All of this made me wonder, why are gamers so insistent that video games be considered sports? Given the discriminatory nature of both sports and gamer cultures, comparing eSports to traditional sports only encourages the negative behavior in both, reinforcing sports culture as something to aspire to and emboldening gamers to emulate discriminatory practices that exist in traditional sports.
On the other hand, gaming is often viewed as childish, a waste of time, and unlikely to require any real practical skill. Of course, most gamers know that this is untrue. Modern video games are as likely to be childish as any other form of media, but unlike television or comic books, they have social elements which require interaction and teamwork, and improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, and strategizing skills.
Gamers want to make a favorable comparison between sports and video games because if video games are like sports and sports are worthwhile, it would follow that video games are also worthwhile. This all makes sense, but ultimately it encourages a lot of problematic behavior in competitive gaming, and in the gaming community at large. Sports are gender-segregated (whether by policy or just in practice), and women’s leagues are overwhelmingly less popular and respected. The woman who do appear in men’s leagues are reduced to sexualized props whose athleticism and talent is devalued compared to their male counterparts. NFL cheerleaders make, on average, only $70-150 per game, and often aren’t paid for the additional appearances they make to promote the team (including fundraisers where they are auctioned off to fans). The very least an NFL player can make in a season is $375,000, with the highest paid players making over $20 million per year.
Even female athletes doing the exact same work as their male counterparts don’t make the same amount of money or garner the same respect. Players in the WNBA average $72,000 per year, compared to the NBA average of $5.15 million annually.
Sexism isn't the only form of discrimination common in sports culture. There is only one openly gay player in the NFL, and one former NFL player claims he was fired for speaking out in favor of gay rights. Of course, American football is not the only sport with a history of homophobia: there is only one openly gay NBA player, and no openly gay MLB players. Attitudes among professional MLB teams are, at best, still mixed at the prospect of an openly gay player.
It is already difficult for women and queer people to find acceptance and respect in the gaming community. When gamers try to make competitive gaming more like sports, they encourage gaming to continue in its already discriminatory traditions. When you look at the facts (as many as 48% of video game players are female, while only 15% of characters are female; Xbox Live banned the use of the word ‘lesbian’ to avoid player harassment), the gaming community needs exactly the opposite. Gaming needs to establish itself as a unique and worthwhile pastime that is inclusive to everyone, not one which encourages association with an industry that already has its own issues with sexism and homophobia.
To bring it back to competitive gaming, eSports are unique in part because there is no need for gender-based segregation. The skills required to play League of Legends or Hearthstone are mostly mental, and what physical requirements that do exist are not gender-specific. Instead of making themselves another unremarkable, and highly disappointing example of discrimination, eSports have the opportunity to distinguish themselves as an equal-opportunity competition in which the best player or team wins, regardless of personal identity.