Esports are closer to the Olympics than ever
It’s hardly a secret that players, pros and fans alike are hoping to be able to get esports into the Olympics sooner rather than later. While this topic has been floating around for quite some time now and Tokyo, host for the next 2020 Summer games has made it more than clear that they would love to see esports at their event, that is not going to happen.
While that is a pity, it doesn’t mean that it’s all over for esports – the 2024 games taking place in Paris are becoming more and more likely as an opportunity for esports to debut at the Olympics. There are always rumours and discussions on this topic floating around, but finally, something concrete is happening: This month, the International Olympic Committee or IOC is holding a forum.
While that in itself isn’t exactly revolutionary, in this case, this forum is specifically in order to examine esports and whether or not they should be part of the Olympics. The event is taking place in Lausanne in Switzerland in the Olympic Museum there, and it will see executives, professional players, sponsors and event organisers in the hopes of reaching a decision. With multiple interests at play, it is hard to say what the overall decision will be – while there are many that would love to see esports in Paris in 2024, there are also many loud voices against this.
While to fans and players it may seem like an obvious idea to allow esports into the Olympics, there are several reasons they haven’t been so far. The most obvious argument of critics is that esports aren’t ‘real’ sports. This is not entirely true – pros train just as hard and just as long as regular athletes, and the physical demands and risks of injury are just as high – so much as a sprained wrist can mean the difference between playing a season and getting benched.
Another argument is the suitability of esports to the Olympics specifically. What does that mean? Well, the Olympic spirit and principles include a clause on displaying violence. While those rules were written long before esports (or even video games) existed, they do still apply. Many esports games are violent in nature, which is an issue to organisers and hosts alike. The fact that not all are, and many could likely be touched up by developers to be more suitable is a big plus here.
On the other hand, there are definitely arguments in favour of including esports too. Not only do fans and players alike want this, the Olympics themselves could benefit as well. Over the last few years, viewership numbers have been dwindling quite strongly. Especially younger audiences are losing interest. Including a topic as hot as esports in the games is very likely going to bring a lot of interest back, while also appealing to potential new fans.
The future is now
The Olympic budget would likely also be padded with more sponsorship money, but that is another topic entirely. On that note, esports have actually come pretty close to the Olympics already. They are part of the Asian Games, an Asia-centric Olympic event. Though less well-known in the West, these games are a big deal in Asia, and this year’s events include esports.
Well, one esport. League of Legends to be precise. Arguably one of the most suitable games for an inclusion in the Olympics, the game doesn’t display overt violence, has a huge player-base and relatively simple rules that even non-fans can understand easily. Because of this, the 2018 Asian Games decided to include LoL as a demonstration sport – in other words, although LoL participates, the medals earned in it won’t count towards the overall medal count of each country. While that seems a little disheartening, it is still a big step in the right direction.
It is also likely to have a positive impact on the forum this month. The Asian Games are going on at the moment and teams and countries have already qualified and been eliminated, so the current interest in the topic is high, making it a prime-time to make decisions on the subject. The forum is taking place on the 21st of July, so there will be news in just a few short weeks.
According to the IOC and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) the esports forum will aim to “explore synergies, build joint understanding and set a platform for future engagement between the esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement”. While that sounds positive, it is too soon to say what the decision will be. One thing is certain though: Even if the decision is negative, huge amounts of progress has been made, and it is more than likely that eventually esports will participate in the Olympics.
There are still several hurdles that need to be addressed, such as the forming of national teams instead of having multiple teams from one country, as well as the changing of betting laws. It’s very common for people to want to bet on Olympic sports, however, since esports aren’t actually recognised as a sport in many places, the legislations on betting differ. This means that while people in the UK may be allowed to bet on them, people in the US or Japan may not – resolving this will also be a major milestone of progress towards getting esports into the Olympics.