Why Esports Should Not Be In The Olympics

Image: Robert Paul / Blizzard Entertainment

The International Olympic Committee and the Global Association of International Sports Federations recently hosted an esports forum to explore shared similarities, possible partnership and the looming question of whether video gaming could be recognised as an Olympic event.

Ever since the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris first expressed interest of possibly adding electronic sports to the Olympic Games program, we’ve seen a growing interest by the IOC in esports — traditionally defined as any “organised video game competitions.

Recognising the growing interest in esports, the organising committee of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris said: “The youth are interested, let’s meet them.”

As an Olympian and former world class high jumper, I struggle with the notion of esports becoming an Olympic sport. I am not alone. Conversations I’ve had with other Olympians reveal concerns about comparing the physical skill and demands of traditional athletic competition with esports.

Given the IOC’s advocacy role for physical activity, esports seems to be a conflict with its push for an active society.

In an interview with Inside the Games, Sarah Walker, an IOC Athletes’ Commission member and three-time world champion in BMX, explained her opposition.

“If I want to practise any Olympic discipline, if I wanted to try one of them, I actually have to go out and do it. I have to be active. Where gaming is right now, if I was inspired to be a gamer, my first step is to go home and sit on the couch.”

Most Olympians recognize that those who participate in esports spend a great deal of time training — even working with nutritionists and sport psychologists to improve their prowess. But is that is that enough to join the Olympic Games family?

Greg Martin/International Olympic Committee

$1 billion market

Given the growth in popularity, it’s understandable why the IOC would want to partner with esports. The IOC generates more than 90 per cent of its revenue from broadcast and sponsorship. Partnering with esports, where revenue is generated mostly through sponsorship but where more money is coming from broadcasting, could be complementary and attractive.

The marketing firm Newzoo estimated last year that with brand investment growing by 48 per cent, the global esports economy will reach almost $1 billion in 2018.

ESPN provides in-depth analysis and coverage with a digital vertical platform on esports and the network recently announced an exclusive multi-year agreement with Blizzard Entertainment for live television coverage of the Overwatch League, with the finals airing in prime time.

Is esport a sport?

Still, the question remains, is esports — “organized video game competitions” — actually a sport?

To answer this question, perhaps we need to revisit the academic definition of sport. While differences may exist in their granular descriptions of sport, researchers appear to converge on three central attributes: The sport involves a physical component, it is competitive, and it is institutionalized, meaning a governing body establishes the rules of performance.

While esports can be argued to be competitive and institutionalized, the first criteria of physicality is where it falls short.

Some have argued the fine motor movements that are required with the hand-held controller by esports players fulfils this criterion. However, the same could be said about various table top games.

A 2016 study in Quest, the journal of the National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education, used the block-building game Jenga to illustrate this point. Jenga requires precision and dexterity as each player must to remove one block from the bottom and delicately place the block on top without disturbing the structure. There is even a Jenga World Championship. Perhaps then Jenga should also be considered an Olympic sport.

Since the modern Olympics were first held in 1896, the number of participating sports has grown over the years. The first Games had just nine sports — athletics (track and field), cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, a total of 28 sports were contested. Five more will be added for 2020 Games in Tokyo Games.

Image: Christophe Moratal / IOC

The first step for a sport to be included in the Olympic Games program requires being recognised by the IOC. In this process, the sport must have overarching international federation (IF) that will govern the sport — enforcing the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement, which includes drug testing. (It is also possible for a sport to be recognised as an Olympic sport and never participate in the Games, as is the case for chess, bowling and powerboating.)

Once recognised, the sport’s IF can apply for admittance into the Olympic program as a sport, a discipline or an event. For example, the women’s steeplechase was added to the 2008 Olympic Games as an event within the sport of athletics.

More sports added

An Organising Committee of an Olympic Games (OCOG) can also propose the inclusion of an event. Most recently, the IOC allowed the addition of karate, surfing, sports climbing and baseball/softball to the Olympic program in Tokyo 2020.

