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eSports will be successful, but at what cost for Olympic sport?

eSports were a demonstration sport during the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games on September 26, 2017 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. (Photo: Ashgabat 2017)
by Gianni Merlo, AIPS President, La Gazzetta dello Sport

LAUSANNE, November 6, 2017 - The moment for eSports, played through a gaming console in front of a screen, has arrived. On the eve of PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games they will appear as a demonstration sport taking part in an event called the “Intel Extreme Master”.

The event is a product of the IOC’s marriage that was consummated immediately with Intel and Alibaba. Truth be told, there was an official three-day courting period in September, during The Asian Martial Arts and Indoor Games, when eSports demonstrated all of their appeal, so much so that they ended up on the official program of the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China in 2022, medal ceremony included.

QUALIFICATION The “Extreme Masters” tournament is open to any player in the world, including hackers. In order to qualify, one must only register for it during the current month and participate in the global online competitions. Also, a live event has been organized and planned for December, in Beijing, so that two top Chinese qualifiers could compete against each other, and then in PyeongChang, against the rest of the world.

IS THIS MADNESS? There are a lot of those who disapprove of the IOC’s decision and wonder if the Committee members have gone mad, but we can honestly respond that they have not, on the contrary, they are perfectly sane. They simply made a business deal and now they must hold up to it. Also, Intel claims that there will be 500 million eSports fans, participants included, therefore IOC had to adapt in order to satisfy its rightful pursuit for engaging more young people.

Maybe someday instead of playing games like “StarCraft II” and “Steep, Road to the Olympic” it might become possible to create games containing the feeling of sports on the field, that make players sweat. That way, there would be no need for constructing sports facilities, with the existing ones turning into “white elephants”, and there would be no more referendums against Olympic candidacies. I am not being ironic, but merely trying to assess the situation.

JURASSIC PARK In the times of Jurassic Park, when I was rising in the world of sports, one would practice sports in the streets, courtyards, youth centers, unused fields or wherever some space could be found. And one would dream to do it some day on the real playing fields or tracks.

Things can be explained through a simple transference; Kenyan runners were dominant in races all over the world, because they had been running since they were born – to play and to go to school. The next generations however, will turn out to be different, because they will grow up playing with mobile phones and tablets, so it will be normal for them to channel their competitive ambitions through eSports.

THE PROBLEMS How many federations will have to be founded in order to organize and regulate the numerous eAthletes, between the ages of 10 and 90, whose number could very quickly reach a billion? Will it be possible to unite them all under one Olympic roof or will this prove as a fertile soil for production companies, which will organize their own competitions and Olympics? Anti-doping controls have already been announced for PyeongChang. However, there will also be eDoping controls which will concentrate on searching for malicious software and preventing match fixing, since the virtual world comes with the same negative sides as the real one.

COMFORT In order to become eSport champions, young people will have to dedicate hours and hours to the training and will therefore have no time to pursue other ambitions. In more developed countries the interest for practicing traditional sports will probably be in decline. Maybe in the future more people will dedicate their time to sport activities in the gym, or Sunday runs, as thousands of eAthletes will be in search of a little bit of sane relaxation. New eChampions will have to have personal trainers since it will be necessary for their bodies to endure the tension of spending hours in front of a screen. Also, new specialties will emerge.

THE CONCLUSION It is impossible to stop this current and therefore we can only hope that young people will choose to wake up to a new world where everyone knows how to use computers, but at the same time refuses to remain confined to the loneliness of the virtual world, deprived of any real relationships or feeling.

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