Clinton van der Berg.
Is darts a sport? How about ballroom dancing? Or blind wine tasting?

All of these must be fair game now that breakdancing is poised to join the Olympic family in 2024.

Yes, that ode to weird dance moves made famous by MC Hammer in his big pants and mimicked the world over. That was the 1980s, mind, when bad hair and strange dance moves ruled. To hear it is back in fashion, so to speak, is to worry for our children. What did they do to deserve this?

Sport as we know it is dead.

Indeed, in France, light sabre duelling has just been recognised as an official sport, surely delighting Star Wars fans everywhere.

But that’s not all. Nominated for observer status at the next Olympics are a range of exotic pursuits that include dodgeball, footgolf, kettlebell lifting, match poker, pole sports, foosball, rope-jumping and land sailing. Surfing, climbing and skateboarding are also poised to join the Olympic party in five years’ time.

It’s a nod to the inevitable evolution of the sporting landscape, and a reality the International Olympic Committee must embrace to remain relevant. These are the sports of a new world, and a new audience.

This message was driven home at a gaming and esport careers day I attended in Joburg last weekend. A slew of smart people, not all of them geeks, espoused the power and popularity of gaming and esport.

I was staggered to learn that the international gaming industry is worth $138-billion annually, putting movies and music in the shade. Even in SA, the video games market is bigger than music.

Esport, or electronic sport, is the playing of sport in a digital realm. You might do so while sitting in your socks and underpants in your parents’ basement, but competition is at the heart of every contest.

In overseas markets like the US and Europe, tens of thousands of fans rock up and pay their money to watch digital super heroes ace one another playing computer games. Championships abound and professional leagues exist in the major markets. Top players with monikers like “Moon”, “Fatal1ty” and “GeT RiGhT” pick up cash playing all over the world.

One of them, Germany’s Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi, has career earnings of $4,16-million. He’s 26 years old.

South Africa is still small-time - total winnings last year were R2,6-million, but a pair of gamers, one of them just 16 years old, pocketed R400 000 at a single tournament.

If you’re struggling with the idea that this is sport at all, consider that Orlando Pirates owns an esport team. And so do many international franchises, like Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and the Philadelphia 76ers whose teams duel it out in Counter Strike Global Offensive, League of Legends and, of course, FIFA.

Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja, even cracked the cover of ESPN magazine, an endorsement like no other.

The Olympics now beckon, although the suits in Zurich are concerned about the violence of some games. Heads being blown off and bloodied limbs are not a good look. The esport world has work to do. But it’s a growing phenomenon that won’t be stopped.

Good luck to them. I’m old school. I prefer the big game down at the local stadium where real people, guys like Scott Robertson and Trevor Nyakane, bust out the breakdance moves. And then head to the beach for a surf.


Sunday Tribune

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