Esports in the Olympics?
Along with the ongoing question of esports as a sport comes the recent push by some (Intel, Alibaba, an international esports federation headquartered in Korea, and others) for the inclusion of esports in the Olympics.
However, if this were to happen, several things need to take place first, being:
1) we do need to start referring to an individual title or titles and the distinct competitions around them within esports, and not the ‘esports’ generalization. By this I mean that the term ‘esports’ is to the ‘Olympic Games’ as ‘Overwatch’ is to basketball, or ‘League of Legends’ is to mogul skiing.
The Olympic Games is a series of sporting events, played out under flags and nations. For esports to be included within that context, we need to drill down.
‘Esports’ as a singular event, can’t be in the Olympics, but a competition involving professional players competing in relation to a specific title or titles, for medals, could.
The following diagram explains the basics of the IOC and Esports events models:
2) an International Federation (IF), which the IOC can recognise as governing that sport, or in the esports case, a title (or titles), in compliance with the IOC’s Olympic Charter, needs to be formed..
Discussions about Intel, or Alibaba, or a publisher, or an event organiser, are somewhat misguided as under the Olympic Charter the IOC recognises (and works with) IFs.
Principle 22 of the Olympic Charter says –
“IOC may recognise as IFs international non-governmental organisations governing one or several sports at the world level, which extends by reference to those organisations recognized by the IFs as governing such sports at the national level.”
Will the IOC recognise an IF that doesn’t govern its sport? Govern meaning control, or ability to exert power in a sports governance sense?
Who controls esports? Where does the power lie with esports? How is power exerted over what is software? Such power surely lies with the publishers, or a tournament organiser with great IP license agreements.
Taking that idea further; will a publisher, or an independent developer, or a third-party tournament organiser with watertight IP licenese agreements (or maybe even a handy assignment of IP for the purposes of running an Olympic tournament) (again, owning the IP in the game – akin to an IF wielding a ‘sporting power’ in traditional sports), keen to have their video game title included in Olympic competition where players compete for Olympic medals, establish an IF for their title?
Such esport title specific IF would have to be a not for profit company (separate legal identity), compliment with the WADA Code, and ensure that the “sport” upholds the principles of Olympism, including supporting gender diversity and the basic aims of member protection.
Then, what happens under that IF on a national level? Who picks the players/athletes competing for each nation?
This may take years to sort out – or the IOC, seeing the commercial upside, updates and amends its own Charter to enable it to recognise a body claiming to govern all of esports, or a publisher on its own right, without being structured as a traditional IF?
Or maybe, if Alibaba and Jack Ma want inclusion bad enough, Alisports will establish such an IOC-friendly IF, such as the ‘International Vainglory Federation’ (or similar – used for purposes of giving an example only) so as to include its title ‘Vainglory’ as a medal event at a future Olympic Games?
I suggest that we seriously consider the motives of those making such a push here. If not handled well, esports as a whole may suffer a set back?
For me, I would argue, and have argued publicly, that the IOC, with low attendance figures and disappointing TV ratings, needs esports more than the other way around – certainly from a purely commercial argument, this makes sense?
In the meantime, let’s just let esports do just fine on its own.
Contact Mat Jessep on +61 2 8007 4747 or email email@example.com to discuss this issue and esports further.