Were you, like me, curious to see if esports would make it as far as the Olympics? It seemed like it was at least possible — everyone appeared to be pretty receptive. But this weekend, at least one major Olympics official expressed their dislike of the idea, which may be enough to put a stop to that idea.
This week, esports made its debut at the Asian Games, the largest multisports event in the world behind the Olympics. While it was strictly a demonstration sport, it was the first time esports had made it that far into the world of more “traditional” organized sporting competitions.
From there, it looked like it was only a short step to the Olympics. The top brass were holding discussions in Lausanne this July, so clearly they were entertaining the idea. The biggest roadblock seemed to be that there was no central governing body for esports. Olympic Summit members last year said a requirement for joining the games was “the existence of an organization guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement (anti-doping, betting, manipulation, etc.).”
But over the weekend, Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), told the Associated Press he wasn’t interested in bringing esports to the actual Olympics, and for a very different reason. He said these “killer games” promote violence and discrimination, and “cannot therefore be accepted.”
I suspect the harsh words have more to do with making the games palatable for viewers than it does with an actual objection to their content. Lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to esports would be if they joined the Games. I can understand the IOC would want the least objectionable esports possible for that.
But the fact there’s no international organization for with which the IOC can work is a pretty big roadblock. When we talked to Jon Spector, the Director of Franchises and Competition for the Overwatch League, he said his company preferred to think of all esports as different, as opposed to “lumping them together,” so it might be a while before we see a unified front.
Of course, it didn’t escape the notice of the interviewer that esports wouldn’t be the first game in the Olympics to be associated with bloodshed in some way. Bach, who won a gold medal in fencing, said there was a different between that sport’s potential for violence and esports:
Of course every combat sport has its origins in a real fight among people. But sport is the civilized expression about this. If you have egames where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values.
Oh, I get it: We’re not civilized because the simulated violence we express involves pixels being rearranged in response to our efforts. At least, that’s what I took away from it.
To be fair to the man, there are way more Olympic sports with nonviolent beginnings than there are the opposite. But it’s hard for me to believe the IOC is clutching their pearls over digital guns when 15 events in the Games feature real ones.