Are E-sports “Legitimate”?

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor


It depends on who you ask and how you define words like “legitimate,” but at least one person thinks so – though he's got an obvious stake in the discussion.

In speaking to, Twitch COO Kevin Lin said that “Anyone who's still concerned with legitimacy [of e-sports] needs to move on, because it's here. And it's here to stay.” Those are pretty strong words that leave no room for debate. So naturally, we'll debate them.

Here's a funny thing that happened as I was writing this. I decided to look up “legitimate” on to see if I could come up with a suitable definition as a starting point. On the side of the page, it gives the word value for “legitimate” in both Scrabble and Words With Friends.

Now, Scrabble is an old game, very much in the mainstream and very well-known worldwide. Words With Friends is a more recent phenomenon, not as venerable as Scrabble, but probably seen by most as “legitimate.” Is that the same correlation between e-sports (in the role of Words With Friends) and physical sports (in the role of Scrabble)?

I think people sometimes meld the notion of “legitimate” with “mainstream.” In my mind, the first means something akin to “accepted by a large enough number of people to be self-sustaining” while the second means “accepted by a wide variety of different people.” The difference is that the first definition can exist within a niche, such as gamers, music lovers, movie buffs, etc. – just so long as it's a suitably large number of people. The second requires the people to be spread out over all walks of life – interests, race, gender, etc., though that can vary greatly depending on the region being discussed. Some things that are mainstream in America might not be so in Great Britain, and vice versa.

For example, coin collecting has been around a long time and is a full-time hobby for many dedicated numismatists. In that sense, it's legitimate. But it's not something you think of as anything the general public knows much about, so it's not mainstream. Words With Friends, I think, falls into the “mainstream” category because it's both grown quite large and isn't just something understood by a limited category of people.

So where does that leave e-sports? I'd put them in the “legitimate but not mainstream” category. This is different from many major physical sports, such as football or baseball, where virtually everyone (in America and other countries where they're popular) knows at least the basic rules. I'd place lesser-known sports, such as jai alai or water polo, in the same category as e-sports as legitimate, but not mainstream, at least in America. (One of my favorites, curling, seems to go mainstream during and just after the Winter Olympics before sliding back into obscurity for another four years.)

E-sports are definitely a self-sustaining enterprise that will probably be around for a good long while, but they're clearly not in the mainstream just yet, as Lin himself readily admits. Some of the other things he mentions in the interview, such as generating “star power,” becoming large enough to attract more advertisers, and reducing cheating would be steps in the right direction. “There's a lot of work to be done there by the whole industry to help that,” he says, and he's probably right.

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

More Stories by Jason Winter

Discussion (12)

Kilroywashere 9 years ago
See, just like any sport, its boring to watch but fun to play. Whats really sad is when people defend professional gaming to the extreme. "you need just as much physical exercise playing this video game than you do on the field." That was the funniest thing i've ever heard, Because a lazy obese man can beat you no matter how much exercise you get but when i get on the field the fat men don't have as much superiority.

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Bic Boi 9 years ago


YOHO MOHO 9 years ago
here we go boys and gals jason winter beating a deadhorse..... AGAIN!

some random scottish guy 9 years ago
What is mainstream ? Dont answer I know exactly what it is.

If mainstream is just apearing on TV then how could you expect it to be mainstream when the only reason these "legitimate" sports get on TV or cable is because they have HUGE CONTRACTS. Just like any other TV show they have contracts for decades to come.

If Mainstream is TV, and you old farts want to keep it all "fossilized" with your so called "legitimate" sports then that suits me just fine...... The MTV generation has the internet we dont need the mainstream.

How is it that sports like Darts or snooker can be taken seriously as a mainstream sport but at the same time when other people engage in a sport that is not to physically demanding it gets hate and said not to be a sport. Double standards the whole world is full of people with them.

I think there is a deeper reason as to why some people might not like the idea of gaming becoming a sport. It probably has someting to do with these companys taking over the events just to advertise for there own personal gain.
But if you look at all sport in its current form, can you tell me one sport where the money has not infected the players minds and hearts, sportmanship died a long time ago just like chivalry now they all just want the money, money money..... paid millions for kicking a piece of pig skin about...... keep the f*cking mainstream..... LONG LIVE GAMING.

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Xelasda 9 years ago
Any single e-sport game will never become mainstream ever. Unless you are a player yourself they are very boring to watch. The tournaments they hold is mostly just advertisement so they get new constant player-base flowing in and keep old players interested. In the end its just another business model for some cold hard cash.

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