Competitive video gaming just got one step closer to becoming an Olympic sport. The Olympic Council of Asia officially included competitive video gaming, also called Esports, in a demonstration event held in its Asian Indoors and Martial Arts Games venue. Here, nine countries competed in four different games including Starcraft and Hearthstone to a crowd of 200. However, the event failed to garner more than 50 viewers online, a disappointing result considering the thousands of viewers who tune into large Esports competitions.
The idea that Esports could become an Olympic event may seem far-fetched, but it is actually closer than one might think; in fact, Esports could be implemented as an Olympic event as soon as the 2024 Paris Games. However, there are a number of hurdles the sport will have to jump through first. The primary obstacle is that the International Olympic Committee has a long history of denying mind games that involve little to no physical exertion (such as chess) or mechanical games that depend on a machine to make the events possible (like any sort of car racing). Some progress has been made in recent years with the inclusion of BMX at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but esports is a considerably harder sell due to its status as a product of both mind and mechanical games. In addition, Esports would be a difficult event to coordinate due to the vast variety of games to select from, or in other words, which games are Olympian enough to compete in? Harder still is the fact that Esports features games from private developers meaning that unlike most sports like swimming where the Olympics can rent or build their own venue at their own prices, the Olympics would actually have to negotiate with and pay game developers for the right to broadcast the video games the athletes would be playing. It would be a costly affair, to say the least, and could lead to the less-popular, lower-priced games as Olympic events while other games could be shut out completely.
It seems like the odds are stacked against Esports becoming an official event, but there is still one major advantage that should inspire a great deal of hope: the Olympics are suffering from overall low ratings and specifically dismal ratings from young audiences. Esports meanwhile is growing in popularity with over 120 million people watching events per month. Most of these esports viewers are part of the key younger demographic that the Olympics so desperately crave, and the hope is that the inclusion of sports would drive up youth viewership.
Perhaps then the concept of Olympic-level esports comes down to a simple question: will the desire to uphold tradition trump the allure of more viewers and therefore, more money from advertising revenue? Currently, International Olympic Committee officials claim that it will be a near-impossibility to include esports in time for the Paris Games; however, there is still a chance Esports may be included in the near-future. If television has taught us anything, low ratings and lost advertising revenue have the potential to bring about massive change in a very short timespan. If the 2020 Olympic viewership continues to plummet, Esports may finally get the chance to go for gold.