Why are Olympic Esports Series games so weird? We asked the IOC

On March 1, the International Olympic Committee announced the first details of the 2023 Olympic Esports Series, the next step in the venerable esports organization’s tentative move into the esports arena. (It previously hosted an Olympic Virtual Series along with the Tokyo 2020 games.) Beginning with qualifications this month and culminating in live finals in Singapore in June, and open to amateur and professional players alike, the Esports Series seems a moderate serious offer from the Olympic movement to get involved in competitive video gaming – underscored by the branding shift towards using the community’s preferred term, ‘eSports’.

There’s only one problem though: the selection of games is… strange.

You won’t find any of the most popular esports represented here. NO League of LegendsNO counterstrikeNO Fourteen days, over watch, street fighteror rocket league. None of the esports that people actually watch.

Instead, the nine originally confirmed games are all more or less simulations of real-world sports, games and activities. Few of them are immediately recognizable as video game brands: Gran Turismo and Just Dance. (Wait… just dance?!) Also featured are premier chess website and indoor cycling trainer Zwift. Rounding out the list are obscure simulators: Virtual Regatta (Sail), Virtual Taekwondo (Guess), tennis fight (it’s a mobile game!), Konami’s WBSC eBaseball: Power Pros (which stumbles over the tongue) and archery Tic Tac Arch (another mobile game). What is going on here?

Looking through the list, I wondered why the IOC chose not to meet esports fans where they are, at the world’s most popular games. It’s true that the heavily promoted world of big-money pro esports leagues is at odds with the ideals of the Olympic movement – but that hasn’t stopped the IOC from embracing boxing, say, on the amateur side.

I guessed two possible answers for the odd list. First, the IOC would not want to condone violent games, even the broad fantasy violence of such a thing league. And second, that it focused on virtual analogues of real-life sports. But that still didn’t explain the presence of chess or motorsports – two sports that would never be included in the IRL Olympics – or the lack of fairly big esports with a real-world base like FIFA. So I asked for clarification.

The IOC came back to me with a lengthy statement that more or less confirmed my suspicions. Yes, the primary goal of the initiative is to promote the development of “virtual and simulated sports games”. And indeed, violence was a no-no that would have shut out most popular esports – along with interestingly player gender distribution and “technical barriers to entry” (which I read as games that can only be played highly competitively). -end PCs, rather than mobile phones or consoles). In the words of the IOC:

When reviewing these proposals, it is important to us that the games featured in the Olympic Esports Series are consistent with the Olympic values. This includes inclusivity of participation, such as technical barriers to entry, dividing the player base by gender and avoiding any personal violence, all in light of the IOC’s mission to unite the world in peaceful competition.

The inclusion of Just Dance can even be explained in the context of the IOC comments. The game’s wide demographic reach and ease of use — you don’t even need to be skilled with a controller — must have been appealing from an inclusivity perspective. In the meantime, the focus is on console and mobile games and the choice of Gran Turismo over, say, iRacing, makes sense if you consider the requirement for a low technical barrier to entry.

Another weak point is the IOC’s decision to work with international sporting federations in selecting the games to work with – as suggested by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile Gran Turismo to represent motorsport, the World Archery Federation suggested before Tic Tac Arch, etc. The aim is not necessarily to select the most famous games – quite the opposite. As the IOC says:

The Olympic Games have always offered a varied program, even for those sports whose participants do not benefit from the platform of other top-class competitions. To build a similarly diverse program for the 2023 Olympic Esports Series, we have partnered with International Federations (IFs), who in turn are proposing partnerships with game developers. Although there are currently no sports on the Olympic programme, both chess and motorsport are recognized international federations and have therefore been invited to submit proposals for participation in the competition.

Last but not least, the involvement of the sports federations explains why FIFA games do not represent football, considering that the relationship between the football federation and the games publisher, Electronic Arts, has broken down.

The IOC says the lineup is not yet complete and new games may still be added. “We have had interesting and encouraging conversations with wider [international federations] and game publishers and expect to see more titles added to the Olympic Esports Series lineup in the coming weeks. It also points to a video documentary featuring some of the top FIFA players, among other things.

As odd and outlandish as the Olympic Esports Series playlist might look to the average competitive video game fan, the IOC has a compelling rationale for the decisions and partnerships it has made. It’s true that Olympic esports should look very different – and indeed should be a haven – from the fraud and brazen trade that surrounds the professional leagues. But that leaves a huge gap that needs to be bridged between the Olympic esports ideal and popular imagination.

The inclusion of companies like Gran Turismo and is a step in the right direction. If the IOC could somehow bypass and bring FIFA EA Sports FC on board – or allow non-violent but awesome sports like rocket league Being included would make a huge difference in making his dream of a digital Olympic movement a reality.

In the meantime, how about a spot Nintendo switch Sports Bowling? I value my chances.

Continue reading


Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button