The Olympics are coming to the Metaverse!
It's true. The Olympics have announced they will be incorporating esports for the 2024 games. Please don't get too excited because nothing is ever as good as it sounds. I promise unless you are a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whatever flashed into your minds-eye when you read the words "esports in the Olympics" is not what they are going to be offering.
Let's break it down for those who aren't overly familiar with "esports" and what that billion-dollar industry is. Esports, short for electronic sports, refers to competitive video gaming in which professional players or teams compete against each other in organized tournaments and leagues. They are multiplayer games that span across genres. Esports competitions feature skilled players who train extensively and compete in front of millions of viewers.
Esports has a thriving ecosystem with professional teams, dedicated players, coaches, analysts, sponsors, and passionate fan communities. Even if you don't play video games, you are familiar with major titles like Fortnite or League of Legends. Similarly, you might not watch or play sports but are familiar with the NBA and MLB.
Given the breakout into the mainstream via YouTube and Twitch when the IOC first announced esports would be a part of the Olympics, it was easy to assume that their understanding of the word "esports" was in line with the esports community's understanding of what it means. However, I am all too often reminded of that smug expression, "You know what happens when you assume?"
The collection of games selected for inclusion in the Olympics lacks anything resembling logical consistency. This shouldn't surprise anyone when you remember that the IOC has had an average age of 60 or higher since the 1940s. Imagine asking your elderly grandfather or technologically out-of-touch mother-in-law what "esports" are. And it isn't like the young members comprise a demographic known for their video game acumen. The center of the ven diagram of Gold Medal Olympians and bong-smoking gamers is just Michael Phelps. So when it came time to select games for "esports," it is clear that "sports" was the primary component.
The games selected have very little consistency between them. Everything from Tic Tac Bow, a free-to-play mobile title, to Grand Turismo, a AAA Racing simulator, even though neither Tic Tac Toe nor RACING are Olympic sports.
Here's the list of games:
Tic Tac Bow
WBSC eBASEBALL: Power Pros
Fortnite - Target shooting mode
You can break this list down into four categories. There are:
Mobile Games like Tic Tac Bow, Tennis Clash, and Virtual Regatta.
"Physical" Games where there is either motion capture or a device to monitor player efforts, like Zwift, JustDance, and VirtualTaekwondo.
Regular Games like WBSC eBASEBALL: Power Pros and Gran Turismo.
I'm sorry, CHESS!?! In case you are wondering, Chess isn't an Olympic sport; of course, it isn't. Why on earth would they include Chess.com as an esport when they don't have Chess as a sport? Even by the broken logic used to compile the list of "esports," they have picked a game that offers nothing interesting that isn't available in the real-world counterpart they don't include. It doesn't make any sense. Why not online Monopoly or a friendly game of Snakes and Ladders?
Now that I have Chess out of my system, we can discuss the inconsistency in the remaining titles and how it indicates a complete lack of vision. I can understand the logic used to pick sports-based games and why they would want to incorporate virtual experiences that still require physical effort. I don't necessarily agree, but I can see how someone trying to honor the spirit of the Olympics could find themselves compelled to incorporate games that get the blood pumping.
I don't understand how you end up with this weird hodgepodge of both motion capture games that require physical activity, traditional console games, and some random low-effort free-to-play games in the mix. There is no consistency in the design and no unifying metric.
When asked to defend these choices, the IOC made a statement about how much in the way the Olympics is intended to steward all sports, and not just the most popular, to the masses, it should also take the same approach when selecting the games that will participate. That is a very nice way of dressing up the situation, but it lacks the substance necessary to hold up to scrutiny.
Fencing and some random free-to-play mobile games are not comparable in any way. Of course, the Olympics should treat all sports equally and not allow the popularity of one sport to be detrimental to another. But this is not an adequate defense for the Olympics to endorse what is primarily a list of cheaply made mobile games and thinly veiled product endorsements hiding behind a couple of polished AAA experiences.
When you have a brand as iconic as the Olympics, you have a responsibility to your community and fans to use it thoughtfully. Allowing the Olympic brand to promote what appear to be low-effort cash grabs not only does a disservice to the players and fans of the Olympics but also hurts the credibility of the Olympics going forward. Millions of young esports fans who were excited about the Olympics for the first time are never going to trust anything the IOC attempts to sell them in the future.
In conclusion, including esports in the Olympics for the 2024 Games has generated mixed reactions. While the announcement initially sparked excitement within the esports community, the reality of the selection of games has been disappointing. The lack of understanding and consistency demonstrated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding esports is evident in the chosen titles.
Esports, a billion-dollar industry with a dedicated fan base, comprises competitive video gaming at a professional level. The tournaments and leagues attract skilled players, coaches, sponsors, and passionate communities. However, the IOC's understanding of esports seems disconnected from the actual industry, as reflected in their game selection.
The list of games for the Olympic esports event includes a mix of mobile games, motion capture games, traditional console games, and even Chess. The lack of logical consistency and unifying metric raises questions about the vision behind the selection process. The inclusion of games like Chess.com, which is not even an Olympic sport, is puzzling and undermines the credibility of the choices made.
The IOC defended its choices by stating that they aim to represent a wide range of sports and appeal to diverse audiences. While this is an admirable goal, the inclusion of low-effort mobile games and thinly veiled product endorsements under the Olympic brand does not align with the spirit of the Olympics. It not only disappoints the esports community but also risks damaging the credibility of the Olympics in the eyes of millions of young esports fans.
As an iconic brand, the Olympics holds a responsibility to use its platform thoughtfully. By endorsing games that appear to be cash grabs rather than quality esports experiences, the IOC risks losing the esports community's trust and undermining the Olympics' future appeal to a new generation of fans. The selection of esports games for the 2024 Olympics falls short of the expectations and potential that this exciting and rapidly growing industry holds.