It’s not quite esports in the Olympics, but the International Olympics Committee (IOC) will host a virtual sports event May 13 to June 23, tied to the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Produced by DreamHack Sports Games, the Olympic Virtual Series will be “the first-ever, Olympic-licensed event for physical and non-physical virtual sports,” according to the IOC’s press release. They’re still hashing out the details, but the event will include video games like Konami’s eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020, sailing game Virtual Regatta, Gran Turismo motor racing, and bike racing platform Zwift. Players will be able to compete in the events for possible prizes.
“The OVS [Olympic Virtual Series] creates a stage to connect the physical sporting world with the virtual and simulation sports gaming community, providing an opportunity to engage with the Olympic Movement,” the IOC wrote. “Each IF [International Sports Federations] will offer its corresponding event in a format that maximizes online mass participation and prioritises inclusivity and participation through the OVS. The mass-participation Series allows participants around the world to compete from home or their training facilities in order to generate excitement in the build-up to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
The Olympics could definitely stand to “generate excitement” — last year’s postponed event is set to go ahead in Tokyo this summer, despite the fact that the coronavirus is very much still happening all over the world. Recently, the IOC decided to stick to a ban on athletes taking a knee or protesting from the podium. The Games wreak havoc on their host cities, and the coronavirus is on the rise in Japan, and all these details make it hard for me to see this year’s Games as anything other than a very bad idea. But overall it seems interest in the Olympics is waning and the IOC is trying to claw it back here, especially among young people. As the press release notes, the OVS will have a “special focus on youth,” and pulling in “video gaming communities” is one of the stated goals of the Games’ 2020 agenda.
Despite all my misgivings, I still shouted “Olympics!” excitedly when the press release showed up in my email this morning, because I contain multitudes. We’ve seen the benefits of virtual events in all kinds of spaces this year, and it’s cool to see the Olympics branching into that. Plus, esports have long been trying to get themselves into the Games, without much success; perhaps this brings us one step closer to Olympic-level Overwatch.