more than 70 hours a week and are required to have a healthy diet and perform regular physical exercises just like any traditional sportsperson.

The list of similarities goes on.

Big business

The past few years have seen many esports tournaments becoming major spectator events. It is estimated that the global viewership of esports is currently sitting at 400 million. The video streaming website Twitch is among the most popular platforms that people visit to watch esports events.

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Esports has become massively popular in the past few years

Thanks to the lucrative revenue obtained through mass broadcasting, gaming tournaments are now getting prize pools rivaling that of even the most popular physical sports, including football or tennis. For example, the total prize pool of the DOTA 2 International Championship, which wrapped up last September, was above $34 million (Rs 242 crore).

India resists

Still, India appears to still be resistant to this new trend. This needs to change, though, especially given the fact that the International Olympic Committee is considering including esports at the Olympics 2024 – which is to be held in Paris.

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Esports players should be officially recognized as athletes

A huge percentage of traditional sports athletes in India, women in particular, who originate from smaller towns don’t have access to the necessary infrastructures. For these people, esports could be great leverage as it simply requires only a PC or a smartphone. India is currently the nation with the second-highest mobile gamer count in the world (264 million), behind only China.

Official recognition is essential in order to tap into this potential. The sports quotas issued by the Indian government (a kind of affirmative action for professional sports players in university admissions or government jobs) must be extended to video gamers. Only then can esports athletes can focus on their training without the fear of ending up without a degree or a job.

Formally acknowledging competitive gaming as sports will also make regulating it easier. Like any other form of competition, esports are vulnerable to issue such as doping usage, betting, match-fixing, etc. If the Indian government plays its cards right, the country might very realistically produce more Olympians in the years to come.