Paris 2024 had indicated an interest in including esports on its program, but the IOC has said it won’t be eligible by the time the schedule is set in 2020. Still, IOC President Thomas Bach said at the recent esports forum that the meeting was a “first step of a long journey” to what could lead to Olympic recognition.

A male-dominated activity

Central to the Olympic Movement and nestled within the criteria of accepting a new sport is gender equality. Interestingly, this has been an area in which esports has been heavily criticized.

A study that reviewed gender and gaming determined that even though there are approximately equal numbers of males and females who play video games, most professional gamers are male. Moreover, female players who achieve some level of success are marginalized. Researchers concluded the “video game culture is actively hostile towards women in the private as well as the professional spheres.”

Within the gaming community, it is not a surprise for female players to be harassed.

One notable case involved Miranda Pakozdi, who was sexually harassed for 13 minutes on the live internet program “Cross Assault.” The portrayal of females in esports should also concern the IOC. Women are usually depicted as highly sexually and as victims instead of heroines.

Many Olympians, including me, feel it’s inevitable that esports will one day join the Olympic family. Still, one can only wonder if Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Games, would question whether the values of the Olympic Movement are being compromised for the financial enticements that esports promise.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Comments

    I stopped reading after these 2 bits.
    three central attributes: The sport involves a physical component, it is competitive, and it is institutionalized, meaning a governing body establishes the rules of performance.
    Perhaps then Jenga should also be considered an Olympic sport.

    Does Jenga have a governing body that establishes the rules of performance?

    And then when scrolling down, A male-dominated activity

    Sorry, I must have missed the Male synchronized swimming event while searching for the Male rhythmic gymnastics.

    smh

      Most sports are male dominated anyway. Golf for example in the US has 2 female golfers for every 7 male. Is a 22% participation rate something to be proud of, or just a number that lets them give lip service to equality?

      The author is in one of the most equal sports (athletics), if not the most equal, so may not see that almost every other sport is biased anyway. Most being male biased, a couple like synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics being female. Even gender neutral sports like equestrian favour one sex over the other in specific areas.

      Point being, minority participation happens in pretty much every sport, so why try to use that as justification for e-sports? If you don't think its a sport say that, but don't try to hide behind gender diversity.

      As a sport, I have no problem calling it a sport. It has rules, global governance, and theres competition. Why has the definition changed so that the competition has to be physical and not mental?

      If its only physical, there are sports people can argue aren't focussed on being physical as a necessity. Do you boot them out? Golf, sailing, shooting, archery, equestrian all have no direct requirement to be at peak fitness. Just talented. How are they different when the physical ability doesn't determine the outcome?

        I'd argue that archery can be physically demanding :-P.

        Hell, Darts are in the second stage of becoming a recognised sport with the IOC. And I tell you what.. They are not the fittest fellas going around... and I'm not entirely sure, but I dare say that that has a heavy male bias also

          Yeah, not saying there aren't physical demands to any of those sports, just not that its the deciding factor. Skill plays a much bigger role than physical ability. Dont get me wrong, physically I couldn't do archery but at a competitive level your record in the gym isn't determining the winner.

          To me the skill level is a more important factor on whether something's a sport or not. If it isn't, then luck decides the winner, and that's not sport. And once you base something on skill and not physicality, many non-traditional sports come into the mix.

          Which the traditional sports don't like.

            Chess is already recognised by the Olympic Committee as a sport. Therefore, the fundamental basis on which Ms Forrester is basing her argument in the article is wrong: The Olympic Committee has already recognised that the long-standing traditional assumption that a sport can only be an athletic activity is fundamentally flawed and recognised that the definition of sport should reach past that to consider factors other than athletic competitiveness.

            A competitive chess player can come away from a round of a tournament completely drained mentally, physically and emotionally. Esports tend to be less visibly draining because of the adrenaline rush involved in the more rapid pacing of the game and the shorter average duration of the rounds, but the same principle applies: when competing at a professional level, the person is undergoing mental and emotional stress during the activity that drains their energy just as intensely as a traditional sport can, and the Olympic Committee recognises this fact.

        I think gender in sport is a non-issue anyway, at least in this context. You have male and female events already. I can't think of a single sport at the olympics where men and women compete against each other. So just continue that segregation. Women's Starcraft 2 and Men's Starcraft 2 medals.

