There was much anticipation over the “Esports Forum” conducted by the International Olympic Committee on 21 July, which brought members of the Olympic Movement together with 150 members of the eSports community at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The event itself was a teaching session for both entities and the IOC’s own summary noted that Olympic participation was not a goal:
“The Forum explored areas of commonality and potential collaboration, including the question of whether esports could be recognised as a sport, and in which form they could be represented within the Olympic Movement, when an organisation does not currently exist that represents esports globally and could align with the Olympic values, rules and regulations. For this reason, the consideration of whether esports could be included on the Olympic programme was not an immediate goal of the Esports Forum.”
International Basketball Federation (FIBA) president and IOC member Patrick Baumann (SUI), who – next to IOC chief Thomas Bach – has become the most indispensable person in the Olympic Movement, played up the one true parallel between the two words, noting “we are united by passion for our sports and a shared love of competition.”
That’s really about all. In my view, there is a wide gulf between eSports and the concept of the Olympic Games. And the difference is people.
Obviously, there are people in both eSports and the Olympics. The difference is that every Olympic sport depends on organic power sources: animals, nature or human beings. In the Games:
- Sports where competitors compete using human-controlled animals or implements (21):
Individual sports (15):
Archery, Badminton, Canoe-Kayak, Cycling, Equestrian, Fencing, Golf, Gymnastics, Modern Pentathlon, Rowing, Shooting, Table Tennis, Tennis, Triathlon bicycles), Weightlifting.
Team Sports (6):
Basketball, Football, Handball, Hockey, Rugby, Volleyball
- Sports where competitors compete in concert with nature (1):
- Sports where competitors compete against directly against each other (6):
Athletics, Boxing, Judo, Swimming, Taekwondo, Wrestling
In the Winter Games, all of the sports – Biathlon, Bobsleigh & Skeleton, Curling, Ice Hockey, Luge Skiing and Skating – use human-controlled implements for competition.
None use electricity or any other form of artificial power – such as engines – for competition. And that’s the key difference.
The eSports explosion is an extension of the computer revolution that began in the 1970s and came to consumers in the 1980s in the form of the personal computer. It is not human sport, but computer-aided competition which is in its own category.
If the IOC remains true to its role of emphasizing sport as a path to personal fitness, then eSports cannot be a part of the Olympic Games.
And Bach and the IOC see this with clarity. And in what has become a hallmark of Bach’s leadership, there is no rejection of eSports, but an invitation to keep meeting and talking. So, of course, the outcome of the Esports Forum was an “Esports Liaison Group” which will continue the discussion.
IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell noted that “There was a consensus that future collaboration will be based on ensuring that any activity supports and promotes the Olympic values; and while the goal was not to develop a pathway towards the inclusion of esports on the Olympic programme, we have a strong plan for ongoing dialogue and engagement.”
Highly-respected commentators like Alan Abrahamson believe the IOC’s interest in eSports foretells its inclusion in the Olympic Games sooner than later. Conspiracy theorists note Intel’s place as an IOC sponsor and are sure that the company will use its influence to get eSports admitted to the Games program. And it is true that eSports players – especially at the elite level – are younger.
An ESPN study noted that “overall, esports players are significantly younger than their counterparts in other major sports.” But with the worldwide population aging rapidly, will eSports continue to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the IOC and its partners in the future?
The strength of the Olympic Games is that it brings people together, in person, for peaceful competition against each other. The potential for eSports, if it can tear itself away from the savagery of many of its games, is to bring people together at the same time, without being in the same place.
There is ample space for the two sides to collaborate, but it is not at the Olympic Games.