According to the Olympic Games website, the Esports Forum “began a dialogue to build joint understanding and set a platform for future engagement between the esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement.”
As esports begin to grow in stature within Asia, Olympic officials are now openly considering the idea of combining virtual sports with the Olympic Games as well.
The two recently came together when members of the esports community held the Esports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland. According to the Olympic Games website, the Esports Forum “began a dialogue to build joint understanding and set a platform for future engagement between the esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement.”
At the beginning of the event moderator Rick Fox, former LA Laker and owner of esports organisation Echo Fox, made the impassioned defence for openness in future dialogues as he led the forum’s diverse panels investigating the many perspectives on how esports could best participate at an Olympics.
The idea that sports played on game consoles could be considered an ‘athletic sport’–let alone an Olympic sport–has quietly gained momentum since the industry first started taking hold in the late 90s. Having previously been dismissed as ‘absurd’, few within the $5 billion industry now doubt the seriousness, dedication, training and financial investment that is now being poured into the ecosystem.
At a panel entitled What Defines the Olympic Movement? Overwatch esports athlete Jacob Lyon argued that the global nature of his sport makes it a natural fit for the Olympic movement. “I can play online with a player from another country, maybe they don’t speak the same languages, and yet we can become close friends naturally. The court is at once small enough for us to know each other and still big enough that we can join in from across the globe.”
Abhinav Bindra, Indian Olympic marksman and gold-medallist, argued that athletes were not only entrepreneurs and explorers but also beacons of hope. “Athletes fail more times than we succeed,” Bindra said at a roundtable discussion on the athlete’s perspective, “but we wake up every morning with renewed hope and renewed energy and try to keep pushing ourselves.”
It was perhaps this sentiment that convinced officials to have esports as a demonstration event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. In 2022, it will go one better and be a medal event too.
And although the Olympics officials didn’t commit to doing the same by adding esports to the Olympic Games, the forum did establish an Esports Liason Group that will take the conversation further and formally pitch at the next General Assembly meeting in November and have esports on the official agenda at the end of the year when the next Olympic Summit will be held.
“[W]hile 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, and are in a strong position to coordinate and support the wider engagement of the Olympic Movement with esports,” IOC Sports Director Kit McConnel said.
The next Olympics will be held in Tokyo on 2020 and will include new sports karate and skateboarding. And while envisaging gaming and esports as Olympic sports in 2024 might still come off as a pipe dream, the gaming communities’ olympic ambitions are now as close to a reality as ever.