Virtual Archery in the Olympics

Virtual Archery in the Olympics

Virtual Archery in the Olympics… Beginning a New Era in Paris?

One of the emerging prominent story lines for the 2024 Paris Games is the question of whether eSports will be included, as a demonstration or even as a medal sport.

France Co-President Tony Estanguet has expressed interest in considering eSports’ inclusion, and has suggested that some kind of “bridge” between athletic sports and eSports might be possible.

eSports would be attractive for the International Olympic Committee [IOC] because of its huge financial success and prominence among so many young people.

This audience includes many who would not otherwise be drawn to watch the Games, precisely because they have not had much interest in athletics.

However, there are fundamental barriers to eSports’ entry into the games:

  1. No standardization of play. eSports are based on a range of eGames [League of Legends, Call of Duty, StarCraft II, among many others], which are not only wildly different, but whose standards are determined only by the commercial interests of their publishers. Most of these games literally change in important particulars on a monthly basis. Many of their publishers would mightily resist Olympic standardization… and commercial stasis.
  2. No clearly established International Federation. The only organization which calls itself an International Federation is the “International eSports Federation,” which is based in South Korea and is an understandable effort to promote the fortunes of Korean players and a handful of specific games, all very different. They would require full accreditation as a new sport, which under present circumstances, would be very, very difficult.

Here are their 47 “Member Nations,” which do not include the U.S, England, Mexico, Spain, Greece, or Germany, among many others.

About half of these countries [as of February 2017] recognize eSports… the others are “in process.”

3. No athletic content whatsoever. Shuffling a card deck in bridge would exceed the exertion required in eSports. Their supporters are at great pains to establish these players as athletes, in stating, for instance, that some of their “athletes” vigorously physically train to prepare for handling their keyboards, their mice, and the pressures of competition. They point to non-Olympic chess – whose International Federation is recognized by the IOC – as an example of a “mindsport” which justifies the consideration of eSports for inclusion in the Games. Even many prominent commentators in the eSports community consider it absurd that these players are characterized as athletes. They are completely incredible competitors, but they are not “athletes.”

4. Representations of extreme violence. Most of these games are violent. Much of this is distant violence against fantasy characters, but much of it [particularly in “first person shooter” games like the highly popular Call of Duty] is explicit and shocking. This YouTube video cover says it all:

For these reasons and more, the word that is most often used in serious discussions about including eSports in the Games is “bridge.”

Starting with Paris Olympic Committee Co-President Tony Estanguet’s comments earlier this year:

“We have to look at it because we can’t say, ’It’s not us. It’s not about Olympics,’” Estanguet said in an interview with the AP in London. “The youth, yes they are interested in eSport and this kind of thing. Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.”

We can build a “bridge” for Tony, by establishing and proliferating Virtual Reality Archery as an archery discipline in the Games. It would be a special variant on eSports… vSports… Virtual Sports.

We could provide something like this, in Paris in 2024 and in Los Angeles in 2028:


One or multiple players in a game like Holopoint would combine the most extreme and exciting physical action with the most dramatic computer play and presentation.

They’re a team, fighting in plexiglass cages, so they don’t bang into each other as they shoot and dodge and duck, hitting as many targets as they can and staying alive, as they build their score.

Above them, their virtual combat “Dojo” is projected on the Jumbotron, and, because they’re not just sitting there, their images are also projected on the side stages as 30-foot-high holograms, ducking, dodging, weaving, and firing virtual arrows 60 times a minute… one player responsible for shooting Blue Cubes… one for Orange Cubes, both of which are shooting back at the team.

The team lasts as long as they can, until they’re eliminated by Cube hits, then the next team loads in and fights to match their score and pass them.

Broadcast or streamed, this would be insane to watch, on any screen.

Of course, they would be wielding real bows, fitted with motion controllers, and firing virtual arrows at the virtual targets coming at them, just as Katniss Everdeen did in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire. It is remarkable how much the basic “dojo” combat environment [there would be others] in Holopoint is like that scene. The game can also present many and different exciting environments in which the play is conducted, from the top of Mt. Everest to the Moon.

All of this will be enhanced even more for spectators by then, who could wear VR/AR glasses, through which they could be INSIDE the action or watching those 30 foot high projections of the players.

