If you think about what constitutes a sport, the contest that took place recently at Robert Morris University checked many of the boxes.

Did the competitors put in many hours of practice? Yes. Did they possess physical and mental gifts? Affirmative. Was teamwork a crucial ingredient for success? Absolutely.

The only thing missing, really, was perspiration–it’s hard to break a sweat when you’re sitting in a climate-controlled room, moving little more than your fingers.

This was the second annual High School Esports Invitational, a video game competition that serves as an unofficial regional championship for many Chicago-area schools. Sixteen teams flocked to the computer-packed gaming arena at Robert Morris’ downtown Chicago campus to sort out who was best at the online fantasy game “League of Legends.”

But for some, the event offered more than the chance to win a trophy and a $1,200 first-place prize: It was another step toward making video gaming a mainstream sport on par with baseball, football or auto racing.

“NASCAR’s a sport, right?” said Tony Pape, who coaches the esports team at Burbank’s Reavis High School. “They’re sitting in a chair, they’re using controls, same as these kids here. [Gaming] is not as physically demanding but it’s mentally demanding. It demands a lot of teamwork, coordination and practice. I consider it a sport, absolutely.”

(Next page: The Illinois High School Association takes notice)


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