The esports and gaming industry has come a long way since it first started in earnest back in the early 2000s. Part of that journey has been the traditional sporting spheres—including that of collegiate athletics—which have begun to take esports and gaming seriously. One of the highest levels of legitimization in competitive athletics continues to be the Olympics, and it seems like esports may just be one step closer to being represented by that giant torch.
According to an article from Inside the Games.biz, FIFA President Gianni Infantino recently led a group for the International Olympic Committee—the IOC—in examining video games. During a year where the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted live sporting events across the globe, FIFA was able to license income from video games, finding them a viable source of revenue. Infantino shared a pre-recorded speech with the IOC session, saying, “We can only imagine the possibilities for these games but we must recognise the importance of moving quickly and highlighting this opportunity.”
The IOC would go on to vote unanimously in favor of “closer ties with virtual esport and gaming communities.” What that exactly means is still to be seen; however, such ties will be implemented soon. The IOC director general, Christophe De Kepper, has said that “We will start an immediate engagement with esports because we have a huge opportunity with the Tokyo Games so we will try to leverage this.” William Blick, an IOC member from Uganda, “called for any sports included ‘to be linked to physical activity to enhance physical sport.’” Finally, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, has made it clear that “virtual versions of sport ‘will not replace sport as we know it as far as I am concerned’” and that the IOC has a “clear red line that we do not want to deal with any game which is contrary to the Olympic values. Any game where violence is glorified or accepted, where you have any kind of discrimination[,] have nothing to do with the Olympic values.”
Throughout the session, a number of Olympic athletes offered insight and support for incorporating esports into the Olympic Committee’s programming. Among them were New Zealand’s 2012 BMX silver medalist Sarah Walker and Double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. Overall, the biggest takeaway from the IOC’s decision and overall opinion of esports can be surmised by a statement from Bach: “This is not about revenue generation, this is about engagement. Our main motivation is to look for ways how we can convince the people playing these games to do the real thing.”
We here at Syft look forward to all the ways gaming can progress the international community forward and inspire a sense of unity among all people. The Olympics seem like a gigantic step in the right direction.