Esports follow the same pattern of several more traditional sports in how they develop; this leads to computer games as a form of competition being increasingly legitimised, says a Malmö University researcher.

Sportification is a model for analysing how sports develop; it has been used since the 70s when an American sports researcher developed criteria for an analysis. Sports tend to develop according to a patterns and one can recognise these from widely different phenomena. Daniel Svensson, an associate professor in sports science, has looked at the sportification of esports in Sweden and compared it to cross-country skiing.

It is a tangible step in development, that esports become so popular that it becomes legitimate to research.

Daniel Svensson

“With the model, it is possible to see what has happened in sports and, to some extent, understand what will happen with new sports. Esports have come a long way, given that it is a relatively new phenomenon. Our forecast is that the development will continue, and that esports will grow further in the coming years – I wouldn't be surprised if they make it into the Olympics in some form,” he says.

One of the key criteria in sportification is to establish a federation, this gives credibility and, above all, the ability to enter the National Sports Confederation. This is something esports has achieved.

“Another step is to obtain a scientific basis for the training. We are starting to see research on how to work with optimising performance in esports. It is a tangible step in development, that esports become so popular that it becomes legitimate to research, as it was with “regular sports” in the 40s and 50s. It also shows that they have come a long way in the sportification journey,” says Svensson.

When compared to cross-country skiing , the process of development for esports is fast, but Svensson points to challenges: is it really a sport, a physical activity? Many are sceptical about esports but in this respect, sportification can help legitimise its image.

“However, I do not think that esports will be like cross-country skiing where there is a connection to a location; certain environments and landscapes have become important. In esports, there is less focus on tradition, and which games have the most prestige to compete in changes regularly.”

Unlike cross-country skiing, esports face an unsolved problem. Swedish sport is built around a basic idea that it should get children and young people moving. “You can argue that esports do not promote public health at all. Others say it's just another format where skills other than strength and conditioning are needed.”

Additional information

Esports and Sportification: A View From Sweden is included in the anthology Critical Perspectives on Esports and has been written by Daniel Svensson together with Daniel Pargman, associate professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.