I would love to see top tier esports play out at the Olympics for Paris 2024, but sadly esports at the Olympics seems doomed to fail. This despite the attempts by the Paris Olympic bid committee and in particular Tony Estanguet, a three time olympic gold winning slalom canoeist, to bring it into consideration.
Still, I’m an optimist, and I want to believe that the Olympics and esports can work together. If it is to happen, here are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome by an Olympic games featuring digital sports.
The biggest struggle for the International Olympic Committee is one of perception. The IOC needs to have the discussion about whether or not it should recognise the governing body of esports in an official sense, which is actually a discussion on whether they want to consider ‘esports’ as a type of sport. This will probably involve them pointedly asking themselves ‘is this a sport?’ with increasingly serious grimaces, as people most used to competing in the physical space try and understand the prowess underpinning digital sports.
I’m not trying to be harsh here, it’s just a lot to get your head around and esports has exploded into the scene within the last 20 years, challenging everything that makes up traditional sports.
Just ask these sports fans, who get riled in response to a recent tweet, announcing that the BBC would be showing esports event the Gfinity Elite Series on BBC Three.
Every time esports turns up in the news, these guys appear in comment sections and social media to denigrate the whole thing, and if esports actually made it to the Olympics? I think the outpouring of salt would be enough to give the entire industry kidney failure.
Then of course, there’s the problems with perception in the other direction, with an esports scene that already has several high profile competitions of its own, and might not see what competing at the Olympics can offer when esports events are already filling out huge arenas worldwide.
In terms of solutions the Olympics and esports would need to work together to try and bridge the gap, with experts that can explain elegantly the differences between esports and traditional sports, but also the ways in which the two are similar, and why it doesn’t make you any less of a sports fan to appreciate it in a digital format.
Paris 2024, and the Summer Olympics in general, take place during the... summer. The clue is in the title.
Thing is, many major esports events also take place during the summer. Just in the past two weeks we’ve been dealing with the qualifiers for the Quake World Championships, an NBC televised Rocket League tournament, the end of the League of Legends Summer Split in several regions, along with the Call of Duty World Championship and Dota 2’s $24m The International tournament.
The Olympics doesn’t have a prize pool, and players compete by country rather than in their established teams. Overwatch team League may be based in Las Vegas, for example, but the entire team is French so they’d have to compete as France. However, this gets more complex when you look at multinational teams, who would be unable to compete in their established rosters, and would instead have to team up with other players from the region. This is already an issue in sports, with several international Football teams often skipping out on Olympic competition.
Also playing by country means no sponsorship opportunities or exposure for esports organisations. As a result of this, many teams might feel uneasy about letting their star players take a month off during the busiest period of the year, and several top tier players might prefer to try for a win in one of their game’s biggest tournaments or taking home a chunk of prize money, than competing for their country for recognition and an Olympic medal, which is a worthy prize, but pales somewhat when the alternative is a multi-million pound prize pool.
Positives here are that the Olympics are only once every four years, so maybe that will give it an urgency that makes people want to compete,
Level of competition
The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, with the main draw being watching the very best athletes in the world come together to decide who is best. If the best players won’t come along, a possibility that we’ve discussed above, then countries may have to pick up B-tier competitors.
This has several issues, firstly that putting esports on an Olympic stage is going to open it up to a lot of new eyes for the first time, and it’s key that they see esports with the very best in the world going at it, instead of whomever they could get onto the team, as we’ve seen with say, the Olympic football tournament in several previous competitions.
This would be a struggle for the Olympics as the IOC specifically want to target the younger audience, who will be eagerly clamouring for a chance to see their favourite players compete, and could be put off by them not attending. The younger audience is a key part of the IOC’s enthusiasm for esports, who are hoping that by drawing them in with esports, they can also get them cheering for the rest of the Olympics, crucial at a time when cities are less keen on bidding for the mega-tournament as interest in the event is down, and costs to produce it are growing massively with each event.
Broadcasting esports is a totally different task to broadcasting traditional sports, and it raises a lot of potential issues. It’s unlikely that the Olympics would partner with Twitch to make sure they got their set-up right without some intense negotiation with their existing broadcasting partners, but they will need to foresee the technological hurdles to broadcasting several different esport games, potentially with different required set-ups, to make sure it’s as good as any other tournament for the viewers, and those watching at home.
Ultimately, if you don’t nail the technology, there’s a good chance any esports event is going to be embarrassing. The Olympic broadcasting teams have a lot of talent, but esports production is a world away from sports production, and may require teaming up with an established company, which isn’t too taxing, but does represent more hurdles to get it done just right.
It’s a bit violent/confusing, isn’t it?
Face it, the Olympics can’t run a sport that’s indecipherable to passers by like League of Legends, and it can’t go for the high octane murdersport of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Esports is likely to be a category of events, like watersports or athletics, but even then many of the sports involved will need to be easy enough to understand with the minimum of effort.
This does, regrettably, mean that we’ll probably be watching Rocket League, or something riffing on it, in 2024.
This is a shame, because Dota’s unique brand of wizard fights, or Counter-Strike’s tense plays, can appear to be choreographed as well as a gold-medal gymnastics routine. Although admittedly often with less somersaulting.
There’s a lot of games that’d be a great fit for the Olympic stage, but are either too complex or violent to really make an appearance. Still, if we can have Dressage, we can have Street Fighter V, surely?