A couple of years ago the idea might have sounded ludicrous. The Olympics is considered to be the finest test of human athletic ability. Where would esports even fit in?
However, esports could become an Olympic event sooner than you think. The idea to include esports events at the Olympics was initially discussed way back in 2016. The summer Olympics in Rio that year featured an e-games “exhibition.” Contrary to what it was called, the event included some eight teams of international players competing at pro-level in games like Super Smash Brothers Wii U.
In 2016, the International Olympic Committee was reported to have engaged in talks about including esports in the 2024 Olympics. A co-president of the Olympic Committee told media that they were “exploring” the possibilities.
Ardent gaming fans might see an esporting event at the Olympics much sooner than 2024. Intel recently announced that the company is partnering with Tokyo 2020 Olympics to introduce an Olympic-like event just for esports.
Intel World Open—A Glimpse into the Future of Olympics?
Intel World Open will be an esports tournament that precedes the Tokyo Olympics, but at the same time, would also be a part of it. Intel is planning to make it huge. The World Open would be hosted for over three days. E-athletes would compete in two games: Street Fighter V and Rocket League. The prize pool would be a highly desirable $500,000.
What’s apparently special about this is that Intel is planning the event to resemble a traditional Olympic sport. There would be multiple qualifiers for pros to get through. Intel is planning for local qualifiers and then national qualifiers, where the best four players from each country would form a national team. This team would represent their country.
The national teams will have to go to another qualifier in Poland, where a dozen teams would compete to represent one of five regions. (Right now, Intel has the regions down to the Americas, Asia Pacific, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.) Those who go through this final qualifier would face off at the Japanese team at World Open.
It doesn’t exactly follow the Olympic formal, where qualifying countries, not regions, compete against each other. But it’s close enough.
Though a heavily sponsored event, Intel World Open might be the closest gamers get to see esports enter the Olympics. It might even be a glimpse of things to come in the future.
When the Olympic Committee Seriously Considered Including Esports
The Olympic Committee has not been entirely closed to the idea of including esports as a serious entry. It has certainly played with the idea since 2016. While some committee members support the proposal, others have voiced strong opposition to it.
One major detractor is the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. He was quite firm in his opposition to an esports Olympic entry when he told the South China Post “We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions, and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line.”
To be clear, the Olympics currently feature games that can be considered violent, such as boxing, several types of martial arts, shooting, and archery. Perhaps Bach was referring to over-the-top fantasy violence in some video games, which can exceed the tolerance level allowed in competitive martial arts or boxing.
Violence is not the only reason why some oppose the inclusion of esports in the Olympics. Video games, even free to play ones, are intellectual property licensed to a corporation. None of the sports allowed at the Olympics share this feature. These sports are not licensed, and no single entity dictates the core rules of the game.
It doesn’t help the fact that some countries, particularly Japan, consider all esports to be a form of gambling. While you can bet on traditional sports, none are regulated as forms of gambling.
Not all gamers are enthusiastic about the inclusion of esports in the Olympics either. Some prefer that esports remain low-key and resent other players seeking validation from “legitimate” sporting institutions to make them more recognised.