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As the athletes marched through the stadium for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, they were accompanied by an unexpected soundtrack: a catchy sequel to video game music from Final fantasy and Sonic the hedgehog.
It was a reminder that Japan takes the game seriously, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is now following suit. This year’s games were preceded by the Virtual Olympic Series, where players competed in five sports simulation games. Although these are not medal-winning competitions, they have shown that the game is approaching the biggest sporting event in the world. Could we one day see video games at the Olympics proper, with competitions? Fortnite between judo and javelin?
Larger-scale formalized video game competitions, or esports, have been around since the 1980s and have pursued legitimacy ever since. South Korea and China recognized them as an official sport in the early 2000s; in 2013, the US government began offering sports visas to esports professionals; and in 2016, a Norwegian school started including esports education in the curriculum.
During the 2010s, esport became more professional, with full-time teams formed around fighting, shooting, card and strategy games. Today, their tournaments can fetch up to $ 30 million in prizes and fill huge arenas with spectators. Industry analyst Newzoo estimates esports revenue will reach $ 1 billion by the end of 2021, a sharp 15% increase from last year.
Yet popularity is not a sufficient reason for esports to enter the Olympics. While it meets most of the IOC’s inclusion criteria, with an international federation and practitioners in many countries, there is a fundamental bone of contention: is esport physical enough to be considered a sport?
Competitive play demands a lot from the player’s body: Professionals develop lightning-fast reaction speeds, hit heart rates that can match sprinters, and perform seven hand movements per second during play. It’s also not like if all olympic sports required optimal physical form: consider dressage or shooting. Still, it’s understandable that critics think video games are the antithesis of the active lifestyle that the Olympics are meant to promote.
The IOC has played with the game for years. He dubbed esport âa sporting activityâ in 2017, but in the same year the IOC President said in an interview: âWe want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence and peace between people. does not match video games, which are about violence, explosions and murder. So although this year’s Olympic virtual series was designed to appeal to gaming communities and competitions such as the Asian Games (no Olympics) in 2022 will include e-sports as medal-winning events, the game will not be an official sport at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
There are compelling reasons to host esports at the Olympics on both sides. Olympic inclusion will give esports more legitimacy – as global acceptance gains ground, there are still setbacks such as Dota 2 tournament The sudden move of the International from Stockholm to Bucharest this year after the Swedish Sports Federation decided it would not recognize esport.
For the Olympics, which suffer from declining television audiences and aging viewership numbers, esports can attract a large young audience. The new Olympic sports included this year such as skateboarding, surfing and rock climbing seem deliberately chosen to appeal to young viewers, but these barely have the reach of Fortnite or Monitoring. Esport is booming and it seems the IOC is starting to realize that it might need esport more than esport needs the Olympics.
However, there are significant barriers to adding esports to the Olympics. Unlike physical sports, video games revolve around intellectual property owned by developers, which means that the IOC would not have full control over presenting and programming esports like it would with other events. Esports is also rather inaccessible to casual viewers – in five minutes you could have most of the pole vault, but a game of League of Legends is confusing to outsiders, even with a knowledgeable commentator.
As a new field, esports are also less fully regulated than physical sports – the community is still developing protocols to deal with doping and cheating, while the esports community needs to consider harassment issues and a serious lack of gender diversity.
The fact that the CIO continues to flirt with gambling shows that these issues are not seen as intractable. In order to avoid the inevitable debates that would erupt around the inclusion of video games in the Summer Games, perhaps a wise solution would be for the IOC to create a new ceremony specifically for the games.
For those who see this as a break with tradition, it should be remembered that the Olympic Games are not a traditional institution – they are an updated imitation of an ancient, fundamentally modern and ever-changing Greek ceremony. It might not be so strange to imagine that tomorrow’s wreaths might be made not of laurel but of pixels.