The summer of sport has officially ended! And despite the disappointment of losing the final of the Euros, it’s been a hugely successful one. England’s first major final for 55 years followed by Team GB matching their medal total from London 2012 and Tokyo 2020 becoming the second most successful foreign Olympics ever. Before the Olympics started, we wrote a mailer looking forward to the Olympics and how unique Tokyo was compared to previous Olympics. In this mailer we debated which sports could be part of future Olympics, with esports one of our frontrunners.

Debate immediately followed here at MTM Sport around the validity of esports in the Olympics. This was fuelled last week by a Financial Times article entitled ‘The Olympics need esports more than esports need the Olympics’. I won’t lie, I shared the article in full knowledge of what was about to happen!

I’m a huge esports advocate and believe it’s inclusion in the Olympics is not just inevitable, but fully deserved. Inevitable because the IOC needs it. Their decision to include sports like surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing is a desperate attempt to attract Gen Zers who “are half as likely as millennials to watch live sports regularly and twice as likely to never watch” with “esports are more popular among Gen Z than MLB, NASCAR and the NHL.” It is deserved because of the levels of dedication, mental strength, endurance and pure talent of elite gamers. Training schemes and facilities that rival top athletes are commonplace in the most successful esports teams. It requires unbelievable amounts of practice to get to the top where levels of physical and mental exertion are comparable to many current Olympic sports.

The IOC have already dipped their toes into esports with the inaugural Olympic Virtual Series taking place before Tokyo. Whilst none of the major esports like League of Legends, DOTA 2, CS:GO or Fortnite were included, it has opened the door. What is clear is that for now the IOC are focused on hosting competitions in virtual versions of physical sports with some events taking place inside video games (Gran Turismo Sport for motorsports and Virtual Regatta for sailing) and others outside of gaming (Zwift competition for cycling).

Whilst Paris 2024 is too soon, might it come to LA 2028? It would be fitting; LA the entertainment capital of the world showcasing the biggest form of entertainment in the world right now. I’m all in! But’s that just me. Let the rest of MTM Sport take you through their arguments for and against.

The argument for

  • There are 2.7 billion gamers globally. The last global census undertaken by FIFA estimated there’s 270 million people active in football globally. It’s almost like these numbers are made up given how well they align! But 10x more people are gamers than play the biggest sport in the world. If the IOC want to cast the net wider in appeal, then esports must be up there.
  • Esports can lay claim to being one of, if not the, fastest growing entertainment products in the world. Total esports viewership is expected to grow from 454 million in 2019 to 646 million in 2023. That puts the esports audience on pace to nearly double over a six-year period, as the 2017 audience stood at 335 million.
  • In contrast, viewership of the Olympics is at an historic low with general sports viewership across major markets like the UK and US on the decline for years, impacted further by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports are grappling with changes to consumer behaviour towards streaming whilst esports is a digitally native product. Esports is perfectly aligned with how sports fans are increasingly consuming content.
  • Physically, elite gamers put their bodies to the test, as in other sports like swimming or athletics. They make over 400 hand movements per minute with unprecedented levels of hand-eye coordination. Their heart rates rise to about 180 beats per minute, similar to a sprinter during a fast run.
  • Sports like Archery and Shooting are mainstays of the Olympics whilst Golf has been a recent addition. If you compare mental and physical intensity between these two sports and esports there are no differences. Esports is arguably the more intense where training regimes in esports involve up to 10 hours a day of practice, far beyond that of other sports.

The argument against

  • Integrating esports into the Olympics is not straightforward given the sheer range of titles. Unlike a new Olympic sport like skateboarding which had four events, for esports how do you whittle this down to a manageable number? There is the potential to dilute an already crowded space. Plus we have already seen the IOC reject “violent” video games which leaves major titles like CS:GO and Fortnite unaligned to Olympic values.
  • We have seen new events included in this Olympics that are clearly there to appeal to a younger audience. However, the inclusion of esports seems to be a step further and might alienate the current audience. It seems unwise to prioritise Gen Z at the expense of other generations. We have already seen many traditionalists frustrated at the inclusion of sports like Golf and Tennis. The Olympics is meant to be the pinnacle of your sport, the magic and culmination of a four-year cycle where it all comes down to that two-week experience. Does esports adhere to this? It appears unlikely.
  • While innovation and progress are important, so is tradition. The Olympics begun as the pure physical endeavour in the material world: who can jump the highest, run the fastest, throw the farthest etc. It has morphed to include a wider set of physical experiences, but that physical nature is important to maintain. Esports certainly has high levels of dexterity and skill, but there is less physical nature in the same way there is for Cycling or Gymnastics.
  • The Olympics are meant to encourage physical activity among the general population. While elite gamers are encouraged to be in good shape physically, the practice of gaming is primarily a sedentary activity which goes against the notion of encouraging physical health.

There’s some of MTM Sport’s view on esports and its’ possible future in the Olympics. It’s a discussion that is sure to evoke further debate for Olympic cycles to come. It is high up the IOC’s agenda as they position themselves closer and closer to gaming with the Olympic Virtual Series the clearest sign yet. Furthermore “the Olympic Agenda’s 2020 version specifically calls out the development of virtual sports and further engaging with the video gaming community.” The signs are there but there are significant hurdles to overcome. Do we have a final call on whether esports should be in the Olympics. This is my article, so we do, and the answers is yes!

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