Allowing eSports into the 2022 Asian Games should be the first step toward accepting the sport into the Olympic Games — or creating an entirely new category of Olympics.
The Olympic Council of Asia announced on April 18 that eSports would be a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games. eSports — for those unaware — is the name given to competitive video gaming. No, not Candy Crush, but video games nonetheless. Think of eSports as mental gymnastics of a sort.
And whether you appreciate it yet or not doesn’t matter: eSports are redefining sporting across the globe.
As of 2016, eSports viewership worldwide hit 214 million unique viewers, according to Superdata, an interactive media research group. Only four countries have a bigger population. On top of that, major eSports events have hit higher and higher viewership numbers. For example, The International 2016 tournament had more than 20 million viewers. Later that year, another tournament for the popular game League of Legends had 43 million viewers.
In League of Legends, which is the world’s largest eSport, teams of five come together in an attempt to destroy another team’s main base. Along the way, the teams of magical beings engage in hundreds of skirmishes and sometimes all-out team brawls that define who gets to win the match. Each one of these fights is more exciting than the last, and each player gets stronger as minutes pass.
As a self-proclaimed “gamer,” I’m used to hearing people ridicule our time spent in front of a monitor or TV, but I know first hand the skill needed to master a video game is an insane accomplishment. With prize pools reaching $20 million, gaming has become more profitable than a full — time job for eSport athletes at the top.
Are simulated bullets caused by hitting a keyboard any different from pulling a trigger of a gun during an Olympic shooting event? Olympic shooting is a very limited physical activity. Decent upper body strength, quick reflexes and concentration are a must, but even someone who isn’t physically gifted can master the sport, much like eSports.
To be fair to the International Olympic Committee, there is an official cap of 28 Olympic sports and if you add one in, you must take one out. Maybe the real solution is to create a new category of Olympics for a different kind of audience — the Mental Olympics. Let eSports in, let chess, checkers, board games and all of the other non-physical but hyper-competitive games in. Creating this outlet for a new kind of sports-star to shine would highlight the differences in these competitions, and satisfy those who feel ignored by traditionalists.
It remains to be seen how the event will be implemented into the Asian Games, or other Olympic events. Unfortunately for eSports, they are reliant on game developers for support. If a game developer’s servers crash during Olympic competitions, then that event is over. Massive events in recent times have gone off without a hitch, but the theory is the Asian Games will be the biggest test of eSport’s capabilities.
And what happens if, by 2022, games like League of Legends aren’t popular anymore? eSports are tied directly to the virtual world, which is ever changing. The Asian Games haven’t selected a specific game yet, but when they do it will need to be supported until at least 2022.
The shadiest issue, however, is hidden within the games themselves. Does the international community need to inspect the games’ code? Or will game developers be trusted to make the game fair for all players? Practically speaking, international rules will be needed to govern the way the players play, regardless of the way the game was meant to be played.
Even worse, drug testing for eSports will be a challenge, as many competitive video game players have already admitted to using attention enhancers — such as adderall, which is prohibited by the Olympic Committee. Mandatory drug tests would be required, and it’s up to the players to change their habits before getting ready for the games. International competition takes its toll, and mandatory drug tests might be a steep price for competitors who are asked to stay focused on a video game for hours at a time without help.
eSports aren’t traditional sports, but traditions are made to be changed. Shooting was added to the Olympics as the natural progression from archery. Seems to me that eSports are the natural progression from actual physical violence. eSports could also serve the added benefit of boosting the Olympics’ popularity, as younger eSports viewers are more likely to tune in if they identify with the competitions. Broadly speaking, eSports viewers are more traditionally aligned with the “cable cutting” generation as it is, but an Olympic acknowledgment of a changing culture might boost their ratings.
The Olympic Games have changed a lot since their mythological origins atop Mount Olympus. There is room to grow, and eSports should be the next major consideration by the International Olympic Committee.