The Olympic games act as a platform in which one city, one country becomes a global spectacle for two weeks. It’s a time where athletes from all over the world compete against one another in search for Olympic gold. It’s not about the name on their backs but about the nation they are from. Whether they are a 1st-time Olympian or their 4th and final Olympic appearance, they worked hard to get the opportunity to represent their country and have everyone cheering for them.

The Olympics is a time where people who don’t normally watch sports do, and large crowds gather within stadiums to watch as history is made; similar to what eSports events are quietly doing but in a smaller spectacle.

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League of Legends World Championship 2014 at Sangam Stadium in Seoul, South Korea

In 2013, the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship sold out Staples Centre in Los Angeles, California, within one hour (Borowy & Jin, 2016). A year later, the League of Legends World Finals filled up Sangam Stadium in Seoul, South Korean, which can hold approximately 45,000 fans at maximum capacity. Without a doubt, eSports has shown it’s capability to fill up and sell out massive stadiums around the world. Even in 2017, Forbes released an article around eSport events, like the Overwatch World Cup or the League of Legends championship, which has “attracted crowds comparable to NBA and NHL games”.

The question to ask then is not whether eSports has the capability to reach a large audience and sell out stadiums, but why there isn’t a larger spectacle on eSports and whether adding it as an Olympic event would help.

What is eSports?  

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League of Legends World Championship 2017

eSports is a form of multiplayer competition using digital gaming. It has gained attention from the media, educational institutions, and different governments as it’s viewership and sponsorship continues to grow (Borowy & Jin, 2016). It acts as “a new social entity, a bridge between sport[s], electronic gaming, media, and entertainment event[s]” (Borowy & Jin, 2016). What first started out as a form of entertainment has now become a career for a few talented individuals.

Growing up, it was every kids dream to play video games all day. A dream to not have to go to school and just stay home all day and game. Sadly we were told by our parents we couldn’t make a living out of it. Our focus should be to study hard at school, finish our homework, and then we can play video games before it’s bedtime.

We can safely say, this is one thing our parents were very wrong about.

eSports Growth 

eSport is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing “sports” in history. There are million of players all over the world, a variety of games in which players can compete, and as a result, multiple organizations have begun to form. The Business Insider compares eSports to “other well-run organizations” in which they have team owners, contracts, and partnerships that fund multiple teams for a variety of games. With more than 100 million viewers watching online gameplay each month on Twitch, an online streaming site, eSports has quickly become a million dollar industry over the span of two decades according to the Huffington Post.

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Viewership comparable for mega-events in the US in 2014.

University’s, like Robert Morris University, have also begun offering course, scholarships and degrees related to eSports and gaming (Borowy & Jin, 2016). Similar to athletics, university’s are begin to recognize the emergence of eSports and the future it truly holds. eSports has undoubtable become “an extension of the mediated sports spectacle within the digital market economy” (Borowy & Jin, 2016).

The Numbers of eSports

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Tiers of eSport Games

According to Forbes, there are five main revenue streams for owners and investors within eSports: sponsorships, advertising, merchandise, tickets and media rights. “The wealthy and powerful actively pursue their individual and class interest” and maximize on the opportunity for them to generate ever-larger returns on their investments (Corrigan, 2014).

The first big monetary investment by a government in eSports took place in Korea. South Korea is known for their advances in technology which is why their government spends approximately “$100 million USD annually to promote, research, and develop the [gaming] industry” (Borowy & Jin, 2016). With this investment, and investment from sponsors, Korea went on and founded the World Cyber Games, the first competitive gaming competition of it’s kind. This plays a very significant role in eSports development as sponsors saw the opportunity to invest and advertise.

Riot, a professional eSport organization, made it public that each team participating in the League of Legends Championship receives an amount of money to provide salary to their players. Player salaries are to be a minimum of $12,500 USD and the prize pool is anywhere between $200,000 to $1,000,000 USD. Most recently, an eSport tournament, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, had a prize pool of $617,000 USD. The money for tournaments have continuously grown over the past decades and it’s hard not to believe it will continue to grow along with the sport. Tournaments are marketed like mega-sporting events which open the doors for sponsorship, advertisement, merchandise, tickets to the venue, as well as media rights.

If eSports provides such a large platform for economic gain, why doesn’t the IOC consider it for the Olympics? Does eSport even fit the criteria?

 

How Are Sports Added to the Olympics?

