A few years ago eSports were nothing more than network of gaming enthusiasts competing against each other for bragging rights and the thrill of the challenge. Today, it is a multi-million-dollar industry with professional teams, major corporate sponsorship and international tournaments with prize money in the $6 million range. These same events attract thousands of fans to the stadium, while millions more watch the action via live stream.
The rapid growth and sudden interest in competitive online gaming has come to the attention of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who have shown concern at the lack of support for traditional Olympic sports and an aging audience. In a bid to modernise the Olympics and attract a younger generation of viewers, the IOC held a Summit with world leaders to explore opportunities between eSports and the Olympics.
For those who are new to eSports, the term is derived from “electronic sports” and is essentially competitive video gaming. Teams and players go head to head against other teams on pre-defined games, with the objective of eliminating the opposition or completing specific objectives. It is a very broad term and actually encompasses a number of genres or game types which are like sporting disciplines. These genres like First Person Shooters (FPS) or Multiplayer Online Battle Area (MOBA) games require specific skills and talents, as with regular sports.
While there has been a great deal of animosity between the community and regular sporting bodies, there is no doubt that eSports has a future in the competitive arena. While many professional sportsmen and woman feel that competitive video gaming does not compare to training and physical elitism of Olympic rowing or athletics, the IOC recognises that electronic gaming is growing each day, and the younger generation is fully behind it.
The summit, which was held in Louisiana in July, was not about immediately integrating eSports into the Olympics, but rather about the synergies between the two worlds and how eSports can boost the popularity and evolution of the Olympics in years to come. Some professional athletes feel that it is just a matter of time before eSports is incorporated into the Olympic Games permanently.
The results of the summit were clear cut. While there are future possibilities, the inclusion of eSports as an Olympic event is still a long way off. The first and most important hurdle facing IOC integration is how the sport is governed. In order to be an official Olympic sport, it would have to be governed by a single recognised federation. This is a major hurdle in itself, as the game manufacturers would want to retain control of how their game is used, and how it is marketed in major competitions.
Further challenges for the sport include the doping control and the regulation of computerised machinery. The Olympic Committee also has concerns about the games themselves. Any game promoting killing or violence of any kind will not be accepted in the Olympic arena. This leaves the door open for more “sport” themed games like electronic football, racing games and Formula One.
Despite the many challenges involved, it seems inevitable that eSports will become a major international competitive event in future competitions. In 2022, the Asian Games will be the first event where medals will be officially awarded for eSports of any kind. The successful running of the event may just be the push the IOC needs to consider full integration. For now, we can expect it to be a highlighted demonstration sport in the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and in the future we may well see it on the real Olympic stage.