e-Sports Not Yet Ready for the Olympics – Perhaps It’s a Matter of Time

Lourdes University eSports scholarship.jpg

You can get a scholarship in e-Sports.

Lourdes University, a small mid-western school in Sylvania, Ohio, announced in January 2017 that the “Gray Wolves” of Lourdes intends to field three teams to compete in two eSports leagues – the National Association of Collegiate eSports and the Collegiate StarLeague, and that scholarships are available for game gamers.

Lourdes’ President Mary Ann Gawalek explained that “Competitive video gaming requires students to possess excellent critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills – which are transferrable to their academic pursuits. In addition, these individuals must follow a strong fitness regimen and have a healthy mind and spirit.”

It’s also possible that institutions are picking up on what gamers already know – eSports is becoming big business. Estimates stated in Business Insider and Newzoo indicate that advertising and sponsorship monies dedicated to eSports ranges from USD440 million to USD700 million, with expectations of growth to anywhere from USD800 million to USD1.5 billion by 2020.

The IOC has seen this trend, and eSports aligns with the committee’s desire to continuously draw in the youth market. Recent additions like surfing, skateboarding, sports climbing and three-on-three basketball to the 2020 Games are a direct result of that strategy. And so, the organizers of the 2024 Paris Olympics are studying the possibility of including eSports. However, when IOC president, Thomas Bach, was asked for his views on eSports, he provided a point of view that was a shot across the bow of the gaming industry.

esports The_International_2014.jpg

“We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people,” Bach said to the SCMP, an Alibaba-owned paper. “This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line.”

Fans of eSports pointed out the hypocrisy, in their view, of the IOC saying no to eSports while awarding medals in boxing, shooting, fencing, judo and wrestling, for example.

While eSports includes games of explicit violence, like Counter-Strike or Overwatch, Bach and the IOC may be open to non-violent eSports that actually mimic sports in the more traditional sense, like soccer or basketball.

But when I first heard this story, my personal skepticism sensor didn’t tick up because of the violence. I simply couldn’t see eSports as an Olympic event because it doesn’t feel like a sport. To me sports are acts of intense physicality. I love chess, but I don’t view it in the same way as running, jumping, swimming throwing or a whole host of similar actions.

I could be biased. I had an original Atari game counsel, and an early Nintendo Fami-con way back when. But I would never consider myself a gamer. Watching people play electronic games is impressive, but beyond incredible hand-eye coordination, I haven’t yet reached the conclusion that eSports are more sport than game.

eSports enthusiasts may counter that Dressage or prone rifle shooting are more game than sport, and I’d have to agree that there is a range of physicality in such tournaments as the Olympics. But I still can’t shake the feeling that eSports are not truly sports.

In the end, my opinion doesn’t matter.

As Around The Rings notes, the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou will award medals in eSports. And if the organizers of the 2024 Paris make a more specific recommendation for non-violent games for the eSports category, the IOC may have to consider its inclusion.