With viewership numbers increasing every year, major networks, like ESPN, are taking notice and expanding their audience by providing content to the public. Major tournaments can now make players instant millionaires.
Furthermore, arenas that typically feature professional sports teams are now being filled up with esports fanatics watching their favorite teams compete.
The case for esports being a real sport
Video game tournaments have been around for more than 20 years, but this new wave is setting the bar higher than anyone could have anticipated. Your traditional sport sponsors are flocking in droves to this new phenomenon as well, including Coke, Intel, Nissan, and Red Bull.
Esports is a young, increasingly popular, and culturally diverse paradox that appeals to a new generation of sports fans across the globe. It’s what all new sports leagues want to achieve, but this movement is purely digital.
It’s that digital aspect, “athletes” sitting in front of a computer, to which traditional sports fans have a difficult time relating.
Replace the headbands with headsets, basketballs and footballs with mouse and keyboard, and gatorade with energy drinks — sports are evolving before our eyes. But will esports ever be considered a real sport?
Furthermore, does it really matter how it’s designated?
Can esports be considered an Olympic event?
Regardless of how you answered those two previous questions, esports are real and they’re not going anywhere. Now, esports is being discussed for entry into the Olympics, perhaps as early as 2020 in Tokyo.
That’s right; the next person to carry the torch out for the United States could be Yiliang ‘Doublelift’ Peter Peng, a second generation American.
You won’t see him swimming the 200 meter butterfly in under two minutes like Michael Phelps or doing triple somersault spins on the gymnastic floor like Simone Biles, but he’ll crush you in a game of League of Legends faster then you can ask him if he’s a real athlete.
The process began in early 2015, with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) giving esports a glowing recommendation as they sponsored with the South Korea-based International eSports Federation (IeSF).
In addition, League of Legends has signed up to the World Anti-Doping Agency and adhere to their stringent doping policies. (Players are still able to find their wings with Red Bull.)
The International eSports Federation has since started the process to be recognized by the International Olympic Committee. After submitting a request to the IOC on Feb. 19, seeking information and guidelines on gaining recognition for competitive game, the IOC responded on April 8.
The IeSF has since started to work on gathering the proper materials and paperwork the IOC requested.
Applicants are required to fill out paperwork that cover basic information, popularity growth, history and tradition, universality, governance, and development of the sport. The evaluation said paperwork processing is set to begin in December 2017.
IeGC hosts Olympic-style tournament during Rio Games
In March, the British government also announced it would back the International eGames Committee (IeGC), a non-profit organization, in cooperation with the IOC to host an esports event in Rio de Janeiro alongside the Olympic Games this year.
That event launched as part of the London Games Festival, offering national pride and even medals, rather than the usual cash rewards that players receive in tournaments.
Participating countries include Britain, Canada, Brazil, and the United States.
The tournament will take place during future Olympic events as well, such as the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
IeGC has stated it will also host national qualifiers starting in 2018, much like the current Olympic qualifying system. This year’s tournament included a two-day event.
Future obstacles remain for esports
While the relationship between the IAAF and the IeSF mutually benefits both parties — IAAF gains the attention of a younger generation that may be disconnected from traditional sports and the IeSF gets the approval of a respectable authority — plenty of obstacles still remain.
For starters, the IAAF does not officially decide what defines a sport or furthermore, which sports are added to the Olympics. That can only be done by the IOC.
The IAAF does have some political pull in the matter, however.
Also, while supporters will state that esports takes more athletic skill then say, shooting a flying disc or curling, golf is just now returning to the Olympics after a 100+ year absence and baseball is still in the wind for the 2020 Olympics.
Another major obstacle in the way of esports being recognized as an Olympic sport is that the platform involves commercialized video games and corporations. It will take some serious political clout to overcome that obstruction.
While Britain and South Korea have publicly backed esports becoming an Olympic event, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has remained quiet on the subject.
This is despite the USOC chairman, Larry Probst, also being chairman for Electronic Arts, one of the most recognized video game companies in the world. Perhaps that’s because they don’t currently have a horse in the race.
For now, esports have one major raid boss to slay before they can be serious contenders for an Olympics spot — gaining approval from the IOC. Until that happens, the 2020 Tokyo games remains a distant myth, much like the release date of Half-Life 3.
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