Tokyo Olympics’ move to include Esports is a step in the right direction

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The Tokyo Summer Olympics will begin from 23 July but this time there’s an important addition. The Olympics will be hosting the first ever virtual games under Esports. As a pre-game series, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced The Virtual Olympic Series where competitors can play in virtual versions of five different physical sports – motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing, and rowing.

This marks the IOC’s first giant leap towards accepting Esports as a legitimate sport but the industry believes there is still a lot more ground to cover.

For now, the IOC has simply launched physical sports in a virtual manner. Likening Esports to any other sports, Anurag Khurana, founder and CEO, Newgen Gaming told BrandWagon Online that it is a spectator game but rues that the virtual series has done little to attract Esports spectators.

“Hence, the Olympics still has a long way to go for fully embracing Esports as a sport and that will not happen until they introduce Esports titles such as Valorant, FreeFire, Call of Duty, Counterstrike, among others,” he added.

Held earlier this year, the Virtual Olympic Series didn’t include a medal in the event this year. However, it is likely to be a medalled one as early as the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games. The IOC has joined forces with five international sports federations and game publishers for the Olympic Virtual Series namely; World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), World Rowing, World Sailing and Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). These federations have tied up with game publishers to design a virtual version of their physical sport. This still doesn’t shine a spotlight on the reigning Esports titles but increased the viewership of physical sports.

Many industry experts have frowned at the rather tepid inclusion of virtual games in the Olympics as it is not aimed to galvanise Esports players but is being used to make physical sport players more popular. Similar is the effect in India where associations are leveraging the virtual series as an example to lead players to participate in the physical sport, glossing over the Esports sector and players completely.

“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognising Esports and organising an event is a big step in mainstreaming it within the sports ecosystem. Further, with Esports being recognised by other sporting bodies such as the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control in India) and now IOA, one can expect various competitive Esports events at marquee international events. I believe it’s time for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to support Esports athletes through funds and infrastructure in the same way as they do for athletes playing physical sports,” Jay Sayta, technology lawyer, said.

Taking advantage of the Esports fever and the rise in online gaming sponsorships, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) recently announced fantasy sport Mobile Premier League (MPL) as its principal partner.

Some analysts view this partnership as an acknowledgement from the online gaming industry by the government. While the move by the Olympics has gathered some criticism, Asian Games Committee appears to have embraced the Esports segment when it decided to include Esports as a competitive sport. To be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China in 2022, Esports titles as decided by the committee will be entirely up to the host.

Asian Games have afforded much-needed legitimacy and recognition to Esports. We hope that the Olympics follow suit to further validate and promote virtual sport and e-sports for the gaming enthusiasts all around the world.