Esports at the Olympics – Clickbait and not what you expected or hoped for

A lot of esports (and Olympics) fans have been wanting to see esports as part of an Olympic event. It makes a fair bit of sense – not only are there numerous parallels between traditional sports and esports, but given that the Olympics are losing viewers in the younger age groups, it’d be a good way to draw in new audiences.

Well, in theory. In practice, the Olympic Committee has taken a very staunch pose against esports being in the Olympics. Several German members of the Olympic Committee actually spoke quite rudely about esports, claiming that they were comparable to knitting and didn’t even deserve the name of e’sports’.

In spite of this, esports like League of Legends have already been featured in more minor Olympic events such as the Asian Games, but not yet in the main Summer/Winter Games. The host country of the delayed 2020 Summer games, Japan, outright requested that esports be given a seat at the table.

While they were turned down, there is finally some change coming… or is there?

Virtual Sports Olympics

Two steps forward, one step back

Well, not really. One of the main objections to esports being in the Olympics was that the events never depict gore, violence (except for all the fighting disciplines), or death, which means that shooters and similar games aren’t really suitable for it. That doesn’t mean that sports games, for example, can’t take part. Well, that’s pretty much what happened. In an official announcement, the IOC revealed the Olympic Virtual Series, an Olympics-licensed event for esports.

Well, not quite either. The IOC was very careful not to use word esports in the announcement. Terms like “virtual sport” and “simulation sports” were used instead.

This however, didn’t stop news outlets (us included) to use esports as a term to promote this announcement.

Five disciplines were selected and will be part of the event. If you were hoping for a MOBA, or even just NFL or Football, sorry you are out of luck! If on the other hand, you were just itching to see a virtual rowing esports event, well then you and the other three rowing esports fans are in luck.

Yes, that’s right – virtual rowing is one of the disciplines that will take part. The others are baseball, cycling, sailing, and motorsport. The last one in this list, actually has a good following and is considered an esport, especially given that the game selected is Gran Tourismo.

As for the other games – Virtual Regatta will be the sailing game, Zwift the cycling title, and eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020 the baseball game. No game has been selected yet for the rowing. They must be having difficulty selecting from the wide range of competitive virtual rowing titles out there.

Cutting some slack

Jokes aside, the selection of rowing as a discipline makes sense as it could combine physical fitness with video gameplay, if a rowing machine was combined with the game the way a bike is linked to the PC in Zwift. The problem lies exclusively in the target audience and also the athlete selection – namely that there currently is no good competitions in any shape or form in virtual rowing.

The IOC has gone for the band-aid solution to appease the lobby pushing for esports at the Olympics. Why this lobby is still even active is baffling, considering the Olympics now need the esports audience to stay relevant, and not the other way around.

By not picking popular esports for this event, the IOC is actively limiting the amount of interest the event is likely to draw – it also doesn’t help just how quickly this is all happening. Normally Olympic events are scheduled and planned years in advance – the Olympic Virtual Series on the other hand will start on May 13th this year, running until June 23rd. Not having a game selected for a discipline just weeks before the event doesn’t bode too well.

The event format

As for the rest of the format, the virtual Olympic event claims to aim for ‘online mass participation’. The Olympic Virtual Series is a new, unique Olympic digital experience that aims to grow direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports,” said IOC president Thomas Bach.

“It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth.” Some international sports federations will also participate in the event – the World Baseball Softball Confederation, Union Cycliste Internationale, World Rowing, World Sailing, and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. Further updates on the events will likely be out closer to the event.

In summary, esports (as we all know it) are not featured at the Olympics. The latest addition of virtual sports simulations at the Olympics, does not help esports and opens the doors to politics and robust governing bodies to try exert their will over esports.

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