The International Olympic Committee (IOC) weighed in on the future of esports at its sixth Olympic Summit, held this weekend in Switzerland.
The verdict? Esports has potential, should be considered a “sporting activity” and warrants future consideration in the Olympics. But in order to be included as an Olympic sport, a game “must not infringe on the Olympic values.”
The summit also touched on the topic of esports betting.
More on the Olympics and esports
The IOC communicated the findings of the summit, which featured “leading representatives of the Olympic movement.”
The summit tackled a number of topics, and among them was esports. Previously, esports, in some form, was reported as a possibility for the 2024 Games in Paris.
The development of esports, per the Olympic Summit
Here’s what the Summit came up with on the subject:
The Summit discussed the rapid development of what are called “eSports”, and the current involvement of various Olympic Movement stakeholders. The Summit agreed that:
- “eSports” are showing strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic Movement.
- Competitive “eSports” could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports.
- In order to be recognised by the IOC as a sport, the content of “eSports” must not infringe on the Olympic values.
- A further requirement for recognition by the IOC must be the existence of an organisation guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement (anti-doping, betting, manipulation, etc.).
The Summit asked the IOC together with GAISF (Global Association of International Sports Federations) in a dialogue with the gaming industry and players to explore this area further and to come back to the Olympic Movement stakeholders in due course.
You can read the full communique here.
Esports, compliance and the Olympics
The beginnings of the type of organization that the IOC is looking for might already exist on the compliance side of things. There is the Esports Integrity Coalition and the South Korea-based International e-Sports Federation. (More on the latter from Sports Business Journal in addition to more analysis on esports and the Olympics generally.)
Launched in 2015, the ESIC has taken great strides to create common rules on cheating, match fixing and doping. Those were all things mentioned by the summit. But it trails the IESF in other aspects of prepping for Olympic inclusion, and it isn’t even clear it could or would fill the role of creating country-level esports federations.
But given several more years, the ESIC or the IESF might fit the bill.
Esports and ‘Olympic values?’
The part about “values” is perhaps the most loaded passage from the summit. How would esports fit in a box that is acceptable to the Olympics?
Some games would not seem to fit with the Olympic movement out of the gate. CS:GO would likely sit on the sidelines because it’s people shooting each other in a video game.
What about games like Dota 2 and League of Legends? These games obviously feature (cartoonish) violence, but it does not mimic the real world like CS:GO. Esports based on real sports — soccer, football, basketball — might make more sense.
And of course, there could be new games that arise in the coming years that might warrant inclusion. No matter what, it appears the decision on which esports, if any, will be added to the Olympic program will come after the 2020 Tokyo Games.
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Becoming an Olympic sport would be big for any esport
The very fact that the Olympics appear to be recognizing esports alongside more traditional sports is encouraging. (However, the Olympics have always been eager to label new things as sports. See: ballroom dancing.)
But still, the inclusion of an esport in the Olympic program could be a game-changer for any title. In addition to the dream of one day becoming a pro, players can chase the dream of representing their countries.
Will any esport make the cut in the short term? We still have a few years till we learn that answer.