Following the recent Olympics in PyeongChang, there has been much conversation about the future inclusion of Esports. While many continue to contest the idea of Esports players as “athletes”, recent comments at the Olympic Summit comparing the training regimes of those in Esports and traditional sports may help open the gates for Esports to enter the Olympics in the near future.
Esports has exploded over the past few years, surging to a staggering global audience of 380 million in 2018 according to a report by Newzoo. Approaching almost a billion dollars in revenue, it's an industry that can no longer be ignored. As leagues hold competitions that span multiple countries and continents, the Olympics seems a natural progression in further validating the industry and its fans.
For the Olympics, adding Esports to their offerings could be a huge step in capturing a share of Esports viewers. Engaging with a largely youthful audience could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Adding Esports helps secure the future of the Olympics, while further legitimizing Esports in the eyes of many traditional sports fans.
Still, there is significant pushback at the mention of Esports in the Olympics from traditional sports fans. Recently, German Football Association (DFB) president Reinhard Grindel was quoted stating “esports is not a sport”, and the idea of Esports at the Olympics is “absurd”. While there are many who share Grindel’s view, he still admitted that Esports has already become their single biggest competitor.
Another criticism has been the violence inherent in many of the popular Esports titles. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, has publicly expressed concern that violence in many titles is not consistent with Olympic values that promote “non-violence, and peace among people.” While it is true that video games can have violent aspects, this does not seem to be out of line with current Olympic events including boxing, archery, or shooting competitions.
Despite these criticisms, other organizations have embraced the rise of Esports. Many National Basketball Association (NBA) owners have personally invested in Esports organizations, and the creation of the NBA2K League includes 17 different teams. Commissioner Adam Silver has also quickly categorized players as “athletes’, stating they possess a “different kind of physical prowess”.
If there were to be a start date for Esports at the Olympics, the most likely event may be the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Home to one of the most passionate fan bases in Esports, co-President of Paris 2024 Tony Estanguet has publicly stated Esports is something they must look at and “try if we can find some bridges”.
While some will continue to downplay the industry, the momentum surrounding Esports is undeniable. Although obstacles around the inclusion of Esports into the Olympics still exist, we may see Esports appear at the Olympics as soon as 2024. What the popular games and genres will be six years from now remains to be seen, but the industry and its fans are here to stay.