Esports as an Olympic sport: Is it possible or not?
Have you ever wondered what could be the next big Olympic sport where participants don’t break a sweat or even get up from their chairs? Although the subject is still under debate, many still wonder: will esports be in the Olympics? With nearly 500 million viewers and more than $1 billion in revenue, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has its eye on bringing esports to the forefront of sports events.
Esports is one of the fast-growing sectors in the sports industry in terms of technology, viewership, and revenue. Huge companies are also dipping their toes into esports by sponsoring teams in major leagues.
At its peak, the 2020 League of Legends World Championships, one of the most awaited esports leagues, was viewed by more than 49.95 million people across 21 platforms. It reached its highest viewership at more than 1 billion hours at this time.
Is the Olympic Virtual Series the key to the Games?
The 2020 Olympics started with a very interesting event called the Olympics Virtual Series (OVS). It is a pre-show where players compete in hybrid virtual sports like Zwift, a cycling game played on a stationary bike, and a sailing simulator through Virtual Regatta Inshore. It is the first video game series that has been integrated into the Olympics.
One of the reasons why people are starting to consider esports as a potential Olympic sport is because of its competitive nature, just like basketball and football. The only difference is that the esports players don’t exert as much physical effort.
For esports to be fully recognized by the Olympics, a few criterias must be met like it should have an International Federation accepted by the IOC. The good news is that esports had one for over 10 years.
Another is that esports should have male participants from 75 different countries and/or women from 40 countries. So, the standard should be male and female participants from 150 countries across 6 continents. The last criteria for it to be considered as an Olympic sport is that it should be a competitive physical activity that requires skill.
Although competitive nature and skill exist in esports, some still find its physicality questionable. According to Esport: Fortnite Acutely Increases Heart Rate of Young Men, research from the International Journal of Exercise Science (IJES), esports players have increased heart rates similar to athletes who play physical sport.
Nevertheless, the final decision will be on the IOC whether or not esports should be included in the Olympics. But if we are basing on the legal papers, esports has checked all the boxes needed to qualify.
What blocks esports from being included in the Olympics?
Even though esports has an International Federation and is recognized by the IOC, two significant barriers need to be overcome for esports to be petitioned and submitted to the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (OCOG).
1. Licensing - Unlike traditional sports, the game developers need to dictate the terms under which players can publicly play the game. The publishers should also provide consent before their game is played in the Olympics.
2. Acceptance of the IOC - There should be a unanimous vote by the IOC to create closer ties with the esports community. Moreover, Thomas Bach, the IOC president, said that any game where violence is glorified or accepted should not be a part of the Olympics.
Since some esports games feature violent themes, the esports Olympics is slightly hindered. With this, the games that would be accepted are racing games or games that resemble traditional sports such as basketball and football. The only downside is that these games only represent a tiny fraction of esports viewership.
Olympic-licensed esports events
Even though there are barriers, there are several esports that made it into The Olympic Virtual Series (OVS). Bach said that the Virtual Series is a unique digital experience and encourages sports participation. Most of the games featured also promote sportsmanship. Some of these games are:
eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) and KONAMI were the first to deliver a baseball event at the OVS. Previously known as Power Pros, it is a Japanese video game popularly known for its deformed characters and fast-paced but deep gameplay. The majority of the games in the series are licensed by the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) which allows the use of the league’s team names.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) partnered with Zwift to launch a virtual event to bring the cycling and sporting community closer together. With Zwift being a renowned global online training and racing platform for cyclists, they have developed virtual cycling events allowing athletes to train and participate in competitions from the comfort of their homes.
‘Participation in virtual sports is at an all-time high and Zwift is at the forefront of creating a new genre of physical virtual sport. The Olympic Virtual Series aligns with Zwift’s own mission to engage more people, connect a global audience, and speak to a younger generation. We’re thrilled that the IOC and the UCI share in our vision and have selected Zwift to be the publisher for the very first OVS’, Eric Min said, the CEO and co-founder of Zwift.
Virtual Regatta is an online web browser sailing race simulator wherein you can play the game by visiting their website from a laptop or downloading the app on your smartphone. What’s great is that you can join the game, learn how to play, and compete with other players around the world.
Since it was first established with Virtual Regatta Offshore as a real-time yacht routing game, the company has been forming partnerships with several sponsors and major oceanic races. One of these is a partnership with World Sailing which resulted in the first eSailing World Championship in 2018.
Will esports be included in the Olympics?
With the continuous growth of the esports industry, there is no doubt that it will be included in the roster of Olympic games. It might not be soon but once the esports industry has proved it is worth being included in the Olympics. Who knows? You might even bet on your favourite esports Olympic team at Bitcasino.
Words by: Whenna Maata