No Holds Barred: Esports in the Olympics

In the beginning of August, an Associated Press article made the rounds on esports websites, announcing that esports may be considered for the 2024 Paris Olympics, according to Tony Estanguet, the co-president of the 2024 Paris Olympic bid committee.

The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has spoken to South China Morning Post and said that esports, or at least the most popular games falling under the wider category of esports, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Overwatch, do not adhere to the Olympic principles.

In the article, he’s quoted saying that, “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.”

According to Bach, he would be fine with competitors who play sports simulators, like NBA 2K17 and FIFA 17 participating in the Olympics, as long as they followed clear and standardised rules. It is understandable to see him leaving himself an out in case of sports-based esports blowing up even more in the coming years. That doesn’t make competitive video gaming, even when the games played are peaceful or even related to sports, anymore suitable for the greatest traditional sports spectacle in the world.

I have to agree wholeheartedly with what Thomas Bach said. His argument is not the only reason why esports is not a good fit for the Olympic Games, though.

While I am the first to defend esports competitors when people ignorantly claim that they just play video games for a living and it’s easy, in reality, they train hard, possibly even harder than traditional athletes and have to deal with the same pressure to perform. They don’t have any job security, because the team could cut them at any time. Yes, they would probably get paid their remaining salary, but what if they can’t find another team? The way they play is also much less like fun and more like hard work. They don’t play to have fun, they play to improve, which can be very boring.

To make it worse, even the star players could earn more live streaming than playing professionally in many cases. The less well-known players are in a situation that’s even worse. If they decided to quit, they would have a hard road ahead of them because it’s likely that they quit school to chase their esports dream.

So, what are the other reasons why esports don’t belong in the Olympics?

First of all, esports titles are made by a companies, while traditional sports aren’t owned by anyone. You can go outside and run around the block a couple of couple of times and say you went running. You can pick up a ball, get to a field with some friends and play football. Good luck playing FIFA 17 legally without buying a copy.

The game itself is a piece of intellectual property. If some kind of football (soccer) simulator was to be included in the Olympics, how would it be decided which game was the right one if there was more than one? How much would companies pay to have their game as the one chosen by the International Olympic Committee? What if the most-skilled football simulator players prefer a different game? What if the most popular football simulator, played by the best players, isn’t actually the closest to a real game of football?

Also, the Olympic Games is a nation-based event. While Activision-Blizzard is trying to get something like that started with their Overwatch World Cup, the industry as a whole is years, maybe even decades behind what it should be for the infrastructure needed to support proper participation in the Olympic Games. Every country would need to have their own Olympic Committees for every title that could be accepted into the Olympics. National Olympic Committees get a lot of money from their country’s budget. Can you imagine the government of your country dedicating resources to get esports set up for the Olympics? I can’t either.

Yes, there are attempts to start something like a worldwide esports governing body, namely WESA, the World Esports Association, but the problem is that WESA is made up of mostly European organisations, has a very strong CS: GO basis and doesn’t seem to be doing anything despite bold claims. Even if they grew to encompass all of esports, the last word would still belong to the developers as the owners of the IP. If they had different ideas about the way things should be done, the Olympic esports dream woudl crumble like a house of cards because, ultimately, WESA would never own the rights to the relevant game.