        That said, I think it's a ridiculous idea to add esports to the Olympics in the first place. All of the sports you mentioned actually have physical components, often quite demanding ones. To be honest, there are a lot of sports that I don't think should be in the Olympics, skating and surfing, ping pong and so on. I feel like the Olympics should have remained the pure athletic sports. Leave the other sports to their own competitions. Otherwise you have a ridiculously massive list of "sports" at the Olympics and it takes 6 months to run it.

          I can't think of a single sport at the olympics where men and women compete against each other Equestrian.

            Well there you go, one sport out of a hundred. And I'm not entirely surprised since it's as much the horse as the rider.

          I hit submit too fast.

          Pretty much every sport is split because of unfair advantages of one sex over the other. Usually males having higher speed and power thresholds. They just cant compete on equal footing very often. So why not find sports where they can?

          Take physicality out of it, and rely on more equal abilities like reflexes or mental skill, and theres no reason males and females cant compete together.

          This is borne out by equestrian, where most people don't reflect that its a mixed sport, and just watch it regardless. Even if showjumping is predominantly male, and dressage predominantly female (apparently. I don't follow either), the sport as a whole competes on equal footing.

          Which is a good thing. The Olympics needs more of that, and if e-sports can do that, more power to it.

            Reflexes aren't equal, they are effected by testosterone and men will always win in these categories too. Men will always outperform women in sport, and forcing men and women to compete against each other is unfair and arguably discriminatory to women.

        Never done archery I see.
        Besides havibg to be generally fit as a low heart rate is required, so fitter the bettet. Things like upper body strength is a must. A lot of professional archers spend as much time at the gym as they do the range.
        My bow has a 65pound draw weight. Some are much higher. Holding 65 pounds for sometimes minutes (depending the wind) does take a bit out of you. Especially when you have to hold it dead still amd repeat a few hundred times.

          See other responses. Not saying there isnt a physical component, as clearly there is. Just saying that its not the deciding factor in who wins. The strongest man in the world wouldnt win a single archery contest if he couldnt aim properly.

          Its that skill level that decides the winner, and while at that level most are incredibly fit, the strongest doesnt automatically have an advantage. That fitness is also selective to what they need to do the job. I expect leg strength wouldnt be as big a priority as shoulder or arm strength for example.

          The author thinks sport is only where there is a physical effort, I'm saying its the competition (along with central rules, global competitions, etc) that makes it a sport, and that skill is more important than the physical aspects.

          FYI, I played a couple of sports to a high level when I was young. Injury screwed me, but I do get the effort needed for high level sport. I didnt mean to imply it wasn't there.

            So we should see chess at the olympics?

            I'm sorry, but I see the Olympics primarily as a physical contest. I mean historically that's what it was developed from. Sure there's skill involved, but it always been fastest, strongest people not about someone who sits at a desk all day.

            Don't get me wrong, esports requires a lot of skill, and surfing is physically demanding but I just don't think they fit into the Olympic games.

              Thing with Chess is that a) it was at the Olympics, in 2000, and b) is recognised by the IOC as a sport.

              In 2000 it was only a demonstration sport, but getting that far needs official recognition as its only one step from full status. Being recognised legitimises so many other competitions.

              it always been fastest, strongest people not about someone who sits at a desk

              Pistol shooting doesnt rely on being faster or stronger, just accuracy. They've been winding back that stronger, faster mantra for a while now.

              My argument is that where theres competition, theres sport. From there its only a matter of organisation and popularity, and e-sports have both. So why not? Legitimacy improves it along the way, only making it better. As soon as Rugby 7's were announced as an Olympic sport, look how many countries suddenly got interested.

              Dont get me wrong, I dont think e-sports is there yet anyway, but I do think its as much a sport as many other things.

                And they shouldn't be winding back the faster, stronger ideal. It's getting ridiculous. Pretty soon the only sports *not* allowed in the Olympics will involve machines (ie: car racing). Then there'll be a push to get that in as well...

