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IOC Announces Esports Event in Tokyo – But What Does It Really Mean?

2 Oct, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Esports is coming to Tokyo in 2020. And you’ll never guess who the announcement came from: none other than the IOC. An international competition with a prize purse of $500,000 is planned to coincide with the opening of the Games.

Esports still won’t be on the program, but officials say the event is intended “to explore the engagement between esports and the Olympic Movement.”

The announcement, made jointly last month by Intel and the IOC, noted the competition, currently known as the Intel World Open, would involve two games, Rocket League and Street Fighter V. Competitors will battle it out in a series of online qualifier events culminating in a live qualifier in Poland in June, to determine the teams that would move on to Tokyo.

According to Inside The Games, the finals will be staged at Tokyo's Zepp DiverCity venue between July 22 to 24, 2020.

IOC sports director Kit McConnell said: "We are excited Intel is bringing the Intel World Open esports tournament to Japan in the lead-up to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. As we explore the engagement between esports and the Olympic Movement, we are looking forward to learning from this event and continuing to engage with the passionate esports community from around the world."

Event production will be handled by ESL, formerly known as Electronic Sports League.

In 2018, ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, ESL collaborated with Intel and the IOC to run the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) PyeongChang, with tournaments featuring StarCraft II and Overwatch.

In addition, an Olympic-themed game, “Steep Road to the Olympics,” was launched ahead of the Winter Games, featuring skiers and snowboarders.

While it’s easy to see that esports is getting closer to the Olympics, it’s no closer to acceptance. Thomas Bach has repeatedly stated that he does not want any game involving violence (the only popular games in the market, really) – and would accept something only if it were based on a real sports event (the least popular games in the market, really).

However, there are plenty of those who view the Tokyo event as at least a step in the right direction. The Esports Insider says, “If the IEM event hosted around the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics was a test run, then this feels like the first real attempt at intertwining esports and the Olympics. It’s a great opportunity for the players – in which everyone has a chance to qualify thanks to the open format – and for esports as a whole to be put in the spotlight.”

Attempts continue to be made. Zwift, the global online training and racing platform for athletes, and the world’s cycling governing body, the UCI, have agreed terms to host the first ever UCI Cycling Esports World Championships in 2020. The introduction of this new discipline of the sport is seen to be a ‘major milestone in the history of cycling’.

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