eSports might be making money and grabbing headlines – not to mention attracting that youthful contingent the IOC wants – but its chances of seeing its athletes honored on the Olympic podium seem to be rather faint right now.
That was the word from the IOC, who noted that any expectations of eSports to be in medal contention was “premature,” according to an article in Inside The Games. The issue of eSports was heavily discussed during the most recent Olympic Summit held in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"Recognizing the fact that the sports movement is in competition with the eSports/egames industry for the leisure time of young people, the Summit agreed that the Olympic Movement should not ignore its growth, particularly because of its popularity among young generations around the world," the IOC said in a communique published following the meeting. "It was agreed that competitive gaming entails physical activity which can be compared to that required in more traditional sports.”
However, the IOC noted, the same could not be said about what they termed “leisure electronic gaming,” and therefore, the issue of eSports was to be tabled.
A sticking point for some time has been the violence in some of the most popular games, including Fortnite, Overwatch and League of Legends. The IOC continues to find this incompatible with Olympic ideals, although gamers have long held that sports such as wrestling, boxing and martial arts are all combative in nature.
Other problems with eSports, according to the IOC, were the fact that the industry is in a continued state of evolution, with game technology changing at a rapid pace, a fast movement toward augmented reality and virtual reality, the fragmented nature of the industry and the fact that it is commercially driven.
The only aspect of eSports the IOC seems to approve of are games based on actual sports, and the IOC encouraged international governing bodies “to ensure they gain or retain appropriate control over the electronic/virtual versions of their sports” and to restrict “their engagement to activation in the e-versions and virtual forms of their traditional sports.”
It should be noted that the most popular games, however, are not those rooted in traditional sports – and that the demographic that plays those popular games is the demographic the IOC is seeking.
However, as one pundit notes, the increasing evolution of virtual reality could prove advantageous to the case of eSports. For example, while many have said that games are not a sport, winning at them does require innate agility – meaning both mental and physical acuity:
“Now, purely for the sake of argument, if we set the benchmark at 2045 because that’s when Ready Player One is set, then it seems almost certain that in 27 years’ time fully immersive VR games, where you have to run, sprint, jump, perhaps even fight, to win, will exist.
To be victorious, you wouldn’t just have to be good on a keyboard or quick with a mouse as is the case at the moment. In these new games, all round physical fitness would be essential. Speed, agility and strength would be fundamental. The big esports franchises like the Overwatch League already attract audiences of thousands to watch live matches and millions more follow the action on online streams. Imagine how many people would watch some sort of real life Hunger Games without the violence? Literally any scenario you could possibly think of would suddenly be possible and none of them would just involve sitting on a sofa. The best players would have to be faster, higher, stronger than anyone else. Now where have we heard that before?”