                Let's put in rubiks cube solving, cup stacking, hopscotch, jazz tap, crossword solving, canasta... because that's where it's heading.

                  People have gotten Olympic medals there as well. Gliding was awarded medals back in the 20's or 30's...

                  I accept and agree that sport is predominantly a physical competition, but I don't think its fair to limit it to being exclusively physical. Plenty of Olympic events don't rely on being physical, so how is it any different?

                  I don't think e-sports are ready anyway, but the organisation is getting better year after year, and it'll be there soon. And if organisations like the IOC want to stay relevant, sooner or later they need to find a way to include those competitions.

                  I've already said I think a lot of the existing Olympic events are a joke too. Ping Pong, really?

                  The Olympics has become super bloated, and as someone else pointed out is actually costing countries to host it rather than making them a profit. I'd much rather see it pared back to a smaller group of more traditional sports. Make it more focused and shorter and it'd need less resources and venues so it'd be cheaper to host.

                  I have no problems giving Esports their own version of the Olympics (E-Lympics?) but don't put them in the actual Olympics. Same goes for skating, surfing, rugby, cricket, etc.

      but there is female synchronised swimming, they are only separated because of the difference in physicality. but in Overwatch, despite the physically difference between the sexes being thoroughly unimportant to their ability to play the game on equal terms, there is no female league and there is (as far as I know) only one female in the whole of the league. That is completely ridiculous. Hell there is only one main female in front of the camera but she got demoted from being an expert on the panel, to just the pretty girl who interviews fans.

      Just think how crazy those two things are in 2018, we all know vast amount of women who play the game and their is a lot of woman in the top 500. yet strangely only the team who had nothing at all to lose choose to front one of a team.

        You seem to have missed my point.. and the fact that you actually think there is male synchronized swimming at the Olympics astounds me.

        This author is using "gender bias" as a way of saying how E-Sport shouldn't be part of the Olympics. I pointed out two Olympic sports, that have no male equivalent. as @grunt pointed out above you, very eloquently, gender bias SHOULD NOT be a prevailing method on whether or not something should be classified as an Olympic Sport.

        The fact the Gymnastics in itself has many single-sex activities in it (Pommel horse, Rings, Parallel bars, Horizontal bar, Uneven bars, Balance beam) is evidence enough that gender bias should not matter.

        As for OWL, Greguri (I think that's how it is spelled), came in as the hottest and possibly most skilled (famous) female OW player... and she was trounced. Without bringing up records, Seagull was a better D.VA offtank than Greguri, and he only really started playing D.VA during the League. I'm not saying that there aren't any "really" talented female players out there, but when starting a brand new e-sport, you're going to want a) the best of the best, and in a male dominated thing, they will most likely be male; and b) people who command a decent following on social media and such, so as to ensure the audience numbers are there.

    Funny that she doesn't consider gaming to be physical enough for Olympics.

    If this is the case, why is shooting an Olympic sport? It requires even less physical activity than something like Overwatch.

      Or Curling.... haha

        Don't you DARE take curling away. Have you seen the Swedish womens team?

      Shooting doesn't require physical activity? Are you kidding? Try to emulate what those people do and you won't be saying that. It involves a lot of physical discipline even if you don't need to be Usain Bolt. And great hand-eye coordination along with mental skill.

        I think that's what their point is? Saying that pro gamers at that level require those same skills but the author of the article doesn't think it's enough to qualify as an Olympic sport.

        My personal problem with esports as an Olympic sport is how do you choose which games get represented?

          There's greater physical effort required to holding a gun (let alone firing one) compared to flicking a mouse about. I don't disagree about hand eye coordination but you need to be "stronger" to use a gun. Especially if we're talking something like skeet.

            There's greater physical effort in swimming a lap in the pool than shooting. So what? This is gatekeeping pure and simple. The irony being that it's hardcore gamers on the receiving end for once.

              I'm all for gatekeeping on the Olympics. It's already got a bunch of ridiculous events in it that shouldn't be there. I'd rather they didn't add more. Here's a simple rule they could apply "if the competitors need electricity to perform the event it's not Olympic material".

    E-sports aren't sports in my opinion, so they shouldn't be in the Olympics.

