Should eSports be in the Olympic Games? I believe that the IOC has to be in the eSports space, but I am not sure that eSports needs to be in the traditional Olympic Games
Terrence Burns
Terrence Burns is Co-President for Teneo Sports. He was also the founder and President of Helios Partners, and has a long history in Olympic marketing, sponsorship consulting/sales and Olympic and World Cup bidding.
When is a Game a Sport?
9th November 2017, 15:40

There’s no denying the incredible impact that new technology has made on our world and in our lives over the past 30 or so years. From the first IBM PCs in the early 1980s with a maximum internal memory of 256K (!), to the latest smartphones (which are literally thousands of times more powerful and sophisticated than the computers used to send men to the moon and back 50 years ago), the technology revolution has upended every aspect of modern life. 

The convergence of technology and new media has also created an entirely new entertainment reality, sport is part of this phenomenal shift.

There’s a new(ish) term bandied about today called ‘eSports’. Its current iteration may be new to most people over the age of 35, but it’s been around in some form or another for a long time. In fact, the earliest known video game competition took place in 1972 at Stanford University, and it was called the ‘Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics’. (Really). The Grand Prize was a one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. Today, teenagers are becoming multimillionaires playing e-sports and e-games.

The growth of global eSports is exploding. According to the gaming market intelligence experts at Newzoo, global eSports awareness will reach 1.3 billion in 2017, up from 1.1 billion in 2016. Awareness is estimated to approach 1.8 billion by 2020, and the number of eSports participants globally will reach 58.4 million in 2017, up from 49.8 million in 2016.

eSports is a growing spectator experience as well. In 2013, the Season 3 League of Legends World Championship sold out the 21,000 seats in LA’s Staples Center in an hour. The 2014 version in Seoul had over 40,000 fans in attendance. And in 2015, the first eSports-only arena was launched in Santa Ana, California.


The eSports audience skews young and male, with half of them between the ages of 21-35 and 71 per cent men

The eSports audience skews young and male, with half of them between the ages of 21-35 and 71 per cent men. The majority of these fans are gainfully employed with good incomes. Furthermore, eSports fan are digital natives, meaning they’ve grown up with, and are uber comfortable with, technology in virtually every aspect of their lives, and they are more likely to consume content online than through traditional media outlets.

According to Newzoo, the global eSports audience will reach almost 400 million in 2017. That number is expected to grow by double digits through 2020 to a total fan base of nearly 600 million.

According to research from Nielsen, in the U.S., France, Germany and the UK, interest in the most popular established traditional sports among eSports fans is well over 50 per cent. The sports which tend to garner the most interest among eSports fans – soccer, American football, basketball, boxing and motor sport – also tend to have popular video game franchises, for example EA Sports’ FIFA and Madden games, NBA 2K and Codemasters’ annual F1 game.

So, the Big Question: should eSports be in the Olympic Games? I believe that the IOC has to be in the eSports space, but I am not sure that eSports needs to be in the traditional Olympic Games.

Let me explain. First, I believe the debate on whether eSports participants are athletes or not would be ongoing, and a detraction the Games and the Olympic brand don’t need; second, there is the issue of professionalism in eSports (although that isn’t an issue for some International Federations in the Games); third, there is the issue of doping in terms of the reported use of stimulants amongst competitors at the professional level in gaming; and fourth, the high degree of violence and ‘shooter-games’ in gaming content. But, all of this doesn’t mean that these competitors don’t deserve their own ‘Olympics’, or that the Olympic Movement shouldn’t try to figure out how to embrace this new reality.

I believe there is an excellent compromise, one that the IOC seems to be considering right now.

As just reported, Intel (an IOC TOP Partner) is hosting its 11-year old ‘Intel Extreme Masters’, multi-game tournament near PyeongChang leading up to the 2018 Winter Games. The IOC wants to observe, listen and learn from the event. The good news is that the IOC has a bonafide partner in exploring the world of Esports with Intel.


The IOC should consider creating – by licensing its brand to a suitable, existing eSports partner – an ‘eSports Olympic Games’, for lack of a better name

The IOC should consider creating – by licensing its brand to a suitable, existing eSports partner – an ‘eSports Olympic Games’, for lack of a better name; perhaps even making the existing Intel event the ‘eSports Olympics’. This creates an Olympic affiliation with the eSports world and its elusive (for the IOC) demographic, while at the same time preserving the traditional Olympic Games. As an example, it’s not a leap of logic to look at how the Olympics and Paralympics have evolved as similar, yet distinct and complementary events (even though Paralympians and Olympians are certainly athletes, in every sense of the word).

This solution could neatly avoid the debate, ‘are eSports really sports, or just a competition based on mind skills?’ Indeed, they are a competition that is increasingly lucrative, one whose fans and participants reside squarely in age brackets with which the IOC needs to develop a stronger relationship. It also creates a solution that steps around the need for a single, unified global International Federation to fit within the IOC model.

The question is, what does an Olympic affiliation offer the world of eSports? A lot, I believe. It’s no coincidence that the IOC and Movement spend a lot of time and money protecting the intellectual property of the Olympic brand – because it’s so valuable. The ethos and values of the world’s greatest and most uniting sports brand could serve the eSports world and its fans as well as it’s served fans of the traditional Games for generations.

Everybody wins.

Sportcal