Will e-Sports succeed at the Olympics?

E-sports’ star has been shining bright, and even the Olympics couldn’t ignore it. Will e-sports ever don the Laurel?

At All That Matters 2018, Ralf Reichert, CEO of Electronic Sports League (ESL) / Turtle Entertainment, was interviewed by Nicholas Khoo, co-founder and Chairman of Singapore Cybersports and Online Gaming Association (SCOGA).

Ralf Reichert talked about everything e-sports, and why it has made sensational news. Of particular note was the discussion as to whether the Olympics will pick up e-sports as an event.

Of course, at first, it all sounds like a joke. Possibly the biggest and most prestigious sports competition in the world, picking up an event where people sit down in computer chairs and play video games? However, it is not unprecedented.

In the recent 2018 Asian Games, an International Olympics Committee (IOC) recognised event, e-sports was held as a demonstration event, and supposedly will be a medalled event at the 2022 Asian Games. However, the plan has been put on hold, as concerns over the violence of video games were raised. President of the IOC, Thomas Bach said: “We cannot have in the Olympic program, a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. So-called killer games. They, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted.”

When probed about actually violent sports like fencing and boxing, Bach reiterated. “Of course every combat sport has its origins in a real fight among people. But sport is the civilized expression about this. If you have e-games where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values.”

Marcus Gilmer of Mashable wrote it best: “Setting aside for a moment that the IOC has a long history of behaviour that is “contradictory to the Olympic values,” like, say, bribery and even more bribery, Bach seems to be missing the forest for the trees here, painting e-sports with an incredibly broad brush.”

E-sports isn’t a coalition of related games: Smash Bros and Counter-Strike are both wildly popular e-sports, and that’s pretty much the only similarity. They require different platforms to run, different resolutions, different input methods, different skill-sets, and different players. Counter-Strike might fit the “violent” aspects Thomas Bach was talking about (although keep in mind that these professional players won’t suffer from debilitating head injuries from repeated trauma through the rest of their lives), but Smash Bros features things like Pikachu and Kirby fighting each other. Where does one draw the line of whether a video game is too violent?

Ralf Reichert himself believes that there are unique challenges to e-sports being an Olympic event. He points to the sudden explosion of battle royale games like PUBG and Fortnite, and wonders how it will be possible for the Olympics to predict these kinds of trends. IOC decides the event list at the Games many years before the event is held, and it doesn’t make much sense logistically.

A 5v5 game like DOTA requires 10 computers separated into two different teams, while a battle royale game like Fortnite would require a 100 people, either split into twenty-five teams of 4 or fifty teams of 2. Are the Olympics flexible enough to accommodate so many different types of games?

Plus, there is no guarantee as to the viewership and longevity of any game. DOTA 2, League of Legends, and Starcraft II are outliers. What about games like Paragon, Infinite Crisis and Gigantic?

All these games were obviously designed with potential e-sports in mind, and they all fizzled out and died. Just like how nobody will be able to predict whether a game gains in popularity, the vice versa is also true. If the game fizzles out before the big Olympics tournament, what happens? Hasty substitution of the game, or the reallocation of players to other games will both cause dissatisfaction.

Also, video games are unlike any other sport. No one really owns say, football or basketball? Sure, FIFA and FIBA oversee international competitions and enforce some rules, but it is still mostly up to regional or geographical leagues to supervise the sport. Video games are an entirely different story though.

Valve owns DOTA 2. Riot Games owns League of Legends. Epic Games owns Fortnite. They not only develop and sustain the game, but also are entirely in charge of everything that happens within the game. The IOC would have to license each game, taking care of which one is more popular than which, and will also face burning questions if a game is excluded. It is also simply not possible to include every single game out there.

The list of possible problems and complications go on and on. Should the Olympics ever take on e-sports, they have to prepare for the innate volatility and unpredictability that comes with it.

The viability of e-sports becoming an Olympic Games event remains a question mark. However, what’s so bad about them being separate things? If you are an e-sports fan, there’s no lack of outstanding tournaments for different genre of games.

Sure, you might never see Faker or Miracle light the Olympic torch, but you can watch them streaming from their bedrooms.