A short time ago, prior to the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave the green light for two esports events to run ahead of the games. This came just three months after the IOC recognized esports, or competitive computer gaming, as a form of sport.
While reaction to those two esports events in South Korea has been mixed — with some Olympic stars very much against esports having any form of representation at the Games — it is perhaps unsurprising that given the buoyant state of the esports industry (not to mention the steady increase in revenues esports generates) there have been calls to include it as an Olympic sport.
Then, things took an interesting turn this week. One of the key Olympic sponsors in Asia, Alibaba, announced it would support the inclusion of esports within the Olympics, as reported on the Gamerant website, but with one key proviso.
What’s the catch?
Alibaba says it will only support non-violent games in the Olympics.
Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong told reporters the company was “pushing for soccer, car racing and other games to be endorsed as an official competitive [Olympic] sport.”
Part of this reasoning is the Olympic Games’ longheld mission to promote peace across the world. With that in mind, Zhang revealed Alibaba’s future focus would change.
“That’s why for the future development of esports, we will focus more on titles that are actually related to sports, instead of games that focus on violence and slaughter.”
In truth, Zhang was simply restating similar comments made by IOC President Thomas Bach, another IOC member who feels esports may have an Olympic future, but only for games that do not depict violence.
A stop sign to all the big esports titles?
On the level of the Olympics’ stated mission and overall ethos, this stance against violence in games makes sense. If we dig deeper, this position is illogical, maybe even hypocritical.
At the moment, the biggest and most popular esports games in the world, certainly the ones that attract the most viewers, could be termed “violent games.” At the very least, they’e strategic games with elements of violence.
Games such as Call of Duty, Rainbow Siege, Overwatch, Battlegrounds, and the esports giant Counter-Strike: Global Offensive all hinge on strategies to kill or “frag” other players on the path to victory.
Even with games where the violent element is perhaps not so all-encompassing, like Dota 2, League of Legends, and StarCraft II, it could be assumed they won’t meet the IOC’s supposed standard. After all, these titles all require destruction of a team or player to win.
While the moral majority would give themselves a slap on the back for this, in terms of marketability, this approach removes many of the biggest and most popular games in the world. As a result, it massively reduces the potential appeal of any Olympic esports tournament.
This also raises questions of the esports industry. Do game developers like Blizzard and Valve need to shift focus away from their current esports offerings and instead work on developing more sports titles?
Different standards for sports and esports?
The troubling issue for many who have watched esports and the Olympics become somewhat uneasy bedfellows is that the IOC’s stance smacks of some hypocrisy. Certainly, no one is in favor of deliberately promoting violence.
Yet the IOC has absolutely no problems with including many violent sports in its events. Here’s a full list of Olympic sports that require violence or wielding weapons:
- Biathlon (Winter Olympics)
- Modern Pentathlon (Fencing and Shooting are two of the five disciplines in this event)
- Wrestling (Freestyle and Greco-Roman)
Furthermore, the IOC has already given the green light for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games to include five new sports, one of which is karate.
Now in any of these sports, there is the potential for real tragedy to occur. Each contains elements of using a weapon, or combat, or both. How can the IOC reconcile its support for these sports in particular, when insisting that all esports be violence-free?
Likely esports Olympics contenders
If the most popular esports are ruled out on grounds of violence, what games could be considered?
FIFA Soccer would fit the criteria, and so would the motor racing game F1 2018. My guess is that it will be less the quality of the game and more the amount of money a company is willing to pay that will be the deciding factor in what esports get into the Olympics.
Time will tell whether this approach is the right one to adopt. It’s hard to criticize the decision from a moral standpoint. But in a decision based on money, viewership, and arbitrary new standards, something doesn’t sit quite right.
Editorial credit: Sagase48 / Shutterstock.com