Olympics and eSports: A win-win for both but hurdles exist

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The last year’s Olympics were the first of a kind, to feature Virtual Sports, signaling the growing importance of eSports. Formalized larger-scale video game events, or eSports, have existed since the early 90s but, thanks to the digital revolution, they are now made part of athletic events like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. Asian Games 2022 will have 24 medals across the eight eSports events. Commonwealth Games 2022 will feature these games as non-medal events.

Traditional football also leads the eSports front with EA FIFA now worth billions in annual revenue. The world’s biggest clubs and players have formed their own eSports teams. Leading players past and present such as Sergio Aguero, Mesut Ozil, Neymar, and Paul Pogba, are often seen playing virtually during physical off days.

The video game is so immensely popular that people relate the term FIFA to the video game and not to the sports governing body. The game brought in $20 billion in sales over the past two decades for the gaming developer. For FIFA, this is the most valuable commercial arrangement, now worth about $150 million per year.

Olympics and athletic tournaments will immensely benefit from the growing popularity of eSports. Olympics in recent times has suffered a fall in TV ratings. Esports attract young eyeballs with an average age of an esports viewer at 31, much younger than the average NBA viewer.

It will also be a win-win situation with an Olympic inclusion that will provide eSports with more legitimacy. In countries like India, they are often clubbed with real money games carrying the stigma attached to gambling.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, in April this year said he wants some of esports’ biggest events to be a part of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. “We have, in this regard, a historic opportunity: that of the 2024 Olympic Games. It is up to us to take advantage of it to make the link between the Olympiads of the two worlds by hosting the biggest sporting events in the world that year: a [CS:GO Major], the Worlds of League of Legends, and The International of Dota 2. If the French trust me, we will work on it as soon as I am elected. This is also the influence of France,” he was then quoted.

Few hurdles prevent the Olympic Committee (IOC) from officially sanctioning esports as an event. They have no global governing body, which the IOC requires for approval. And many of the world’s most popular esports games, like League of Legends, Counterstrike, and PUBG, are violent, and bay on blood.

Back in 2018, Thomas Bach, the IOC chief, said: “We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. So-called killer games. They, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot, therefore, be accepted.”

The violent games infringe upon the purported Olympic values of friendship and respect. Other implementation issues also exist as most of these games are owned by large corporations and deals have to be negotiated before exploiting the games in athletic-style events.