Esports in the Olympics May Become a Reality

By Corey Dieteman

August 1, 2018

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The esports in the Olympics conversation continue to gain steam as the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) hopes for a cultural or demonstration event at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. This wouldn’t make it a medal event at the Olympics, but it would give esports validation and knowing the future of the industry is bright.

The first time the International Olympic Committee (IOC) supported an esports event was an Intel-sponsored exhibition of StarCraft II before the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The event was held two days before the Opening Ceremonies in PyeongChang. It had the making of a major athletic competition including the Olympic rings appearing in the backdrop of the pre-game show.

The 2018 Winter Olympics won’t be the only major sporting event to recognize esports for long, as the 2020 Olympic in Tokyo has expressed interest and the 2022 Asian Games has announced it to be a medal event.

So, which game title will be the first esports game at the Olympic Games? StarCraft II, Dota 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends would be amongst popular choices. Although there is a hurdle with those titles, they all include a form of violence in their gameplay, which was expressed as a concern by the IOC President Thomas Bach.

“In order to be recognized by the IOC and by the Olympic movement, it is not enough just to show physical activity there. The physical activity must also be in compliance with the values of the Olympic movement.

“We have to draw a very clear red line in this respect and that red line would be e-games which are killer games or where you have promotion of violence or any kind of discrimination as a content… they can never be recognized as part of the Olympic movement. They would be contrary to our values and our principles,” Bach said to Reuters at a news conference in New Delhi, India.

The IOC has shortened the list of potential games that could be featured at future Olympics by staying away from violent games but has opened the doors for sport-based video games.

What Esports Game Could be the first one in the Olympics?

I think the titles that could have the best chances for becoming the first esport game at the Olympics are NBA2K, FIFA and Rocket League. While they are currently not as popular as the other esports games listed earlier, they are arguably the closest esport games that encompass a traditional Olympic Game event. All three games are either simulating a real-life sporting event or are sports-based and already have a competitive league infrastructure.

Electronic Arts’ FIFA would’ve been the top video game on my list to be featured as an esport in the Olympic Games if it wasn’t for the recent uproar about loot boxes and packs in EA’s games. The Belgium government deemed the packs in FIFA’s Ultimate Team game mode and loot boxes in Overwatch and Counter Strike: Global Offensive a violation of their gambling legislation. The United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and other countries are still investigating if loot boxes are a form of gambling.

The primary issue with the FIFA packs is that they are completely up to chance on what you’ll receive when purchasing them. The only thing you’re told is the number of cards in the pack, the tier level of the cards and how many rare cards. The packs don’t only contain players, but also feature staff cards, club items, and consumables.

The catch is that the packs are only partially filled with player cards, as they also feature staff cards, club items, and consumables. There are no set odds on what you’ll get with a pack, the only thing they guarantee is that you’ll receive 12 items and one or three of those items are rare. FIFA will also use promo packs that are more expensive than the standard packs, but they may include more items, rarer items, and packs that are player only packs.

FIFA Ultimate Team’s Weekend League is the primary competitive game mode. The mode features a daily knockout tournament, a four-game tournament, that runs during the week with eight opportunities to qualify for the Weekend League. The Weekend League is a 40-game tournament that runs from every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and offers packs and coins as a reward. This mode is the best way to earn coins and free packs to help you grow your team, but only truly benefits the top-tier players. Players that play in the mode have the chance to qualify for the FUT Champions Cup with their total monthly wins and skill points placing them on regional and global leaderboards. The top eligible players on the global leaderboard during qualifying months receive an invitation to the tournament.

The game title that should benefit the most from FIFA’s legal issues is NBA 2K. NBA 2K has recently taken the next step to becoming a legitimate esports title by creating the NBA 2K League, partnered with 17 NBA teams. What makes the league different is that it is built off their MyCAREER mode. In MyCAREER, players create their own characters and must level up their characters through season gameplay against the AI, against players on the blacktop, or in the pro-am mode.

NBA and NBA 2K recently aired the NBA 2K League Draft on live television, where the 17 teams selected players over the course of a six-round draft. The players went through a combine to show off their skills to the teams prior to the draft. The top prospects were flown to New York City to attend the inaugural NBA2K Draft. Players that were selected will compete in a season that will run from May to August and will be aired on Twitch.tv.

Rocket League might lead the way for non-traditional simulated sports games to become the first esports game in the Olympics. I think its one of the most entertaining games to watch and play. The game is essentially soccer with rocket-powered cars. It already has an esports league that can be seen on Twitch.tv and recently on NBC Sports Network. I feel that with Rocket League’s 40 million userbase and its average 30,000 players daily makes it a legitimate option for an Olympic esports title.

One other interesting thing to think about with Rocket League is their familiarity with NBC. NBC owns the broadcasting rights to the Olympics till 2032. This could mean nothing, but it doesn’t hurt Rocket League’s chances. NBC would already know the benefits of hosting an esports tournament on their stations and the potential viewers that it could bring.

Ultimately, the bottom line when it comes to esports in the Olympics is how much money they can make from it. Esports was worth $1.5 billion in 2017 and is projected to be worth $2.3 billion by 2022 according to the digital research firm Superdata. That amount of revenue is just too much not to consider bringing esports into the Olympics. The question is will the Olympics change their thought process in allowing games like StarCraft II, DotA 2 or Overwatch in or stick to their traditional thought and go safe with a sports-based game. Only time will tell.

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