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What’s next for Esports, the Olympic Games?

Performance Communications Author Image Performance Communications | August 16, 2016

While basking with the rest of the nation in the glory of Team GB’s Olympic success in Rio (six golds in one day will take some beating), I noticed that Rio will be hosting an additional ‘Games’ this week in a sport that has pushed the boundaries of competition in recent years.

Although the eGames Showcase will not see electronic versions of traditional Olympic sports in the competition (SMITE and Super Smash Bros anyone?) the undoubted growth of eSports is startling.

My colleague Neil Brotherston commented earlier in the year on the growth of eSports and its march into the mainstream and traditional broadcasting. If SuperData’s predictions that eSports will achieve £1 billion of revenue by 2019 and attract a worldwide audience of 302 million are true then we have a sport that has grown up and needs to be taken seriously. I’m sure the hosting of the event this week in Rio is no coincidence and it does beg the question:

Could eSports make it into the Olympic Games one day?

There is a precedent…it is a little known fact that the 1912 Stockholm Olympics crowned champions in the likes of architecture, literature (won by the founder of the modern day Olympics Pierre de Coubertin), music, painting and sculpture.  So why not for eSports in the twenty first century?

There has been ongoing debate in the office around whether eSports can be deemed a sport and just last week the Olympics sparked further conversation: if shooting can be part of the Olympics then why can’t a first person ‘shoot em up’ game such as Halo because precision, reaction speed and a steady hand is the key requirement for both. And is shooting aliens that much more far fetched than a disc shaped pigeon made of clay?

eSports is doing its part too by mirroring traditional sports with the introduction of governing bodies such as the British eSports Assocation to bring more structure and rigour to the sport.  University eSport leagues now run alongside the traditional rugby and football teams. How long before we see an Oxford versus Cambridge FIFA eSports competition on a par with the boat race? There are even training academies such as Nissan’s GT Academy using eSports to identify physical sports stars of the future.

The Future of the Sports Fan report commissioned here at Performance Communications has highlighted the problem that the IOC faces and their need to appeal to a younger audience: our report found that the average age of Olympic spectators is 50 and getting older, while 22% of sports fans say that they are bored with traditional sports.

The IOC’s development programme has already started to provide flexibility to include new sports with a focus on innovation and youth. Five new sports will be introduced to the 2020 Tokyo Games including skateboarding, climbing and surfing that surprised many. If they can make it into the Olympics then why not eSports, surely the definition of innovation and youth? eSports would also open up a wider sponsorship opportunity for the IOC, opening the door to the likes of Xbox, PlayStation and other gaming focused brands for instance.

At this stage it might seem impossible, I’m sure Baron de Coubertin would be turning in his grave at the thought, but if the exponential growth continues then it must be more than a possibility, we just might need to wait a while before the likes of Mohamed Al Bacha (FIFA Interactive World Cup Champion) makes it to the top of the Olympic podium.


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