When a player hits a target [including targets that are virtually floating out in the audience space], that target explodes, not in blood, but in brilliant, colourful pixels.

Holopoint [or a similar alternative or alternatives] would be the perfect game[s] for this purpose, as it is elemental and would never require fundamental change. It is what is called a “wave shooter,” in which computer generated “adversaries” [Geometric Shapes, “Samurai,” “Ninja,” Robots, etc.] come at players progressively faster and in greater numbers. Each team or individual accumulates a score until they are overcome.

Many game creators would be willing to issue and maintain Olympic Editions, that could be overseen by World Archery as it does any other conforming element of archery.

No other sport but archery can meld so well with VR to provide this experience… one that can and will be replicated in millions of homes by millions of fans, before, during, and after the Olympic Games.

There is a great deal more which makes this solution [and many more like it] perfect for the times, for the Olympics, and for World Archery.

A few more thoughts for World Archery – and the IOC – on eSports in the Olympic Games

Here we will address a broader view of the Olympics/eSport question, focusing on these assertions:

  1. The IOC should maintain that any new sport or discipline must involve significant, not infinitesimal or ancillary [as in training, for instance] physical exertion.
  2. The IOC must think carefully through the slippery slope that is the Democratization of Excellence. The Olympic Ideal is predicated on the essential reality that people are, in fact, not “created equal,” though they all deserve an equal opportunity to excel.
  3. The IOC should not accept or validate new Olympic sports or disciplines that are essentially “virtual” versions of existing disciplines, including soccer, basketball, or archery [our Virtual Archery discipline will be as dramatically different from traditional archery as snowboarding is from skiing].
  4. The IOC should carefully consider the application of technology to other sports, beyond archery, to develop new disciplines of established Olympic sports, like fencing and shooting.
  1. Physical exertion [“athleticism”] must be an essential element of any new Olympic sport or discipline, no matter how fervently some [not all] eSports supporters insist either that athleticism is actually a key part of “eSports” or that there is precedent [in shooting, for instance], for Olympic sport that involves minimal athleticism.

If the IOC concedes this point, it will open itself before long either to degradation of the Olympic Ideal and the Olympic brand or to condemnation for hypocrisy when it inevitably needs to stem the tide of “keyboard athleticism.”

The Olympic motto – “Citius, Altius, Fortius” [“Faster, Higher, Stronger”] – need not be taken literally to clarify our point, which is that the Olympics is about physical excellence, tempered and abetted by intelligence and quickness, and not the other way around.

The IOC would unnecessarily open itself to very reasonable criticism if it accepted – not to say advocated – turning this ethic on its head.

To accept and to promote an Olympic standard that instead touted a motto like “Intelligence, Fast Thinking, and Quick Finger Reflexes” as bases for Olympic excellence, would be as cynical a contortion as it would be to hold that since the modern functional equivalent of the message run of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens is a call from Marathon to Athens on a smartphone, the digital manipulation of an iPhone’s keypad is somehow the spiritual equivalent of that ancient trip.

Which brings us to our second assertion.

  1. We must not confuse – or allow others to confuse – the Democratization of Opportunity with the Democratization of Excellence.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of many in the generation broadly referred to as Millennials is the absolute belief that everyone [and for that matter, every country] deserves an award, in some cases just for showing up.

We were as touched as most were by the dysfunctional exploits of Brit Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards in Calgary and Equatorial Guinean Eric “The Eel” Moussambani in Sydney. Much of the affection that poured out to them was sympathy for their hopeless plights. But much of that affection was generated by the empathy of so many of us who imagined ourselves on that terrifying ski jump with Eddie or gasping for breath [as Eric literally was doing] in the 100 metre pool.

Much of the attraction of eSports for its fans is fueled by the same fellow-feeling: they’re just like me. They sit for hours and days and years in their rooms, banging away at their keyboards… just like me. They’re not “God-like” athletes, with perfect teeth and perfect bodies, which every Opening Ceremony makes all too depressingly clear to so many kids. They’re like me.

The vast majority of those thousands of eSports fans, filling stadia and the Internet into YouTube and Twitch [Amazon’s gaming presentation platform] have only the vaguest idea what is happening on the League of Legends or DOTA2 [“Defense Of The Ancients”] screens in front of them as they cheer themselves into a frenzy.

