Esports At The Olympics? Why Not!?

The International Olympics Committee is currently considering whether to include esports in the future Olympic Games.

By 2020, and if not then by 2024, we may be able to see video games played at an international competitive level, or we may not. The IOC says it needs more time and information before it can make a decision on whether they can be included. The IOC said that while some games are not “compatible with the Olympic values” they also recognise that “competitive gaming entails physical activity which can be compared to that required in more traditional sports”.

Now, purists and traditionalists will naturally say that computer games are clearly not sports as they don’t require the skill, training, aptitude or physical prowess that’s required by IRL sports whereas anyone who’s ever played or watched a tournament of esports will tell you that’s clearly not the case. Huge numbers of solid hours are required to learn how to play games at a competitive level, requiring skill, dedication and whatever else is needed to get to international competition level.

And as for the sniffy “Sport requires physical activity,” tell that to the horse. It’s not the horse who gets medals in the Equestrian events, but the people sitting on their backs. Or tell that to the archers who spend hours and hours improving their physical prowess and nailing their ability to stand perfectly still for the crucial seconds before they let fly their arrows.

Of course esports don’t recognise gender or disability, anybody who is good enough, no matter what their background, would be capable of becoming an Olympian.

Again, back to the traditionalists who would cry “But, but, it goes against the SPIRIT of the Games!”

Wrong again. One hundred and seven years ago the American Walter Winnas, Gold and Silver medalist (in two consecutive Games) for Sharpshooting as then was, picked up his third Olympic medal, another Gold. But this wasn’t for target shooting, although it was for a work in bronze, a sculpture called The American Trotter. In fact, right up until the 1952 Olympics juries were giving out medals for painting, architecture, poetry, literature and music, meaning that the Spirit of the Games has always been about healthy competition and skill bringing people together, and not only about physical sporting prowess.

Esports don’t even need Olympic recognition to become tournament sports either. There are already many international tournaments offering cash prizes, with Dota 2 having secured $3m in prize funds for the event coming later this year, and purpose built esports arenas being built in many cities throughout the world including the HyperX arena in Las Vegas.

Do Esports Even Need The Olympics?

So, even if esports aren’t picked up by the Olympics, that’s not about to have too much of a dent in their popularity. The game publishing industry was worth $135b in 2018 and it’s only going to increase because, as mentioned above, esports don’t recognise sex or disability. All you need is a console, a screen to play on and the time required to become the best in the world. Which isn’t even the point; the point is that games are meant to be fun. Play them to take time out of IRL and immerse yourself in an alternate reality where driving cars, flying planes and spacecraft, winning wars and solving puzzles are all that you need to concern yourself with for a few hours.

Before esports we had TV, and before TV we had books, and what’s the common thread? That they take us somewhere else without moving. (The fact that books are written to be read and TV is written my playwrights in order for it to be watched and games’ narratives are barely written by designers with no concern for arc, foreshadowing, subplot, character development, or Sturm und Drang is a matter of much contention for gameplayers who want better.)

Is One Form Of Entertainment Intrinsically Better Than Another?

People often bemoan the fact that they watch too much TV when they could be reading a book, and the same goes for games. As if there is some intellectual hierarchy of entertainment by which books are the pinnacle, TV is ok in moderation (so long as it’s the right TV), and video games are only really suitable for those who we should have sympathy for. Books are fine and all, but one of the biggest selling book franchises in recent years was Fifty Shades. For a habitual reader, ploughing through those things was far worse than anything Christian could have done to Anna unless he was forcing her to read The Davinci Code.

Which again brings us back to the snobbery of the intellectual and the contempt computer games are held in. Maybe the narratives, characterisation and dialogue in games could be better, but purple prose and jejune style isn’t the strict preserve of the gamer any longer.

Esport Makes All Sports Available To Everyone

So perhaps the answer is for esports to be accepted by the IOC after all. We’ve all watched the Games and wished that we could do that, and with computer games we really can. To excel at the Games takes many things including a trainer or coach, time, effort, energy, perseverance, motivation, funding and equipment. To excel at esports takes many of those things, except what is probably the hardest to find. If you don’t have a mentor, specialist equipment, a lot of money or the facilities required you can still use the rest to become the best in your field. So esports are a great leveller, and with the recognition that an Olympic Demonstration event would bring, it could attract the kind of people who would have been entirely excluded before. From coders, nerds, designers, writers through to players, the people who never would have had hopes of becoming an Olympian before suddenly have a chance.

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