    That said, why wouldn't they just start a seperate E-Olympics or something and use it to make tons of money?

    The actual Olympics suck anyway, they cost a forunte to run, normally lose money and the governing bodies are corrupt as hell.

    Just get one of those giant tech companies to set up an international tournament every 3 years and govern it with rules that actually fit gaming.

      Said it before I'll say it again I want a juiced Olympics where there's no limits on drugs and doping. Let's break bodies hitting the limits. Be way more entertaining

        I've wondered the same thing. Lets see what can be done when taken to extremes. Could a human run 100m in under 9 seconds with assistance? Longjump over 10 meters? Throw a javelin 150m? 3 minute mile? What about other sports? What if the entire Tour de France was blood doping to increase oxygen levels?

        Make it clear the competitors are juiced, and just see how far the human body can be pushed. Taken to extremes, I'm sure some results would be horrific, and the personal toll on anyone going down that path would be horrendous, but there is a part of me that wonders how far drugs could push records if they were legal.

          What if the entire Tour de France was blood doping to increase oxygen levels?

          They probably already are. Look at the number of athletes who get caught. It honestly sounds like cheating is the norm and it's just that a lot of them are good at getting away with it.

          But it would be interesting if they removed the restrictions so instead of being careful about it, and doping a month or two out then tapering off they could just go nuts and not have to worry about being banned. Be a lot of deaths though I suspect.

            Yeah, that one was a little tongue in cheek :)

            Its a lot cleaner than it was a decade ago though, and I'm not sure you can really throw the generic cheating blanket at cycling these days, but with Armstrong you got a hint on how much improvement removing restrictions could go. He made the mountains look like nothing.

            Having said that, its probably the one on that list that you'd notice the least.

            I do know with javelin they were throwing them over 100m in the mid 80's before they moved the grip forward, and changed the air resistance (combo meant they dipped sooner), so with that old gear they'd be nearly throwing it into the stands these days. Without help.

              Yeah I figured, and my reply was a little tongue in cheek as well. But only a little, since we often see stories about cheats being caught then basically saying "everyone else does it, I have to or I can't compete".

              The mechanical/gear improvements are a whole other thing. But they're kinda crazy. Stuff like the swimsuits from a few years back or even the bats in cricket make a noticeable difference. Makes you wonder how far things could go just tweaking the tech even without shooting everyone up with HGH or blood doping.

                This year was the first year I really noticed how far the bikes have come. On time trials and the like in the past, its been pretty easy, but the roadbikes this year were on a whole different level.

                Hard to see the effects of either technology or doping in cycling though, its benefits only help in relatively small but incredibly significant areas. Like a specific 5kms at the end of climbing a mountain. Same areas doping does :)

                If you want examples though, look at track cycling. Velodrome bikes have improved at a similar rate, with the records there dropping year after year at a rate that can only be the equipment. The rate the 4000m team pursuit record has dropped since Sydney 2000 is amazing.

                Its dropped over 10 seconds, most of which was effectively the same team from Great Britain. No personal improvement is going to account for anywhere near that. Long track speed skating is the same, with records tumbling year after year since the kilk-klak skates came in a generation ago. And swimsuits are the obvious one.

                Just mostly curious how much further it could go with the push from drugs. Keep their records separate, but how far could it go with both technology AND doping?

                  Yeah the bike tech is insane. When you can pick up a bike with one finger you know the tech has improved dramatically.

      They tried this quite a number of years ago with the World Cyber Games, but it ultimately failed. Would be interesting to see what would happen if they tried it again though. The biggest hurdle would be getting the major companies all playing nice with each other. The last thing we want is an "e-Olympics" to be primarily sponsored by, say, Microsoft, and have 90% of the featured games be Xbox exclusives.

        I’d FAR prefer that than having the Olympics (which regardless of the reality really should be a celebration of top-level human capability) soured by people getting a Gold Medal in Super Smash Brothers *insert latest version here* that’s relevant for about 10 years before nobody remembers what Smash Brothers is or how that particular version worked.

        The fact that they can’t have a World Cyber Games without it being a debacle is exactly why games shouldn’t be shoehorned into the stodgy Olympic structure.

