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  • Op Ed: Esports in the Olympics? A Qualified Yes


    The IOC remains adamant in its stance that esports doesn’t belong in the Olympics because of violence and discrimination in many popular video games.

    Team Vietnam competing at 2018 Asian Games (ATR)
    IOC President Thomas Bach reiterated that view during his visit to the Asian Games in Jakarta earlier this month, telling the Associated Press the “so-called ‘killer games’... are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted”.

    Esports was included as a demonstration sport in Jakarta, and it could become a full-medal event for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

    Edward Hula III followed the esports competition while covering the Asian Games in Jakarta for Around the Rings. Here are his thoughts:

    Do I get what happens at an esports competition? No.

    Do I like it? Yes, mostly.

    Having spent time at the esports demonstration event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, the value of esports to the global sport movement is hard to miss.

    The production is slick, much better than many sports currently on the Olympics program.

    South Korean fans cheering on their team (ATR)
    The large crowds flocking to esports shows it is a compelling and relevant competition, much more so than many other Olympic sports.

    The people who care about esports are young and engaged, much younger and more engaged than the audiences for many Olympic sports if we’re being honest.

    Of course, there are plenty of obvious problems.

    Let’s get the biggest one out of the way.

    Yes, it’s hard to call esports a true sport. Is esports less physically taxing than, say, the 10m air pistol shooting event? Candidly, I have a hard time seeing how air pistol joined the Olympics 30 years ago.

    Why would people enjoy watching a football video game--sorry--esport over live football? I’m not sure. But people want to watch it and organizers can’t be faulted for catering to an established marketplace by staging competition for Pro Evolution Soccer.

    The esports venue at the Asian Games (ATR)
    Traditionalists can scoff that esports as a competition is tough to follow unless you are familiar with the games. Maybe, but how many people can accurately explain the strategy for water polo or even the 10,000m race in athletics?

    None of these reasons, I will admit, are compelling on their own. But add them up and there starts to be something that shows why esports has a case to join the Olympics.

    The Asian Electronic Sports Federation admits it is trying to find its place in multi-sport events.

    “In sport area they don’t know much about esports and in esports we don’t know much about traditional sports so it’s fresh and new to both sides,” Aaron Liu, technical official for the Asian Games told Around the Rings.

    AESF seems to have the Olympics top of mind with its competitions. Liu said the federation only selects games that “follow the Olympic spirit,” excluding military-style shooting games.

    South Korean League of Legends player Gi In Kin, who goes by the ID "Kiin" in games, says he considers himself as much an athlete as others at the Asian Games.

    “I train 12 to 16 hours a day,” he said. “We need more accurate movement with intellect.”

    On whether esports should join the Olympics, he demurred. ”I don’t exactly know. We’re playing all over the world. Maybe. If we get in we could get legitimized and make a social shift.”

    Liu remained confident that “we will find something in common” to join the Olympics.

    “Now this is the time for esports to go more professional. Before it’s all commercial. Now it needs to be official.”

    The bottom line for me: the concept of esports remains a bit baffling but has potential value for the Olympics. 

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