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Can eSports Attain Olympic Status?

16 Nov, 2016

By: Michael Popke

The battle to reinstate baseball and softball for the 2020 Summer Olympics, as well as add four new sports to the Games (skateboarding, surfing, karate and sport climbing) is over. But now South Korea is leading an effort to make eSports an official Olympic sport.

For the uninitiated, eSports essentially is a high-stakes version of video gaming. According to Wikipedia, which might be among the best sources of info about this form of competition: “Most commonly, eSports take the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particular between professional players. The most common video game genres associated with eSports are real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooter and multiplayer online battle arena.”

During the past few years, eSports have exploded into an estimated $600 million global industry, with millions of people watching online or turning up at arenas, stadiums and convention centers to see players go at it with game console controllers or computer keyboards. In fact, as Sports Destination Management recently reported, eSports is one of the hottest segments of the travel market right now.

The International eSports Federation (IeSF), headquartered in Seoul, holds an annual world championship and boasts 45 member countries, according to The Korea Times.

 “eSports have been regarded as a next-generation business model throughout the world, and this tendency can be witnessed in many places in Europe, Asia and North America, as many countries and companies are increasingly investing in it,” Jun Byung-hun, president of the Korea e-Sports Association, told the paper. (Incidentally, video games are still considered a harmful activity for young people in Korea.) “The IeSF has been working with its membership countries to solidify the status of eSports, alongside other sporting events like baseball and football. Our biggest goal is to secure membership on the International Olympic Committee to make eSports an official Olympic event.”

The paper reports that the IeSF is taking major steps to earn recognition by the IOC — including the administration of drug tests(!) on participants in the eSports World Championship. “We are living in a digital era and video games are solidifying their status as a sport for all,” Byung-hun said.

Meanwhile, ESPN recently reported that LA 2024, the group organizing the 2024 Olympic bid for Los Angeles, is embracing eSports. Indeed, the League of Legends World Championships gaming competition was held at a sold-out Staples Center the last weekend in October.

“We view eSports’ immense global popularity and continued advances in digital technologies as tremendous tools for reconnecting millennials with the Olympic movement,” LA 2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman said in a statement. “Harnessing the power of new technologies like virtual and augmented reality to promote healthy lifestyles will be a key objective as we seek to create a new Games for a new era in 2024.”

As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once wrote, “The times they are a-changin’.”

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