Esports’ quest to become an Olympic sport is an intriguing subplot within an industry that doesn’t really need to seek vindication from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in general.
Speaking in 2018, the IOC President Thomas Bach spoke at length about esports in the Olympics, ruling out any esports promoting violence or war in its gameplay. Many commentators, including myself, then pointed out the somewhat illogical argument here. After all, the IOC is more than happy to sanction Ju-Jitsu, boxing, judo, fencing, shooting, archery, and wrestling.
Bach keeps talking
Then, last December, Bach another baffling statement. He suggested esports would not be viable for Paris in 2024, as the technology will have moved on so much by then that the esports that are commonly played now will have been replaced.
“If you were to include one of these games we know now for ’24, the young generation in ’24 may say, ‘This has been played by my grandfather. What is this?” Bach said in a statement.
Let’s look at facts here, though. League of Legends was released in October 2009, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in August 2012, and Dota 2 in July 2013. Look at those timelines, and tell me the gaming world will be unrecognizable five years from now. Bach has a lot of opinions for someone who seems to know very little about the esports industry, much less the specific games.
Intel steps in
Then, this past week, Intel opened discussions with the IOC about inclusion.
Intel played a key role in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games where it showcased how new technology, such as 5G, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and even drones could be used to enhance and update the games. They also demonstrated the potential for esports’ inclusion using StarCraft as their chosen game.
Intel is one of the Olympic Games’ main sponsors, and they have provided technology at many Olympic venues for viewership.
Scott Gillingham, Intel UK’s gaming and esports leader, stated that Intel had been in discussions with the IOC about esports place in the Olympics, saying:
“We don’t have a view on whether it should be [included] or not but we’re totally open and have been talking to the Olympics to let them understand what esports is and what potential there could be for it, but ultimately it is down to the Olympic Committee on whether they decide to bring it on.”
Interestingly, the organizers of the Paris 2024 Games have purportedly held talks with the IOC about esports. This is believed to be part of a national plan within France to make Paris one of the major esports hubs in Europe.
Cold, hard cash could, indeed, be the driving force here. And the IOC will be under no illusions as to just how much Intel’s continued sponsorship of the Olympics is worth to them in purely financial terms. Therefore, Intel could well be the key to esports’ potential inclusion in the coming years.
Barriers still to be crossed
The most pressing issue is still that conundrum of violence in games. CS:GO, Overwatch, Dota 2, and League of Legends, would all fall prey.
The other issue is that many other popular titles, such as NBA Basketball or FIFA Football, already have their sports included. Would adding another version as an esport be overkill, counter-productive, or lessen the impact of esports?
What has become clear over the last 12 months or so is that the IOC’s stance on esports is continually negative. Indeed, one might wonder why esports would want to become involved if this is how the Games’ chief governing body operates.
The answer is simple: worldwide exposure. The road to that destination, however, is anything but straight.