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International Olympic Committee Headquarters

It’s a process.

Since 1896, when the Olympic games first started in Athens, Greece, over 100 different events have been added to the games with more than 10,000 competitors in competition. There has been numerous changes to the Games with events being added and taken out over the years. The first step for a sport to be considered for the Olympic games is that it must be recognized as a sport from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Once recognized, the sport receives International Sports Federation (IF) status. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it needs to be administered by an international nongovernmental organization that overseas one sport and must “enforce the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code, including conducting effective out-of-competition tests on the sport’s competitors while maintaining rules set forth by the Olympic Charter”.

Though a sport may be recognized by the International Sports Committee and International Sports Federation, it does not mean the sport automatically becomes an Olympic event. For instance, bowling and chess are both recognized sports by the IOC and IF but not competed in the Olympic games.

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Olympic Rings statue at IOC headquarters in Lausanne.

During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, we saw the introduction to four new Olympics sports: Snowboarding Big Air, Mixed Doubles Curling, Mixed Team Alpine Skiing, and Mass Start Speed Skating.

In the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo, Japan, the International Olympic Committee has agreed to add five new Olympic sports: baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing, and surfing.

“The five sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games.” 

Thomas Bach, IOC President

The IOC continues to look for more sports to consider for the games and put “a focus on innovation, flexibility and youth in the development of Olympic programme“.

 

Milestone for eSports

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Proposed venue design for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China

British daily newspaper The Guardian headlined “eSports to be a medal event at 2022 Asian Games” back in April of 2017. According to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), the decision was made in response to the IOC’s focus on youth participation in the Olympics and the popularity eSports had on that demographic (Hallman & Giel, 2018).

Why would eSports be successful in the Olympics?

eSports is a growing form of competition that has been gaining more attention globally over the past decade. The announcement as a medal event at the Asian Games puts eSports one step closer to becoming an Olympic sport. As the Olympic games act as the biggest mega-sporting event on the planet, adding different eSports games or an eSports Olympics (similar to Para-Olympics) would add a new element to the mega-event and help increase profits (Compton, 2015). The introduction would reach an entirely new demographic that the IOC is trying to move towards, and allow for an expansion of it’s current audience.

Why would eSports fail in the Olympics?

One continuing concern surrounding eSports is the debate whether eSport is really a sport. Oxford dictionary defines “sport” as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Though eSports require skill and quick thinking, it lacks the physical aspect compared to traditional sports. Rather than spending countless hours working out and training at the gym, eSport athletes are spending those hours in front of a computer practicing plays. The surface value of eSports differs too much from traditional sports which would make it difficult to accept into the Olympics.

Conclusion

In conclusion, eSports is undoubtedly a very successful mega-event that has been continuously growing bigger and bigger. It’s an event that is gaining more media attention, and growing economically as more organizations continue to sponsor and invest in the games. I do believe the idea of an eSport Olympics, similar to the Para-Olympics would be something worth exploring.

Like many traditional sports, eSport athletes are part of teams from different parts of the world (or with different backgrounds). To allow players to represent their country in competition would be special for most. Though eSports is not like traditional sports in the physical sense, it is similar intellectually and in competition. It will be interesting to see how eSports perform during the 2022 Asian Games. It’s hard not assume the International Olympic Committee will be keeping an eye as well.

References

Borowy, Michael & Jin, Dal Yong, “Mega-events of the future,” in R. Gruneau and J. Horne, eds. Mega-events and Globalization: Capital and Spectacle in a Changing World Order (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 206- 219.

Calfas, Jennifer (2018). “These Are the New Events on the Winter Olympics Sports Lineup This Year”. Time Magazine. Retrieved on April 5, 2018.

Compton, J. (2015). Mega-events, media, and the integrated world of global spectacle. In R. Gruneau & J. Horne (eds.), Mega-Events and Globalization: Capital and spectacle in a changing world order (pp. 48-64). New York, NY: Routledge.

Corrigan, T. F. (2014). The Political Economy of Sports and New Media. In A.C. Billings & M. Hardin (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Sport and New Media (pp.43-54). New York: Routledge.

Encyclopedia Britannia (2018). “How Are Sports Chosen for the Olympics?”. Encyclopedia Britannia. Retrieved on April 5, 2018.

Olympics Press Release (2016). “IOC Approves Five New Sports for Olympic Games Tokyo 2020”. Olympic. Retrieved on April 5, 2018.