All across the world, people are assembling. Propelled by the gospel of their coaches, athletes stretch and strain in spandex-wrapped preparation. At home, people are making bets, making snacks, making patriotic comments -- it's that time of the decade again where indifference is overshadowed by a sudden, unexpected love for your country. It's time for the Olympics Games and all I can think is this:
Something is missing.
Actually, a lot of things are missing. In spite of its considerable popularity and a decade-long attempt at earning acceptance from the International Olympic Committee (IOE), chess is still not a part of the event. Bridge, lifesaving - yes, folks, Miss Anderson was apparently parroting an athlete --, bowling, and baseball aren't activities that will earn anyone medals either. And with things like rugby still absent from the global tournament, will eSports champions ever have the chance to make Olympian gods of themselves?
At first glance, the thought is borderline ridiculous. For many, the word 'gamer' still evokes images of overweight basement dwellers or greasy, pimply teenagers. Even if you were to factor in such prejudices, why shouldn't eSports be a part of the Olympics?
For as long as I can remember, people have been arguing about the topic. On one hand, there are those who believe that the Olympic Games are the exclusive province of those built out of muscle and sinew, of athletes that would not look amiss in a Grecian mural, of people who are, to put it simply, the pinnacle of physical health. On the other hand, there are those who say that the definition of sports is changing and that it is high time for the technologically-driven passions of today to be acknowledged by the keepers of the old traditions.
So, who is right? It's hard to say.
The idea of eSports making an eventual appearance in the Olympics is not really the pipe dream that most would think it is. In 2008, GGL Global Gaming's CEO Ted Owen informed CNN Fortune that he had signed a deal to make video gaming an official welcome event of that summer's Beijing Olympics, a deal that was concurrent with China's acceptance of professional gaming as an official sport.
Owen had told CNN that the Digital Games would be "the ultimate elevation of gaming and the culture of gaming to the world stage. “
Honorary general secretary of the China Internet Gaming Organizing Committee and editor of a large-circulation national technology newspaper Netizen Fong Hong had offered his support for the event as well. "This is historic because it is the first time that video gaming becomes part of the whole Olympic celebration. In the long run, we hope that video gaming becomes a formal sport throughout the world. That is the long-term vision."
Did it work out? Not quite, if one is to judge from the lack of a repeat this year. It doesn't help that certain parties appear dead set against the concept of video games. Editor and founder of Around the Rings Ed Hula famously noted that, "[Lobbying for] video gaming would be like asking the IOC to approve power smoking."
What is most surprising, however, is not that protests have been voiced but that the most vocal protests appear to be originating from within. Many gamers, contrary to popular expectation, do not want video games to be a part of the Olympics.
To quote a commenter from TeamLiquid.net, “I love eSports but if it joined the Olympics I would personally attempt to bring the scene down to stop the madness.”
The reasons cited are powerful indeed. Video games suffer from a high turnover rates; titles lose popularity with alarming speed. Esports has yet to grow an International Federation, one of the things necessary to receive acknowledgement from the International Olympic Committee. Esports is too volatile, eSports lack the widespread appeal enjoyed by games like basketball or golf. Esports is too sedentary. Esports will benefit external parties too much. The litany of sins goes on.
Though it is hard to refute these claims, it's also equally hard to deny the fact that, if one is to go by the Olympic Charter, there may be a place for eSports within the Olympic Games. One of the fundamental principles of Olympism is this:
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
In that respect, perhaps, eSports may have more of a place in the Olympics than any other activity. While individual players may be saddled with their own prejudices, video games themselves are naturally without discrimination. Anyone can play Starcraft II. Anyone can pick up Call of Duty and aspire to be their country's MVP. Male, female, Caucasian, African, young, old – as long as a person can interface with the game, they can play.
And that's the biggest thing, really. Video games offer a level playing field, a genuine chance to put aside differences in the name of competition, something that all but subscribes to the tenets of the Olympic Charter. Video games are growing as well. Where it was once something completely removed from the mainstream, video games have begun to gain acceptance.
They're also a goldmine-in-waiting.
Everywhere you look, the stakes are getting higher. Prize pools are increasing. Pro-gaming is slowly becoming less of a hobby and more of a possible career choice. Sponsors are becoming interested. Esports is growing and it might well be the boost that the Olympics needed to once again catapult the public's interest.