The International Olympic Committee has created a challenging situation for the adoption eSports on it’s platform, despite the international growth in the gaming industry. While retaining violent sports like boxing, karate, fencing, and shooting sports, it’s clear that the IOC won’t even consider any esports that involve violence, a decision that eliminates many of the space’s most popular games. League of Legends, Dota 2, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, Overwatch, and arguably Starcraft would all be barred from Olympic consideration despite millions of fans and well-organized competitive scenes. A strict Olympic prohibition against in-game violence could even bar card games like Hearthstone and Rocket League.
Statements from Zhang and others suggest the IOC is instead leaning towards video games that directly simulate real-world sports, such as EA’s FIFA and 2K Sports’ NBA2K series. Even these relatively staid esports would require a recognized, international third-party governing body, separate from the self-interested game publishers, that the IOC could trust to enforce rules against doping, gambling, match fixing, and so on.
It’s foolish to think the IOC will turn around quickly on their decision, as they a significant amount of time to change. Remember how long it took snowboarding to become an official sport? It’s not reasonable to think that we’ll have eSports competitors going for an Olympic gold medal in video games as soon as the 2024 Paris games. Perhaps we’ll see an esports demonstration at the 2016 Rio games and Olympic-adjacent, Intel-sponsored esports demonstrations at this year’s games, highlighting the growing esports interest within the Olympics.
In addition, if and when esports get full Olympic acceptance many in the target audience might not care. A recent Nielsen survey found that only 28 percent of esports fans across four countries even care about the Olympic games, and don’t typically watch as it doesn’t speak to their interests. The downward trend should continue as sports fans generally – particularly in the huge US television market – turn away from Olympic broadcasting, and as viewers worldwide become more accustomed to news clips, streaming, and other non-live broadcasts. That number is likely to slip even lower if the most popular, violent esports are excluded due to the short-sighted nature of the Olympic Committee.