Digital technology has deeply impacted the ways in which youth play and consume sport in their leisure time, and eSports is perhaps the most prominent example of this. There are many definitions of eSports, but one that we find fruitful is that of Hamari & Sjöblom (2017, p.213), who describe eSport as ‘a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces.’ They go on to categorize eSports through five main game genres: (1) sports video games (e.g., FIFA), (2) multiplayer online battle arenas, or MOBA, (e.g., League of Legends), (3) first-person shooters (e.g., Fortnite), (4) real time strategy (e.g., StarCraft II), and (5) collectable card games (e.g., Hearthstone).
In Norway, 96% of boys and 63% of girls (aged 9-18) play videogames on a weekly basis (Children and the Media Survey, 2018), which is almost twice the proportion of youth (in this age span) regularly involved in club-organized sports (Bakken, 2019). eSports are already formally recognized as sport in many countries around the world, but this is not yet the case in Norway. The Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (NIF) has remained somewhat skeptical of eSports, despite their increased popularity amongst Norwegian youth over the last 4 years. The resistance to including eSports in the NIF and a surge in unofficial youth eSports teams, competitions and activities, are the starting points for our exploration of the development of eSports in Norway in our paper “Youth Sport 2.0? The Development of eSports in Norway From 2016 to 2019” published in Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health. We chose to begin with 2016 because this appears to be the year the first Norwegian high schools introduced specialized eSports courses as part of their elite sport programs.
The aim of our study was to explore the development and expansion of eSports in Norway from 2016 to 2019. We did this through a qualitative content analysis of 102 media texts. Our study aimed to shed light on three research questions:
- Which key incidents have shaped the development of eSports in Norway?
- Why do local sports clubs incorporate eSports in their repertoires when the NIF does not recognize eSports as sport?
- Which genres of eSport games are the most professionalized in Norway?
Our findings show a tendency for eSports to become increasingly integrated into the Norwegian sporting field. This integration happens in three main ways: (1) with the inclusion of eSports in high school elite sport programs, (2) with an increasing number of voluntary sport clubs establishing eSports teams for youth, and (3) through the initiation of a professional, national eFIFA league organized by the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) – eSerien.
Through our analysis we also find that sports video games (SVGs) have reached the strongest integration in voluntary sports clubs. Our material shows that the majority of sports clubs that have begun to include eSports in their youth activities are football clubs interested in the game FIFA (eFootball). Contrasting this, eSports in high school sport programs appear to be dominated by two different game genres: MOBAs and first-person shooters. To sum up, SVGs appear to be most integrated in voluntary sports clubs, while other game genres are prevalent in high school eSport programs.
In the media texts we have analyzed, representatives from sports clubs argue that their reasons for including eSports (SVGs) are threefold. Firstly, they claim that eSports have the potential to attract new groups of youths who are not interested in traditional sports. Secondly, it is argued that eSports organized through voluntary sports clubs could contribute to increased social belonging and other mental health benefits for youth. Thirdly, that eSports could enable increased inclusion of youth with physical disabilities in some voluntary sports clubs.
Hence, the findings reveal a tendency towards eSports gradually being integrated in Norwegian voluntary sports clubs as well as high school sport programs, and consequently a shifting trend towards acceptance of eSports as part of the Norwegian sports model. This is particularly evident through the introduction of eSports in the school system and the NFF’s eSerien. While FIFA dominates the sports clubs, the four other main game genres are the most common in the schools’ eSports programs.
Our paper is a small contribution to a novel research field on empirical studies of eSports in Norway. Future research on eSports in Norway should aim to collect empirical data on players and coaches in eSports organized in both voluntary sports clubs and through high school sport programs.