This year, the 2020 Olympics started with a very interesting event. The Olympic Virtual Series is a show before players compete against each other in hybrid virtual sports such as Zwift, a cycling game played on a stationary bicycle, and Virtual Regatta System, a sailing simulator. This is the first of the series and can be considered the first time video games have been incorporated into the Olympics.
Naturally, that raises a question that is sure to provoke a polarizing response: When will esports officially be part of the Olympics?
It’s one of those questions that often pop up and cause a stir in public opinion. People on both sides argue until they turn pale every few years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fascinating question to ponder. But it is simply an introduction to two questions we should really ask. First, what does esports need to do to finally be accepted into the Olympics?
For eSports to be recognized by the Olympics, it is necessary to have certain criteria need to be met. The first is that “sports” requires an international federation approved by the International Olympic Committee, or IOC. In fact, Esports has had one for over 10 years. The International E-Sports Federation is the governing body for e-sports and was established in 2008. In that respect, e-sports are already halfway there; it just needs to be recognized and accepted by the IOC.
Another important criterion is that a sport must have men practiced widely in 75 different countries on four continents and/or women practiced in 40 countries on three continents. This standard has been established for some time in esports with approximately men and women in 150 countries on six continents participating.
The final prerequisite is a potential silver bullet for esports’ Olympic hopes: Any sport added to the program must be a sport. Whether eSports can be classified as such remains uncertain; It all depends on who you ask. A sport is defined as a physical activity that requires physical skill or strength and is usually competitive in nature.
Skill and competitive nature are obvious attributes to esports, though its physicality is an issue. A study from International Journal of Exercise Science showed that esports players did in fact have an increased heart rate similar to that of sports players. However, one research from the states ScienceDirect that although players try their best when playing the game, it is not enough to qualify as a sport.
Ultimately, the IOC will be left to decide if esports can legally share the stage with events like billiards or live pigeon shooting. But on paper, they checked all the boxes. It was simply a matter of the old guard realizing that and making a modern call.
Esports has come very close to qualifying as an Olympic sport based solely on performance. However, the question of whether esports should make it to the Olympics tends to be a myth. It’s really a two-way street. What we are forgetting to ask is, when will the Olympics realize that it needs eSports.
While we’ve argued with every uncle and recreational softball coach about the legitimacy of esports, the industry has enjoyed huge financial success. According to a report from Reuters, the e-sports industry is expected to reach over a billion dollars in revenue by 2021. This would be a 14% increase from last year.
The viewership of e-sports alone will make the IOC think twice about adding it to the list of sports. During the 2016 Olympics, NBC had approximately 27 million viewers during the event. This is quite an achievement when you look at it in a vacuum. Unfortunately for the Olympics, we won’t. That same year, the 2016 League of Legends World Championship had approximately 43 million viewers.
Research made by Newzoo states that 76% of eSports viewers are choosing to watch esports competitions over traditional sporting events. Evidently, eSports is a major force in the competitive world and is devouring competitors.
This doesn’t even stop with the Olympics. Competitive video games are making great strides to legitimize themselves in the public eye. Nintendo announced in May that it was partnering with PlayVS to help create games like Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros: Ultimate Official varsity sport in high school. It’s a huge development that clearly shows that the industry will only gain more traction in the years to come.
The relationship between the Olympics and eSports is an interesting one. Some argue that esports has more work to do to legitimize itself by the standards held by the Olympics. However, in many respects, esports has met these standards and has not stopped growing since the industry began. For many people – especially among the younger generations – e-sports competitions have surpassed the Olympics. Why should esports fans worry about what the IOC considers a sport when esports dominate the market and surpass many sports in terms of fans and viewership?
For the Olympics to remain competitive and appealing to younger viewers, it may have to bring in esports. That may be the only way for the Olympics to stay relevant in this modern electronic age. The question is no more if esports will become part of the Olympics; that is when.