Esports wants a piece of the Olympic pie and they aren’t shy about acknowledging that fact. When it comes to lobbying the International Olympic Committee in order to convince the powers that be of how esports is the future of sports and therefore the future of the Olympics, esports leaders are leaving no stone unturned.
The Intel World Open, featuring prize money of $500,000 for competitive video gamers in Street Fighter V and Rocket League, was presented virtually to a Tokyo audience that included IOC officials on the eve of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.
Even though by all measure of logic it might seem that they are fighting uphill against long odds of ever cashing in on their dream, lobbyists from the esports community continue to openly court the movers and shakers of the five-ring circus known as the Olympic Games in a determined bid for inclusion.
Displaying Their Wares
At the 2019 Intel Open, organizers boasted how in a year’s time, some of the top esports competitors in the world would be on hand in Japan during the Tokyo Summer Olympics, displaying how intensely they also compete while alongside the best athletes in the world.
The original blueprint was for the event to be held live at Zepp Divercity in Tokyo, which is adjacent to the Aomi Urban Sports Park Olympic venue. The gameplan was to feature elite top-tier professional and amateur gamers in action. It was to be a showcase for esports as the International Olympic Committee continues to consider the possibility of adding competitive video gaming to the Olympic program.
Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and the best-laid plans were suddenly scuttled. However, the scenario did enable organizers to display the versatility of esports. While the entire slate of Olympic events were postponed by a year due to the pandemic, esports were able to take their show online and continue to compete virtually. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor the global spread of a deadly virus is able to prevent these gamers from playing their games.
While the esports competition wasn’t part of the actual Olympic program, Intel was able to acquire a listing of the event on the official Olympic website.
Intel plans to play host to future World Opens alongside the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. Depending on the pandemic, those could be either in-person or virtual.
IOC Of Two Minds
Give the IOC credit. They recognize the need to alter the Olympic program in order to stay in touch with the times.
Skateboarding and surfing are both official Olympic sports in Tokyo. Recent Olympiads have seen the addition of such events as mountain biking, BMX, sport climbing and beach volleyball. The Winter Games have welcomed snowboarding, moguls skiing and short track speed skating.
Not only are all of these sports popular with the younger generation, for the most part they’re also very TV friendly.
The IOC is seriously looking at esports as a potential Olympic event. Just prior to the start of the Tokyo Games, the first officially-sanctioned Olympic esports tournaments were held. These were virtual sports competitions in auto racing, baseball, cycling, rowing and sailing. It was dubbed the Olympic Virtual Series.
“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,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth.”
What concerns IOC officials about esports is the penchant for violent killing games among the most popular games played in the competitive esports community. These include League of Legends, CS:GO and Call of Duty.
“Of course, every combat sport has its origins in a real fight among people,” Bach said. “But sport is the civilized expression about this. If you have egames where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values.”
Esports competitors believe they have what it takes to be measured up alongside current Olympians.
“Esports definitely has the potential to be in the Olympics, so many people are invested in esports now, compared to a few years ago,” Adel Anouche of Abu Dhabi, a Intel Open champion in Street Fighter V, told the Washington Post. “Plus, it requires a lot of mental strength, endurance and discipline to perform at such a high level consistently, no matter which game you play.”