Gaming vs. Esports: What’s the Difference?

A gamer wearing a headset celebrating

As esports has grown in popularity and the industry has grown its profits, the line between true esports and casual gaming has blurred, but differences still exist.

When competitive gaming began, there was a small, well-defined group of esports athletes. A majority of people were just simply gamers. Now, anyone can launch a YouTube or Twitch channel, compete in video games, and earn money from it.

What is Gaming?

This is the easy part. Any time a person plays a video game, they’re gaming. That includes everything from the $25 million Dota 2 Championships to your grandparents playing Candy Crush on their phones. Gaming can be competitive, but it isn’t inherently, and it can be single player or multiplayer.

Something helpful to remember is that every time someone is competing in esports they’re also gaming. If someone is gaming they’re not necessarily an esports athlete.

What is Esports?

Esports is defined by competition. As with real sports, electronic sports pit teams or individuals against one another. This can be direct and head-to-head, like when League of Legends teams square off, or indirect, such as when speedrunners compete with one another for the best times but never actually interact within a game.

Is Ninja an Athlete or a Gamer?

The emergence of streaming, in particular, has created a lot of confusion between esports and gaming, so let’s look at the example of a popular streamer to put the question into context.

Ninja, whose real name is Tyler Blevins, has racked up more than 14 million followers on Twitch and was on the cover of ESPN Magazine in 2018.

Blevins began his career in video games more than a decade ago as a professional Halo player. By 2017, he had won more than $100,000 in his career competing in tournaments including a $20,000 first place prize from the 2017 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Invitational.

The next year, however, Ninja blew up on Twitch and YouTube as clips of his Fortnite streams went viral. While he still competes in tournaments occasionally, Blevins streams full time and makes around $500,000 each month doing it. Despite his success, Ninja is technically no longer an esports athlete. 

When Ninja streams Fortnite he’s still competing against every other player in the game, but his broadcasts are primarily about entertainment. People watch Blevins’ streams because of how good he is. Part of the fun is that it looks like he’s hardly ever challenged anyway. He may still be one of the best gamers in the world, but for the most part, he is no longer an esports athlete.

Is Esports a Sport?

Now that we’ve separated esports from gaming, we can ask the big question. Should it really be considered a sport, and should those who compete be considered athletes? Most people would be inclined to say no, but there are more similarities between professional gamers and professional athletes than you’d expect.

For starters, more than a hundred colleges have introduced varsity esports programs and award scholarships to the best gaming recruits, the way they would for football or basketball.

See Also: 7 Colleges With Varsity Esports Programs.

Moreover, many critics assume that esports will never gain the popularity of the established major sports. That’s already been proven wrong. The League of Legends World Finals in 2018 was played in Incheon Munhak Stadium in South Korea, which seats nearly 50,000 people, and it was filled to capacity. In total, approximately 100 million people watched the World Finals. About the same amount watched Super Bowl LIII.

Esports is just as popular as other sports – and it’s just as intense. The Sport Journal, a peer-reviewed journal published by the United States Sports Academy, featured an article that outlined the case for esports to be considered a sport. Notably, the article stated; “During video game competitions and training, many eSports athletes exhibited signs that could be considered physical exertion to keep up with the routine of being a professional video gamer.”

Gearing up for esports competitions is hard work, not unlike how professional athletes practice before games. It may not seem rigorous to “practice” video games, but that further highlights the difference between professional and casual gamers.

The Final Word on Gaming vs. Esports

When most people play games, they might get a little competitive but mostly have fun. Think when you play a pick-up basketball game with friends.

When esports athletes play, they’re training to compete with the best of the best. It’s more like like an NBA player warming up before a game. If you want to make big money at video games, you’ll have to train like an esports athlete.