Thursday, December 8, 2022

Could eSports be in the Olympics?



eSports continues to grow internationally and there are hopes that video gaming and the Olympics could one day get so close that eSports gets recognised as an official Olympics competition and becomes part of the world’s largest sports event. 

For competitors, being part of the Olympic Games would mean eternal glory and possibly even gold medals. The Olympics, meanwhile, would massively benefit from eSports' young and exponentially growing viewer base by opening up to this sports category — attracting a new and younger crowd that standard Olympic sports don’t.

eSports' growing popularity in important markets

In recent years, eSports has managed to become a highly lucrative billion-dollar industry. In only a few decades it has become a significant way for players and fans around the world to connect over video games on an international level. Gamers who once played on a recreational level can now play it on a professional basis thanks to competitions, streaming services, and sponsor deals. With millions of people tuning into games via live streaming services like Twitch, this is something that could benefit the Olympic Games. 

In 2021, eSports had about 234 million active fans and 240 million casual viewers in the world while there are lots of bettors as well that carefully follow eSports odds to make their wagers. Most followers of eSports are young, male, and affluent with nearly three quarters of the viewers falling in the demographic group of between 18 and 34 years old. In the United States alone, an estimated 84 million people are believed to watch eSports this year which is more than every professional sports league in the country except the National Football League (NFL). 

Way to attract younger and affluent crowds

According to industry experts, the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, needs to adjust and adapt to a more modern age and cater to new audiences. The first known Olympics were held in the summer of 776 B.C, but “tastes change” which means that the sports event has to adapt and evolve. eSports would draw in a younger viewing audience. The average age of an eSports viewer is 31, while the Olympics typically have an average viewership age in the mid-50s. 

To the contrary, a portion of the conventional sports viewers will find this new category too far removed from a sport, while some won’t consider it a sport at all. Another challenge would be to see which specific eSports games get accepted as not all eSports events are the same. A shooter game would have major difficulties getting adopted into the Olympic Games, while the same holds for a football game as the traditional version is already played. 

Interestingly, shooter games such as Call of Duty and Counterstrike are widely known to be the most popular categories among gamers and fans. The problem with these types of games is that due to their violent character, such titles would go against what the Olympic Games stand for and wouldn't be welcomed by the IOC.

No place for “Killer Games”

The inclusion or not of eSports has already been discussed and isn't new to the world. "We can’t have a video game that promotes violence or discrimination in the Olympic program," IOC president Thomas Bach told the Associated Press a few years ago in 2018. At the time, Bach stated there was no future for eSports in the Olympics as long as the games were so violent, even dubbed as “killer games”. 

For eSports to be accepted as an official Olympic event, the IOC would first have to recognise eSports as a sport. As competition in eSports is virtual, eSports competitions aren't viewed as physical events, which is a feature of the Olympic Games. If the IOC would somehow manage to go beyond that hurdle, eSports would then proceed to the International Sports Federation, where the rules of the sport would be set. Even if eSports is recognised as an official sport by the IOC, it doesn't imply that it would also automatically become part of the Olympics. 

The best examples are bowling and chess that are both recognised as sports by the IOC, but none has real athletes competing in the Olympics. There are other factors that play a role as well such as whether they are played in enough countries and whether there is viewing potential. Both of these factors would not be a problem when it comes to eSports. The next Olympic Summer Games are going to be hosted in 2024, when France sees thousands of athletes and millions of viewers turning their attention to Paris. Despite eSports’ potential that would probably come too early to see the first eSporters with medals, although some might believe that eSports will never make it to the stage.

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