To be worthy of an Olympic event is to have gained the respect and recognition of the wider sporting community. In recent years, previously marginalised sports such as trampolining and table tennis have transitioned from leisure activities to legitimate contests, eSports may be the next form of Olympic evolution.
It is the ambition of the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) and other eSports groups to introduce the global phenomenon onto the Olympic stage. Earning a seat at the table of the Olympic family is no mean feat, with years of lobbying and campaigning all part of the arduous process. In the face of mainstream media negativity, the IeSF submitted their application to the International eSports Committee at the close of 2016.
Widely acknowledged as the ‘founding father’ of modern sports marketing, Patrick Nally believes that there is mounting pressure on the Olympic Committee to embrace the eSports bid:
‘The Olympics has changed because of the pressure it has been under.
“The Olympic Agenda 2020 meant that people hosting the Olympics had the right to actually introduce other sports onto the calendar.
“Tokyo for example… they’re bringing in rock climbing, skateboarding; they’re bringing in younger [propositions] that they feel will be attractive to Japan.”
Nally was influential in the introduction of some of the most recent sporting additions to the Olympic schedule. Founder of the West Nally Group, Nally has provided strategic advice for non-Olympic sport federations vying for committee inclusion. The group is renowned for hosting the World Games to showcase potential Olympic events, the spectacle from which taekwondo and netball went on to earn their Olympic statuses.
LA 2024, the committee behind the favoured bid to bring the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics to Los Angeles, announced a pledge within their manifesto which outlined their intention to include eSports in the games, using its popularity and technology to try and re-connect youths to the Olympics:
“We view eSports’ immense global popularity and continued advances in digital technologies as tremendous tools for reconnecting millennials with the Olympic movement.”
Casey Wasserman, LA 2024 Chairman
Los Angeles’ Staples Centre was filled to its 21,000 fan capacity as League of Legends enthusiasts attended the 2016 World Championships final, with millions tuned in on Twitch, YouTube and other broadcast services. By comparison, the Olympics experienced a decline in viewership among 18-to-49 year olds.
The eSports culture within Los Angeles adds potential leverage for the sports’ inclusion in the 2024 Olympic Games:
“If LA wins the bid in 2024, LA has the chance also to bring in sports that they perceive will be good for Los Angeles, being the home of Activision, Blizzard etc.
“There is a real possibility, but only if the International eSports Federation can themselves become recognised as a sport.
“We could see eSports in an Olympic games as soon as 2024.”
Based in South Korea, the IeSF has expanded rapidly from nine initial member nations, to 45. The physicality factor often cited as an argument against eSports inclusion in the games is not considered to be an issue by the IeSF. The federation put forward the case that physicality is not the only factor that defines sports, indeed there are a number of sports featured on the Olympic list that would be erased if gross motor skill and dynamic activity were a requirement to be considered a legitimate sport.
The Olympic charter itself is notably vague about what constitutes as a sport. Recognition stems from conforming with the Olympic Charter and implementing the World Anti-Doping Code, measures the eSports scene is fast adopting. eSports already fulfils the criteria for legitimacy applied to other sports accepted by the IOC.
Given the Olympics’ insatiable appetite for ratings and social relevance, the inclusion of eSports seems like the perfect mouthpiece through which to breath new life into the games. The eSports fanbase already consists of millions of enthusiasts from around the world, growing near-exponentially year on year. Taking the opportunity to translate this audience into the Olympics structure would bring a surge in ratings, particularly if Los Angeles are successful in securing the bid.
Olympic recognition would be the final weight to tip the balance of eSports’ public opinion – previously marginalised by the mainstream, weighed down by the negative connotations of a basement hobby – evolving to become the potential salvation of sport’s most historic event.