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 The 'Official' Unofficial Esports Olympic Tournament

The 'Official' Unofficial Esports Olympic Tournament

By: K.R. Stevenson, Marketing Generalist 

The International Olympic Committee this month further legitimized esports when The Olympic Channel, partnering with Intel, offered a $150,000 prize for the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Gangneung, South Korea. Garbed in the Olympic rings, players endured a grueling 3-day long single-elimination bracket StarCraft II competition. The games closed with the only female competitor, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, as the last gamer standing.

While the tournament occurred alongside the opening days of the official Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, professional esports on the whole faces a challenge (or three) before the international community will embrace them as an official medal-earning Olympic event.

Transitioning Interests

It’s common for games to be added and removed from the Olympic agenda based on current passions, and the youth demographic holds significant sway in choosing which games are included. Back in 2016, the IOC voted to add baseball, softball, skateboarding, karate, and climbing to the roster of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games. But the IOC doesn’t seem to show much love for games which demand more mental agility than physical prowess. Professional chess teams, like esports, have been petitioning for their inclusion for years with less than stellar results. Meanwhile, BMX, which was founded in the early nineteen-eighties, made its Olympic debut in the 2008 Summer Games.

Some traditional Olympians see this as working as intended.

“They are two totally different worlds,” two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety told Reuters. “Physical sports belong in the Olympics. I don’t think esports belong in the Olympics.”

So, is the lacking physicality in esports preventing their admittance into Olympic glory? Not quite. It can be argued that mental wellness and physical wellness have a relation to one another. Professional gamers need to be as physically conditioned as their Olympian counterparts to ensure their focus, sometimes for hours on end. All that effort doesn’t exactly affirm the stigma of the sedentary lifestyle some outsiders perceive gamers are living.

A Tradition of Peace

What appears to concern the IOC more than the perception of gamers swilling cases of Mountain Dew and gorging on cheese puffs in their parents’ basements, though, is a combination of the gender imbalance and violent themes often found in the most popular esports arenas.

Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of the Olympic Broadcasting Services, also spoke to Reuters; “I cannot believe that at this golden age of storytelling esports should be limited to guns and shooting. It is something that has fed on the skewed demographics.”

And Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, provided some severe criticism of esports to the South China Morning Post; “We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line.”

It's an understandable concern for an organization whose basis for existence is rooted in the spirit of world unity. The problem stems from being unable to quantify storytelling in the same way a digital kill count can be quantified, and officials may find it difficult to pry players away from their favorites. The top ten prize-awarding games of 2017 all centered around destroying one’s opponent rather than scoring the most points.

Any inclusion of esports in the Olympic Games may boil down to whether administrators can reconcile interests and ideals. Until they do, the Intel Extreme Masters $150,000 purse in an “official” unofficial event isn’t a bad consolation for esports competitors and their millions of fans.

Learn more about the ever-growing esports industry in our recent post