Esports in the Olympics?

Esports in the Olympics?


Many might be surprised to learn that esports aren't far from becoming an Olympic endeavor. In 2016, a request was brought to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to consider the inclusion of esports, and not long afterward, suggestions that esports could make an appearance at the 2024 Paris games either as a demonstration event or, potentially, a proper medal event began circulating.

As someone involved in esports discussing the prospect of olympic adoption, you might imagine my bias, but I have attempted to dissociate from that perspective as much as possible when responding to this key, controversial question: are the Olympics the best venue for esports?

That brings us to the first hurdle, can esports be considered real sports? According to the European Journal for Sport and Society, esports share the same fine motor skills, cognitive and psychological elements found in traditional sports. That said, there is an obvious difference in the quality of athleticism between the two and there's the additional complication of esports taking place, at least partially, in a virtual world. Though they aren't the same exactly, both are expressions of skill or prowess in a competitive environment. Besides, the Olympics have pushed the boundaries of what is meant by sport before.

Take, for instance, some of the events that are no longer featured in the Olympics:

1900 Olympic Croquet
  • Paris, 1900: Live Pigeon Shooting, Tug of War, and Croquet
  • St. Louis, 1904: Singlestick (a game where players hit each other with wooden sticks)
  • Athens, 1906: Dueling Pistols (with plastic dummies)
  • Los Angeles, 1932: Rope Climb

Clearly some of these events were products of their time and couldn't be conceivable in the present, but that is part of the argument in favor of esports. The Olympics haven't only been motivated by pure athletics, but also by what's culturally relevant. Rather than being arbiters of what constitutes "sport", they are facilitators of the global competitive events the world wants to see.

Since the growth of global connectedness through internet accessibility, and since games have a player-base that is online and worldwide, the popularity of gaming is hard for the committee to ignore. While most of the more established esports scene and fanbase exists in Asia and Europe, even in the U.S. esports have surpassed the MLB in terms of viewership. For the Olympic Committee, choosing to highlight esports is a major endorsement and a recognition of new cultural climate.

Even if esports deserve to be recognized and have their own tournament, isn't there another place for it? Since 2000, the World Cyber Games have hosted events for esports and has even been informally dubbed the "Esports Olympics", though despite its name, the event is still primarily a more regional event. Proof of the need for an expanded governing body came when the Asian Games, the world's second largest multi-sport event, incorporated esports as a demonstration sport in Indonesia 2018. There was still a need to coordinate efforts on an international scale, giving even more incentive for the Olympics to follow suit.

Asian Games 2018 Esports

As of last update, esports are slated to make an appearance in Paris 2024 as a demonstration. However, as IOC President Thomas Bach made clear, no violent titles will be featured. This is a major step toward the adoption of esports into the mainstream, being featured at the world's most prominent stage. They are deserving of their place in the Olympics because esports are the future of global competition, they are the most level playing field to exist (barring technological equity, a separate and important issue).

This April, in further adoption news, the Special Olympics announced that it would be adding esports to its unified programming. Clearly the organization's position is cementing. Assuming a successful launch in 2024, it really isn't hard to imagine medals to follow. The only tough question remains: are esports Winter or Summer sports?