Wait, you want a more detailed answer than that? The one word response isn’t enough? Fine (fake exasperated sigh of frustration). Let’s do a deep dive into the question of whether or not board games should be considered a sport and why, as much as I love my boardgames, I feel the answer to this question is no.
Look, I absolutely love boardgames. There are few better ways to spend a weekend than with a group of gamer friends going through all your favorite board games, one after another, and just enjoying the heck out of a weekend of socializing and gaming.
But I’d never say “I played sports this weekend” after sitting around a table, ordering Uber Eats, and playing boardgames with friends.
Are Boardgames a Sport: Where Did This Question Come from?
This is actually the first question that pops into my head. Recreation? Sure. Entertainment? Absolutely! But sport? Really? I just don’t see that as an accurate description when it comes to playing chess, Stone Age, or Lords of Waterdeep, no matter how intensive the competitive juices can get when playing those games.
So fine, a moment to be that guy. Because sometimes, as much as we hate to admit it, that guy has a point.
Here’s a definition from the Oxford Dictionary
An activity involving physical exertion and skill where a team or individual compete against one another for entertainment.Definition of sport via Oxford English Dictionary.
Then again the definition from Merriam Webster somehow doesn’t include that important detail of “athletic” in their definition, they call it a recreational activity, which boardgames would definitely fall under. So…which dictionary do you prefer? (Though in fairness, another definition of sport in the MW definition has that “athletic” descriptor in it).
To me, sports requires some type of physical exertion. Anything from PE class. Volleyball, baseball, softball, football, soccer – it’s obvious in all of these activities. Even golf you have walking and the physical exertion of force using golf clubs. Driving a race car (this was an argument I had with a roommate freshman year of college – in retrospect his argument was better than mine) is physically strenuous in a way that few people who aren’t fans of the sport can imagine.
Even the most mentally intense board game is not going to offer that sort of experience.
Physical exertion or skill of some type has long been viewed as necessary to call something a sport. While there are activities that can be both a sport and a hobby that falls under recreation, not all hobbies or recreational activities are considered sports. I strongly believe this is the category that board games fall into.
Why Should Physical Exertion Matter?
I’ve actually heard this question from a friend who isn’t so much an advocate for board games being a sport, but is more of a contrarian. However, this is a good question because it really is the crux of this matter.
Are board games a sport?
The physical exertion part of the definition of a sport is crucial for deciding whether or not board games apply or not.
Here’s the problem: sports have been around for not decades, not centuries, but thousands of years. And it’s always been accepted that part of the competition had some form of physical prowess.
So you don’t get to change a definition of a word after literally millenniums “just because.”
Board games are absolutely 100% recreational. But other than maybe as part of a shopping category on a website, they are definitely not sports.
Wait Aren’t Esports a Thing?
I don’t think anyone realistically sees playing sports video games as being an actual sport. The reason it’s called Esports is catchy marketing. While it sells tickets to events and creates large cash prizes, that doesn’t make a non-sport a sport.
So while e-sports might be reported like a sports competition, that doesn’t make it a sport.
Plenty of non-sporting events have tournaments, competitions, and rankings. These are cool. For some people they are very entertaining (it depends on the specific thing for me, personally) and kudos to those who hone their skills to the point of being among the best in the world. But that doesn’t make it a sport.
Esports is great marketing. But playing the newest Madden football video game is not the same as playing football outside with other people. This is NOT evidence that gaming is a sport.
Recreation Vs. Recreation
I wonder if the boardgames as a sports question comes because of that versatile (too versatile?) word of “Recreation.”
If you look at places like Amazon, among others, “Outdoors & Recreation” are often grouped together. So are “Games and Recreations.” Or “Games and Recreational Activities.” This creates some gray zone about what exactly all recreation encompasses.
This is probably where any confusion comes from but at the end of the day the answer to this question is clear. Boardgames might be competitive, they might be challenging, and some even have world rankings that are studied extensively and have an incredible amount of competition (Hello grandmasters in chess!) but they are not sports.
At the end of the day you just can’t convince me that a game of Monopoly, Yahtzee, or playing Gin Rummy with great grandma (love you) should be considered a sport. Look, I get the World Series of Poker is on ESPN. That doesn’t make it a sport. That just makes it a skilled recreational activity that are good for ratings.
So are board games a sport? No. They’re not. Board games are recreation, not a sport.
And no amount of marketing or semantics is going to change that.
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.