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Should eSports Be in the Olympics?

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
"Video games as sports!? Nonsense!" - Everyone in 2015 "Ok video games can be sports but eSports in the Olympics!? Nonsense!" - Everyone in 2018 "Who cares about sports the Apes are fighting Cyberdyne for control of mankind!" - Everyone in 2024, probably.
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Should eSports be in the Olympics?

In 2020, the most prestigious sporting event in the world is heading to Tokyo. The Olympics as we know them today originated in Athens in 1896, based on the Ancient Greek games played more than a thousand years ago. Over the last century, various sports have been added as they become more and more mainstream with athletes wanting to compete in them. In the 2020 Olympics, for example, the International Olympic Committee – or IOC – have opted to include karate, surfing, and skateboarding to Japan’s Olympic roster. The line-up of sports changes frequently, with softball leaving in 2005 but making a return for 2020, bowling present in Seoul in 1988 but never before or since, and even golf and rugby were briefly discontinued only to be voted back in for Rio in 2016.

But while the inclusion of some of these events may be contested, their status as a sport is not. Well, maybe a lot of you, like us, take offence to golf being called a sport, but thats not an argument we're going to win. And like rich people's famous past-time of hitting a ball into a gofer hole, there is another activity, enjoyed by a very specific group of people which often gets a rough deal when it comes to being professionally recognized: eSports. Ever since the eSports boom, its status as a sport or even a legitimate thing to do has been hotly debated, but now there are some very real steps being taken towards including eSports in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. French officials have said that young people are passionate about eSports and so they should at least have a conversation about its inclusion. In 2014, ex-creative officer for Blizzard Rob Pardo said that he wholly believes that one day eSports could make it into the Olympic line-up, only to be argued with directly by the president of ESPN, John Skipper. Skipper denied that eSports were a sport, instead claiming that it was only “a competition,” despite broadcasting huge “League of Legends” tournaments on his network. If even the people who endorse eSports are skeptical about its status, it begs the question what chance is there to turn the rest of the population onto it?

The initial reaction, at least my initial reaction was 'this is a joke, right?'. The olympics have always been associated with physical prowess, athleticism. Who can run the longest, throw the farthest, hit the hardest, not click out the most actions per minute. Video games are also pretty violent, even relatively tame games like Overwatch, Starcraft or League of Legends show death and violence with two teams trying to kill each other. Hockey has that too but it also have all the athletic requirements so it gets a pass. While video games definitely fall into the category of 'friendly competition', the worlds within the game universes themselves are a very different story. And it's not just sport snobs or Jack Thompsons' who reject the idea, gamers themselves are just as confused by the notion of video games in the Olympics.

So what are the arguments in favour of eSports being alongside traditional sports in the Olympics. Well, for one thing, eSports, just like traditional sports, are incredibly competitive. In fact, All-Time Great Olympian Michael Phelps recognizes the high-level of competition involved in competitive gaming, and even presented the Best eSports Player Award to Coldzera at the 2016 Game Awards, saying “there is absolutely no question to [him] the level of skill, training, and devotion it requires to become a professional gamer,” and calling eSports players “fellow athletes.” Talk about a ringing endorsement. If we use the current esports climate as a model, its not hard to see why some people feel this way. Motor skills and mental acuity are essential to professional gamers. Remember, we're not just talking about really good gamers, we're talking about the best gamers in the world, technically the best gamers that ever lived. You might have a few games that you consider yourself 'godlike' in, but believe me, a professional in the same game would annihilate you without batting an eye.

What I'm trying to say is that it's easy to argue that professional gaming can't be a real sport, but sports also shouldn't be so easily disqualified.

The real problem however, isn't even a question of tradition or physical aptitude, the only hurdle that esports has to overcome is the stigma surrounding gaming as a whole. It's an uphill battle against public opinion. Even people inside the gaming industry are not convinced about people earning OlympicGold Medals through eSports competitions. Oh sure, professional gamers and companies who have esports platforms have a vested interest in seeing esports in the Olympics, but thats because they have money to make. Also not to sound too cynical here, but so does the Olympics, and tradition only matters to a point. But that money will only come when audiences, fans who ultimately support the Olympics are able to get behind video games being associated with Olympic medals. 2024 may seem like a long way away, but acceptance of video games as a traditional sport is even further away. But we honestly believe that thats where the conversation is going to end up in the long run.

In South Korea, eSports are basically the country’s de facto national sport, and the players there are treated like celebrities. It’s the western bodies of the IOC and western countries who aren’t yet ready to accept the popularity of eSports. In Korea, esports players ARE treated like athletes, while in Europe and North America players constantly have to explain, justify and defend their choice of profession to people who are not familiar with the scene. Inclusion in the Olympics wouldn’t totally fix the problem, but it would be a huge step in the direction of proving the validity of eSports. Of course, esports can't make it to the Olympics until they are treated like real sports, so they whole thing is circular.

eSports have been called the first major sport to be invented in a century, described as the “new world sport.” Played in sold-out stadiums and huge arenas, live-streamed around the world to hundreds of millions of fans, it’s getting harder for people to deny the popularity of this new mode of competitive entertainment. While we’d love to see eSports join other competitions on the world stage because of the effect it would have on public perception, the truth is that it would fundamentally change the Olympics, probably forever. I honestly believe that change is coming, but not in 2024, or 2028, maybe not even until 2077, but it IS coming.
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