The idea of esports at the Olympics might seem ridiculous to purists but it’s not as crazy as it might sound. The Olympic Games has constantly been evolving throughout its more than 100-plus year history.
The line-up of sports included in the Olympics has changed with the times.
As they look to widen the Olympic audience and strengthen the attractiveness to young people, the Olympic Committee has added new sports to the programme. Tokyo 2020 (now 2021) has added five new sports: baseball/softball, karate, climbing, skateboarding and surfing.
As the Olympics continues to be diversified, we wonder if esports could one day be included?
Does This Mean Halo at the Olympics?
Afraid not. If esports are to make it into the Olympics, then those video games based on sport are most likely to feature. At its summit in December 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) concluded “With regard to electronic games simulating sports, the Summit sees great potential for cooperation and incorporating them into the sports movement. Many sports simulations are becoming more and more physical thanks to Virtual and Augmented Reality which replicate the traditional sports.”
There will also be an obvious crossover between fans of ‘real’ sport and esports which will make them easier to incorporate into the games. Fans of football may be interested in esports football, for example.
When discussing other types of games the IOC said “the sports movement should focus on players and gamers rather than on specific games. This focus on individuals should promote the participation in sport and its benefits as well as healthy lifestyle at all levels, including a health management model for elite esports competitors including both physical and mental health.”
The Olympic values are never likely to coincide with promoting shoot ‘em ups and violence so it’s hard to see how those types of games will ever feature.
Esports Aren’t Real Sports
Think Olympic sports and you think speed, endurance, agility and skill. You think athletes at the peak of their physical powers. Not necessarily attributes you’d associate with esports players.
Well, you might be wrong.
Elite sport is all about marginal gains. Athlete’s look for anything they can do to give them an edge over their rivals. Esports players are no different. As esports grow in status, and the prize money does, participants increasingly look for that edge too. Tournament days are long, with hours of gaming, and improved physical fitness will help with players wellbeing, their stamina and concentration. The challenge for the IOC will be getting this message across, to get the public to change their perception of esports and also encouraging the esports players to talk about fitness and its performance benefits for them.
It’s also worth pointing out that not all Olympic sports are created equal. The physical demands and skills required vary wildly. Speaking on an IOC panel in 2018, esports player Jacob Lyon pointed out that playing a video game is not too far off the established Olympic sport of shooting, which is also quite sedentary and all about precision and hand-eye coordination.
Current Esports Events
There are already a whole lot of organised esports events. In 2020, the global audience of esports will be 495m viewers, so it’s easy to see that the appeal is there.
As we said above, you’re not going to see Call Of Duty or similar at an Olympic Games. So if esports do make it, it will be those based on sport. So what’s happening already as part of this movement?
Here are a few examples:
During the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic nearly all global sport was suspended. This left a gaping hole in the year for sports organisations and athletes. One of the more creative ways to fill the void was provided by the Mutua Open, a tennis event held annually in Madrid. In place of the real thing, the tournament ran a virtual tennis competition with leading players playing as themselves. The event was streamed on Facebook and got big-name entries, Andy Murray won the men’s event and Kiki Bertens the women’s. The official website says the stream reached over 75m people and had over 15m users, demonstrating there is an audience for virtual sports. But it does come with a caveat. The participants were well known real-world athletes and there was little other sports competition at the time.
Would the general sports-loving public watch players they didn’t know in such an event?
It would be up to the various governing bodies to build the profile of their esports stars and tell their stories. No different to how fans get excited every 4 years for an Olympic canoeist or fencer they’d never previously heard of.
The FIFA eWorldCup is an annual event with players facing off on the latest version of the FIFA game. It’s been held since 2004 and $250,000 was on offer for the winner in 2019. The event is covered on the FIFA website alongside regular football coverage and is a good example of a governing body being proactive at bringing esports into the fold.
A significant development ahead of the 2020 Olympics was the partnership with the Intel World Open. The IOC supported event would have featured Street Fighter V and Rocket League with the finals taking place in Tokyo just before the start of the Olympics, ensuring the event would have been a significant showcase for esports. Unfortunately, like the main games, the event has been cancelled for now due to the Covid-19 pandemic but hopefully it will take place next year.
FinalBoss Final Thoughts
It’s hard to imagine a world right now where a broadcaster cuts away from athletics or another ‘real’ sport to show live esports. But 20 years ago I doubt anyone would have considered that BMX or climbing sports would be in the Olympics. As life becomes increasingly tech-focused and with current generations only knowing a lifestyle dominated by tech, then esports are likely to continue their rapid growth and the Olympics may well need them to stay current.
Younger people in particular continue to idolise streamers and YouTube stars over real-world sports stars. With that being a cold-hard fact, does it seem so crazy to think that the fame of these online talents couldn’t be the kind of draw the IOC is looking for to stay relevant?
At the moment the most likely scenario might be an esports games under the Olympic banner but separate to the summer and winter games. We may not be quite there yet, but it is coming.
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