The next time your parents catch you playing video games late into the night, just tell them that you are practicing well in advance to compete in the Olympics. Video-games, or esports, after gaining significant mainstream recognition in the past decade, are now knocking on the door of the biggest sporting event in the world, the Olympics. After Asian Games decided to include esports as an official medal event at its 2022 event in China, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently organized an esports summit to start a discourse on the possibility of including it in the 2024 Olympics, Paris. The meeting’s objective was to develop a joint understanding between them and the esports and gaming industry to hopefully build a platform for future engagement.
Video gaming has gained widespread attention since its entrance into mainstream culture in the 1970’s. Today, it’s estimated that around 15% people play video games every day around the world. This has led to the inception of numerous video gaming tournament – notably The International for DOTA 2, League of Legends World Championship, and the World Electronic Sports Championships for Counter-Strike and StarCraft II. The official governing body of soccer, FIFA, has also acknowledged the FIFA video games as an esport, hosting an annual tournament to determine the best FIFA player in the world. Esports are also dubbed as the fastest growing spectator sport in the world.
In an attempt to convey the appeal of esports to the IOC, more than 150 representatives, including many from the OverWatch League (OWL), attended the summit held in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, negated the fact put forward by many detractors – that video gaming doesn’t require the same level of physical activity as other traditional sports. He stated, “Training for achieving the highest status in esports is quite hard and at par with training for other sports. Pro gamers prepare and compete in a way, and with physical demands, which can be compared to the ones in traditional sports.”
Indeed, with more than 250 million active gamers around the world, the competition is fierce to become world-class and eventually excel in esporting tournaments. The Dutch gaming organization, Team Liquid, harnesses 70 professional esport players who compete in a variety of games. The players follow a strict structural regime that enables them to have long time concentration, quick reaction, tactical understanding, along with good mental and physical fitness. It’s no wonder, that Team Liquid players collectively won $10.8 million of the total $24 million prize money in The International 2017.
The inclusion of esports into the Olympic Games also has several barriers and roadblocks. Many pro-gamers have been documented to use performance-enhancing drugs – like Ritalin and Adderall to boost their mental health temporarily. If it were to be included in the Olympics, organized drug testing should become an integral part of esports. Next, the large number of video games and their organizers will make it a difficult task for the IOC to pick which one’s qualify in their sporting event. Bach has stated that video games depicting violence have no chance of being included, as they want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people.
Sports have continued to evolve since its inception and esports is part of that evolution. After recognizing esports as a sports activity in 2017, the IOC hopes to conduct many more discussions on this topic before including it in the agenda to be voted on at the Olympic Summit in December 2018. If passed, you can take up your controller and start playing your favorite video game now – as it may lead to an Olympic medal in the near future.