E-sports can revitalize international sporting events – Magazine Creations

The Olympics are old — the first modern edition was held in Athens in 1896 — and so are the fans. The average age of American viewers of games in Barcelona in 1992 was 39 years. This rose to 53 at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. Overall viewing figures are also declining. At the last Games held in Tokyo in 2021, which were postponed from 2020, it was a third lower than in 2008.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, acknowledged that the Games were in danger of losing their importance. “We have to stay connected” with the community, he said in 2020. To do this, the Olympics are expanding, adding what Mr. Bach described as “youth-based” sports. In Tokyo, mountaineering, skiing and surfing are on the schedule. In Paris next year, break dancing will be shown for the first time. Undoubtedly, young people will be happy. But if Bach wants the Olympics to become more relevant to more people, the best idea would be to include e-sports, or competitive video gaming.

Esports has a huge audience. By 2025, about 320 million fans are expected to watch at least once a month, according to data firm Newzoo. In 2021, the World Championship Final of League of Legends, a fantasy strategy game, was watched by nearly 74 million people, according to Riot Games, the game’s publishers. The peak number for the Super Bowl, the highlight of the American football year, was 115 million.

So far, the IOC has treated esports like an unkind parent. The inaugural Olympic Esports Week was held in Singapore in June. But the choice of events baffled fans. For example, the shooting game was downloaded only 100 times before the tournament was announced. The most popular event, “Just Dance,” a motion-sensing dance simulation, is not considered an esport by enthusiasts. The experiment resulted in widespread ridicule and numerous memes. Few people took the competition seriously. Peak viewing was barely more than 22,000.

The International Olympic Committee should follow the example of the quadrennial Asian Games, which begin in the Chinese city of Hangzhou on September 23. With 12,400 athletes, the number of participants in the competition will be greater than the number of participants in the Tokyo Olympics. It will also be the first event of its kind to showcase eSports. In addition to athletes participating in traditional sports, players from across Asia will compete in seven events, including hugely popular games such as FIFA Online 4, a soccer game, and League of Legends, which has more than 180 million players. Organizers of the upcoming Asian Games, in Japan, confirmed that they will also award medals for e-sports.

Attracting a large audience is important for events such as the Olympics, which have seen infrastructure and security costs balloon in recent years. The inclusion of eSports would boost revenues from media rights and sponsorships. The industry was valued at $1.4 billion last year, a figure expected to triple by 2030, according to consulting firm Cognitive Market Research.

However, the IOC remains hesitant about embracing the world of the Games. She has argued that mainstream video games are incompatible with Olympic values. One reason is the perceived association between eSports and violence. Mr Bach said that for the Olympics, there was an “absolute taboo” regarding “killer games”, such as League of Legends. The Olympics may include archery, fencing and boxing, but according to Mr Bach these are a “civilized expression” of real combat, as opposed to displaying a bunch of pixels on a screen. (However, there is little evidence to suggest that violence in Olympic esports spills over into real life.)

Beyond potential financial support, the IOC has other reasons to change its position. On the one hand, eSports could bring Olympic glory to a more diverse group of countries. At the Asian Games, Vietnam and Indonesia are among the middleweight favorites in the major sports.

As for the Olympic values? At a tournament in February 2022, just after Russia invaded Ukraine, Oleksandr Kostylev, the Ukrainian player, spoke warmly of his teammates, three Russians and one Ukrainian, whom he called “my real friends.” Spirit, another team that includes Ukrainians and Russians. The players responded to the invasion by issuing a statement that said: “We are against war and we are against violence.” Excellence, friendship and respect are the three Olympic values. Esports stars show them well.

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Updated: Sep 24, 2023, 11:52 AM IST


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