The Rise of eSports… Pressure on the Olympics

The Rise of eSports… Pressure on the Olympics

OPINION:Pressure continues to build on the IOC to recognize eSports as a discipline for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Game on!

The Olympic Games have long been a showcase of the absolute pinnacle of human competition. But with an ever-decreasing viewership, the spectacle is failing to appeal to younger generations.

Therefore, some would argue that it might be a good idea to capitalize on the rising popularity of eSports, something the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agrees with. Sort of.

Seeing as the co-president of the Paris 2024 Olympic bid committee recently discussed the possibility of including eSports in the upcoming Paris Olympic Games, we might see a future where masters of Dota 2 rub shoulders with the fastest, further, highest athletes on earth.

And there’s certainly an argument to suggest that gaming has as much to do with dexterity and skill as Olympic events such as archery and shooting, but there’s still an enduring stigma attached to gaming, as well as the ever-present issue of representations of violence, something the IOC is quick to distance itself from.

So where do eSports fit in with the wider discussion of what constitutes as ‘Olympic worthy’, and should it get a spot on the global stage?

For one thing, eSports are going stratospheric

Massive eSports gaming competitions are pulling in huge crowds of young people across the globe, and one of the reasons why it has proven to be so successful is the fact that eSports are completely accessible. For example, it’s difficult to become truly enthusiastic about slalom kayaking and figure-skating when it’s impossible to try it yourself, whereas just about anyone can hop in to a game of League of Legends and give it a go.

As such, global gaming competitions feature swelling arenas of roaring fans watching on in awe as highly trained, well-disciplined and practiced teams of professionals compete against one another in frenzied battles that are won or lost on the slightest of split-second reactions.

The Dota 2 International competition now has a grand prize of 18 million US dollars, and eSports is predicted to generate 1.5 billion US dollars by 2020.

In another step that’s pushing gaming into the lofty heights of sporting credibility, eSports have been appearing just this month at the 5th Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Precedents are being set.

We could be seeing a time where gaming moves away from its recreational roots into something considered closer to athleticism, but what about its place in the Olympics?

Gaming might be Olympic worthy, but there’s a catch…

Despite the Paris bid committee showing an interest in the obvious potential which eSports has in winning over the next generation of sports enthusiasts, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains skeptical.

In a recent interview with the South China Morning Post, Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, stated that although the Games have made recent steps to appeal to millennials with the inclusion of sports such as Skateboarding (seriously? Is it still the late 90s?), to consider eSports, they would have to progress with caution. He opined;

“We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line,”

However, Bach does address the popularity of eSports, even going so far as to show a willingness to give gaming a chance at the Games, stating:

“If ever somebody is competing at playing football virtually or playing other sports virtually, this is of high interest. We hope that, then, these players are really delivering sports performance. If [fans] at the end would even play the sports in the real world, we would even be more happy [sic].”

He appears to be offering a compromise; have gaming as a part of the Olympics, as long as it’s games featuring simulations of real-world sports such as football or athletics. Sure, FIFA and Madden NFL games sell well each year, but nobody plays athletics games. Nobody.

Let’s not forget though that the Olympic movement is also about world-class politics. He is perhaps opening the door and saying, “come on, convince me”.

And whilst Bach might rightfully have the likes of Call of Duty, or Playerunknown Battlegrounds in mind when thinking about violence in gaming, it’s way off the mark considering which games are played in actual competition. The fact is; we just don’t know.

Besides, that would be arguably a touch hypocritical on the basis that Olympic events such as boxing, wrestling, judo, and taekwondo feature actual, visceral violence. Won’t somebody think of the children!

The times, they are a’ changing

Perhaps it’s the stigma that gaming is still perceived as a niche hobby, one that lacks a certain sophistication, but things change, and the decreasing numbers of viewership for the Olympics for some might reflect its dwindling relevance, as what worked for the Ancient Greeks isn’t going to cut it for much longer.

It might also be the case that eSports represent the threatening sense of change and of the ‘new’ – an unfamiliar challenger, defying traditional competition in the face of “pure” Olympic values.

Yet, unstoppable societal and demographic change means new and evolutionary ideas. And, as eSports continues to become more and more popular, it might be a simple case of adapt or die for the traditional games.