More than anything, they are amazed at the incredible spectacle that is playing out in front of them, and more amazed that, at the center of that incredible sensory storm are ten guys [almost always only guys] who are in all the particulars that matter [except for their bank accounts and their skills]… just like them.

Part of Nadia Comaneci’s charm and popularity was that she looked like Any Girl. But the reason that we remember her is because she scored a “10” in one of the most obviously demanding sports imaginable.

That is what the Olympics must be about, even in… maybe especially in… this particular modern age.

  1. We must not allow Olympic eSport to degenerate from the beginning into digital/virtual renditions of existing sports.

In the first place, such a display would open the IOC to ridicule. A computer generated Lebron James or Lionel Messi would be a cruel and ridiculous joke in a Games in which the real ones were – literally – holding court.

In the second place, such digital renditions would fail to attract, not to say actively repel, many of the very group of viewers that we want to attract: young people… especially eGamers.

These games are far less attractive commercially than the DOTA2s, in any case, and the game mechanics that can make the cartoon character “Heroes” of Overwatch engrossing, would not remotely approach the verisimilitude of actual players.

There is, beyond this, a deeper risk of allowing virtual versions. There would eventually be virtual versions of everything, from track and field to swimming to diving to shooting.  To allow this at any level would be the proverbial camel’s nose inside the tent, and eventually a Trojan Horse of digital keyboard and mouse mediocrity.

Finally, doing this with digital representations of real people would create a strange kind of credibility gap that does not affect Code of Honor’s digital humans.

Part of the thrill of watching a soccer or basketball game is seeing how real people are reacting, physically and mentally to the rigors of the event. Watching how Messi reacts when he is fouled, or how Serena responds to a bad line call is part of the “juice” of a competitive event. No matter how well it is presented, until eGames’ characters become sentient, digital sweat and tension will just never be the same as the real things.

  1. Archery is by far the most virtualisable sport, but we should seek to apply technology as effectively as possible to other Olympic sports, with these compatibility criteria:
  1. The virtual version must primarily require the same motion and activity as the real version, though its game environment must be sufficiently different to fully justify its certification as a separate discipline.
  2. The space required to perform the full, multi-player virtual sport should be limited to that of a stage in a theater or auditorium. Otherwise a 100 metre race could just as well be… 100 metres, so what would be the point of digitizing? Further, the space required for one person to play the sport should be no larger than an average living room, bedroom, or garage, because this is where the sport will explode in the culture.
  3. The feeling of the sport to the player must be as realistic as possible, to the extent to which practice in the virtual sport would develop skills that are directly applicable to the conventional sport.

On this basis, we have evaluated the standard Olympic sports [not including Host Country nominees, like Japan’s surfing], and this is the result [using the Team USA image]:

Green boxes identify full or close to full compatibility. Orange signifies provisional compatibility. Red indicates marginal compatibility.

Golf would be at great pains to be virtualized, because of the great space that would be required to replicate the variety of shots that are necessary to play a course, not to mention the different fairway, sand, and green conditions that are the essence of golf.

Also, because golf already has such variety, in the different courses and holes that are available, it is not obvious what variation of golf would qualify as a separate discipline. So… not impossible, but not very likely.

Rowing has similar condition/environment challenges, and would require a full simulator to simulate water action. Not impossible… not likely.

Shooting is completely possible. The only factor that might need to be replicated somehow would be recoil. Haptic feedback can provide some of this, in lower caliber pistols, but doing so with a virtual shotgun would be s serious challenge. However, new virtual shooting disciplines could be limited to pistols at first, for whom the recoil simulation would be much easier to provide. Beyond this, who says that eShooting needs recoil at all? It would certainly qualify as shooting, and in any case, needs to be meaningfully different to justify its status as a new discipline.

Fencing is next, and almost as compatible as archery. The challenges are to provide an effective competitor, human or “Bot” [already available and absolutely improvable] and to provide effective haptic feedback on hits [though the same question applies here as in shooting recoil: do we need haptics?]. Players would wield normal foils, epees, and sabres, or perhaps a new sword that approximated the heft and maneuverability of a Light Saber, for a game like Beat Saber:

Archery is the crème de la crème, however, because every single particular of drawing and releasing a real bow are exactly the same in Virtual Archery. Players would use recoil or compound bows, as the rules would allow, and the skills that they develop in the virtual sport would be entirely transferable to the real one.

