Esports is currently a multi-million dollar market with a global audience reach. Over the past few years, the esports industry underwent a massive growth with more people getting into esports, and companies investing in such events. While it may have experienced a sudden spike in growth rate after 2010, esports has actually been in the limelight for over 50 years now. Esports tournaments have been featured in popular newspapers and magazines, including TIME, even during the early 1970s. Esports, back then, mainly consisted of tournaments where players would play an arcade game and try to achieve a higher score than others.
As time went by, developers eventually shifted from arcade games and the world saw new genres in video gaming such as first-person shooters, fighting, racing, among several others. The 1990s saw rapid availability of internet which resulted in players competing against each other online, thus setting a motive for the esports industry to host such tournaments. The Evolution Championship Series (EVO), founded in 1996, became one of the world’s first esports tournament. Esports was mainly centered around North America and Europe during it’s early days. However, the beginning of the 21st century saw a significant rise in Asian involvement in esports, notably South Korea.
New competitive games such as Counter Strike, FIFA, and Warcraft III which hit the market during the early 2000s redefined esports and formed it’s backbone which would be the basis for all esports tournaments till date. Esports tournaments were no longer about beating high scores; it was rather about competing against each other directly in a game. While the 2000 era witnessed the foundation of new esports tournaments such as IEM, MLG, and WCG, the 2010s saw a massive spike in numbers both in terms of revenue as well as audience count. More countries started participating in major esports tournaments and companies started pouring in massive funds to the esports industry.
Inclusion of Esports into the Olympics
Esports is already a global phenomenon and is an industry in itself. However, in order to officially legitimize esports as a “sports activity”, it’s inclusion in the Olympic Games is necessary. Discussions and debates regarding the inclusion of esports in the Olympics have been going on for the past few years. Intel, a company which has largely contributed to esports, had talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the organizers of the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics.
Scott Gillingham, Head of Gaming and Esports, Intel UK, has stated –
“We don’t have a view on whether it [esports] should be [included] or not. But we’re totally open and have been talking to the Olympics to let them understand what esports is and what potential there could be for it, but ultimately it is down to [the] Olympic Committee on whether they decide to bring it on.”
While the IOC have been initially skeptical about including esports into the Olympics, growing pressure regarding the issue is forcing them to reconsider their opinions. However, Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, has stated that any game involving violence or demonstrating killing of individuals would “never be recognized as a part of the Olympic”. This means we can forget about CS:GO, Overwatch, Street Fighter, and many other famous esports titles. Even if esports is included in the Olympics, we would probably see games like FIFA, NBA 2K, and other games which does not feature violence or any other sort of mature content.
Now the real question is, will esports ever be included into the Olympics?
It is too early to give a binary “yes or no” answer. But here’s the current progress on the situation. Esports have already been included in Asian Games. It was featured as a demonstration event at the 2018 Asian Games. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) have been quite impressed by the demonstration and have included esports as a medal event for the 2022 Asian Games.
As for it’s inclusion in the Olympics, the primary question which most activists and personalities raise during a debate is “does esports even qualify to be in the Olympics?” According to most people, Olympics is an event for “sports” activities. And since esports does not involve too much of physical stress on the body, it is usually disregarded as a sports activity. But if we look deeper into the list of Olympic sports, one of it’s listed activities is “Shooting” which involves standing still in one place and shooting a target. It does not require much body movement and relies on the player’s aim and steadiness of hands. Similarly, esports involves rapid hand-eye coordination and brain work. Therefore, one might consider adding esports to the list too as sports did not have much of an evolution since the introduction of car racing.
It may surprise you that even many gamers and esports enthusiasts do not care much about the inclusion of esports into the Olympics. Some are even directly against the idea. Now why is that? It’s because esports itself is a well established industry which does not need any additional recognition. It is more than capable of sustaining by itself. Events like IEM and The Internationals have a prize pool of millions of dollars. So why would we even need to include esports into the Olympics?
It is because the gaming community is all about evolution and expansion. They have always welcomed people with open arms. Introducing esports into the Olympics will bring in audience who probably knew nothing about this field. The wider the reach, the better. Now many gamers may not actually want this sudden influx of non-gaming audience but as the saying goes – “the more, the merrier”. Esports has fans all over the world and introducing it to the Olympics will be probably the biggest achievement one can hope for.
As of the present situation, it is improbable for esports to be included as a medal event in the 2024 Olympics. Chances of it being featured as a demonstration event is very likely, however, as mentioned before, it would not feature any game which includes depiction of violence. If everything goes similar to what happened at the Asian Games, maybe there’s a chance that we would see esports as a medal event at the 2028 Olympics. However, for now, let us hope that the IOC considers allowing esports to be featured as a demonstration event at the 2024 Olympics so that sports enthusiasts can see the potential of esports, first-hand.