        The other thing that the losers pushing for this haven’t considered is the politics and bureaucracy of it all.
        Do we really want the IOC constantly monitoring your favourite developer, interrogating them about balance tweeks, monitoring their financial transactions, launching corruption investigations ect?
        Or people lodging Olympic reviews afterwards because someone uses a glitch, or a cheap tactic, or wins a gold with a character that’s then banned from competition.
        Or gamers being subjected to WADA testing where they need to declare where they are (WHO they are for that matter) so they can be tested at any time?

        The whole idea is stupid and it should go away. Make a standalone thing (as best they can).

          That's really well said. And raises some points I hadn't even considered. The idea of gamers being randomly drug tested and some governing body messing with the actual games developers are making makes me shudder.

    Why the hell is chess an olympic sport?

      It isn't. It was a demonstration sport at Sydney (along with BMX from memory), but has never reached full Olympic status. It was also in a general list of events trying to get included in the 2020 games, but didn't make the shortlist.

    The definitions provided by the Global Association of International Sports Federations are pretty useful in this context. As far as I'm aware all Olympic sports fall under the designation of primarily physical or primarily animal-supported. No representatives of the remaining categories - primarily mind, primarily motorised, or primarily coordination-based - are currently included in either the Summer or Winter games (even though some have been in the past e.g. chess and motorboating). Esports seems to fit pretty comfortably within the primarily coordination-based category, so it would be a bit weird for it to be included.

    Ignoring all of the above, I won't be happy with esports being included until competitors are required to use their actual name instead of a self-attributed pseudonym.

      What is wrong with a pseudonym? At least for me, when the players are in the game, that is their name. The wins, losses and achievements are all achieved under that name and it would be sad to see that taken away, especially at a large tournament like the Olympics. Additionally, some names are too long or too complicated, especially with the fast paced casting in esports.

        Nothing specifically, I just think it looks very unprofessional. I don't know of any other professional sports where competitors are allowed to chose a fake name (it would suck if the record holder for the 100m sprint for example was XXfAsTcAnTXX or whatever - to me that deligitimises the seriousness of the event). Specifically in relation to the Olympics though, the competitors are primarily representing their country rather than themselves, so I don't think it's appropriate to use a fake name.

        Last edited 01/08/18 12:33 pm

          Fair enough. Most players do play for a team, not their country and have somewhat reasonable names. Anyways, let's agree to disagree. I would rather not argue about such small things.

    A male-dominated activity
    Central to the Olympic Movement and nestled within the criteria of accepting a new sport is gender equality. Interestingly, this has been an area in which esports has been heavily criticized.

    A study that reviewed gender and gaming determined that even though there are approximately equal numbers of males and females who play video games, most professional gamers are male. Moreover, female players who achieve some level of success are marginalized. Researchers concluded the “video game culture is actively hostile towards women in the private as well as the professional spheres.”

    Would it not make sense to include a female gaming category at the Olympics as a way to address these problems? Ala Jesse Owens and John Baxter Taylor Jr., including black athletes who were nominally not allowed to compete and has normalized their involvement in sports today.

    Last edited 30/07/18 2:53 pm

    I think the biggest problem with e-Sports as an Olympic sport is that games and gaming changes so quickly. With 4 years between every Olympics the games people want to compete in will be completely different. Imagine if gaming was made an Olympic Sport 18 years ago. We'd all be stuck watching people play Quake III, UT99 and StarCraft 1

    They shouldn't be in the Olympics.

    Instead an E-Olympics should be created that is run by people that understand gaming and the professional E-Sports scene. If the Olympics tried to run it they wouldn't have a clue what to do, what games to host as well as be strangers to the concept of changing games as the market changes and evolves with gaming trends.

    Curling is an Olympic sport. Lawn bowls is on the shortlist to become one. Any objection related to gaming not being physical enough has to deal with the fact that that ship has already sailed.

    I thought the moment drug testing happened, most of the competitors would be disqualified anyway.

    And given the usual drama around controllers with Melee at EVO could you imagine trying to test and regulate equipment?

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