Further, the variety of possible target and maneuver environments are so varied as to provide development for multiple events, though one may be best at first, with individual and team variants. There is also a real opportunity to consider unisex individual events and gender-mixed team events.

There are a number of reasons that this virtual sport proliferation would be important.

First, we should not allow virtual archery to become an isolated outlier. Though it may debut in Paris at the first and only virtual discipline, it should be joined later by other virtual sports.

Second, fencing has the chance to be comparably exciting as a significant variant from the conventional sport, for instance with multiple adversaries and in exotic virtual locations or situations [Tatooine or Naboo, from the Star Wars universe, perhaps 😊]

Third, shooting is in thematic concert with much of existing eSports, and could be useful points of entry for non-violent but vigorous virtual alternatives. We can imagine a pre-Olympic “trials” process in which providers from present eGame developers, competed for entry into the games, as a discipline or disciplines of shooting.

Most present eSports are too violent or are automotive, like Rocket League:

We have an opportunity to motivate the development of a new genre of eSports: exciting, physical, dramatic, and non-violent. There are millions of young – and not so young – people [especially girls and women] who would love such an alternative, if properly structured, marketed, and presented.

There was a time when most U.S. motorcyclists looked like this:

Until Honda did this: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

And the rest is history.

A Working Group

We have read World Archery Secretary General Tom Dielen’s beautifully presented report to the World Archery Congress in Mexico City… and this stood out:

“If we don’t manage change, change will manage us. The world is changing dramatically and we need to get World Archery up to speed for this change.”

We can help.

We propose to establish a group within World Archery, consistent with their existing structure, to define, enable, and promulgate Virtual Reality Archery [VRA].

Definition: To determine what elements of existing and emerging technology can be most effectively applied to and integrated with the sport of archery, from bows and arrows, to targets, to playing environments, to training, to the larger cultural and social context for archery. These future elements can certainly include [but not be limited to] Virtual and Augmented Reality, Electronic Targeting, Networked Scoring and Experience Sharing, eSports and eGaming, and specialized Social Networking.

Enablement: To actively research and develop the technological and commercial links and supports necessary to implement future elements in cost-effective and profitable ways. This means, for instance, marrying motion control units to bows, and damping arrow flight to prevent dry-firing and provide complete safety. It means engaging and motivating qualified developers and manufacturers of electronic targets. It means developing and/or acquiring/engaging new recreational and competitive games and activities and creating new and integrating with existing competition environments. And it means a lot more, including licensing opportunities.

Promulgation: To support the expansion of these new tools and techniques to existing and new markets. To do so commercially, as appropriate, to support manufacturers [by sharing technology, information, and marketing insights and techniques] and to do so in support of the Olympic ideal, process, and infrastructure [by, for instance, establishing proper governance and homologation for the new disciplines that can arise from this work].

This process would of course include a broader look at what can and should be the future of archery, but it seems clear that Virtual Shared Experience [VSE] will be an essential new element of that future.

I say “new” element because archery as it is today will extend indefinitely. One of archery’s eternal verities is that it has extended from the dawn of human history to the present essentially functionally and bio-mechanically unchanged. ­­­

The difference between doing this, over 40,000 years ago:

…doing this 400 years ago:

…doing this about 4 years ago:

…and some day very soon, doing this:

…is both trivial, and, because it is so trivial… monumental.

It is reflective of the facts that the bow and arrow were among civilization’s oldest tools and are now, after eons and with the advent of stunning new technology, one of humanity’s newest tools.

The function for many archers may be very different over that massive expanse of time – from killing to eat, to competing to win, to connecting for fun – but the motion and the meaning are the same: to let it fly.

So, we will not cannibalize archery’s past or present… we will extend them, in time and in space, to millions for whom archery will feel both new and completely natural.

I believe that we can marry existing and coming technologies in ways that no other sport can, and become the most popular sport in the world.

This short video describes why this is fundamentally and uniquely possible for archery.

We only need to do it.

Will you join us?