The Olympics will need esports more than esports will need the
Evangelos Papathanassiou, Co-Founder of the Esports Player Foundation, propagated this brave hypothesis at the BMW ESports Boost in June. An opinion that will most likely not be enjoyed by many fans of the Olympics, as the largest international sport event (besides the Football World Cup) is still focused on traditional sports like track and field.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is only opening up very slowly to modern influences. For the upcoming Tokyo Olympics the IOC approved of Skateboarding as a new Olympic discipline for the first time. A development that should have been long overdue considering the past 20 years.
Esport will most likely have a similar fate in terms of Olympic approval.
Modern sport, conservative society
While the IOC has taken its first baby steps to nuture esport, it is far from an actual integration at the main event. The largest issue is the missing recognition of esport pros as athlethes. In many countries they are still not treated the same as traditional sport athlethes and have a harder time to secure visas for international tournaments. Even the tournament with the largest prize pool in esport, Dota 2’s The International, was unable to overcome that barrier in Sweden. A surprising development considering the large amount of Swedish pro players in various games and large organisations like Ninjas in Pyjamas that all hail from the Nordic country.
Developer Valve has recently relocated and rescheduled the event to October in Bukarest, Romania. But why would a country that is seen as pioneer in esports take such a large step back?
I think it is because of the Boomer culture.
This was the attempted explanation that Sam Matthews, CEO & Founder of Fnatic offered during the BMW Esports Boost. A statement that is most likely true as in many countries esports still has to struggle with old prejudices in regards to video games.
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Massive possibilities, no recognition
The so-called Boomer generation of the post-war era has little to no contact with video games or gaming in general. Although their children grew up with Gameboy, PlayStation and PC, early structures in esports had little professionalism. Recognition for esport athlethes is of course lacking then. This is exactly the point where an integration of esports into the Olympics could help.
Esports does not need the Olympics to continue its growth. Structures have been established by now and the viewership is massive. According to statista roughly 436 million people have said, that they watch esport occassionally in 2020. The trend also points towards further growth up to over 577 million until 2024.
If the IOC would integrate esports, it would bring long overdue recognition. It would finally put esport pros on the same level as traditional atheletes and vindicate their hard work. The IOC could easily improve the standing of esports to a larger audience and take the step further that many countries are unwilling to go. The rewards from such a move would be large as the Olympics need esports for the future.
Younger generation are a lot more invested in the digital world. Eventually virtual sports will overtake traditional sports. The Olympics would extend a hand to their future audience by integrating esports and secure a viewership base for years to come.
But even if the IOC were willing to take a leap forward, many questions would still remain.
An own version of the Olympics?
How do you integrate a sport with modern structures into existing traditions without compromising on its soul? Which titles would become Olympic disciplines? Would teams be split according to nationality?
Lots of questions that are difficult to answer. The panel at the BMW Esports Boost suggested as a possibility a different custom version of the Olympics, free from the existing IOC structures. At least it would need to have a large degree of autonomy in regards to the tournaments. But even that might be impossible as Papathanassiou says.
And an own version of the Olympics would also defeat the purpose of integrating esports as a “normal” sport in the society. In order to do so bot hsides would need to compromise. Esports needs to break up their structures and open up to the classic idea of sport, while the IOC needs to change its view that sport needs to be a physical activity.
But until that happens we will most likely have to wait quite a bit longer.
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