Esports split? For Olympic inclusion, a parallel universe may be the only solution as profit and businesses dominate landscape
Established organisations and game publishers may be unwilling to tone down violent games nor align themselves with National Olympic Committees
E-sports has grown into a multibillion dollar, business-oriented industry in which corporations and game publishers call the shots and violent games dominate the landscape.
To become an Olympic sport, though, esports players and organisations need to align themselves with a National Olympic Committee (NOC) within their own country or territory and play by Olympic rules, with IOC president Thomas Bach saying recently that violent games would never be allowed.
It is unlikely that gamers and publishers who have already established a successful and profitable e-sports culture are likely to acquiesce for the sake of an Olympic medal.
“I personally believe there will be two parallels,” said Allan Phang, from AirAsia Esports. “One business side to it where companies and organisations do their own thing.
“The esports federations will need to be recognised by the International Olympic Committee in order to further streamline it. The IOC and GAISF [Global Association of International Sports Federations] hosted the first esports forum with key e-sports industry stakeholders in Lausanne, Switzerland in July.
“I believe they’re exploring a way to move forward as e-sports is unique, unlike traditional sports, the games are owned by the publishers.”
Esports debuted as a demonstration sport at the recent Asian Games with high hopes that it will be part of the official roster for the 2022 event in Hangzhou, China.
Of the six titles being contested in Jakarta, only Pro Evolution Soccer would likely qualify as a non-violent game.
Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, president of the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF), said there also needs to be strong governance in the industry.
“With the inclusion of esports in the Asian Games as a demonstration event, I think we are in a good position to develop the sport,” Fok said. “However, this is not to say there aren’t issues. First of all, to develop esport as a sport, we need to establish structure and have the recognition of respective NOCs and ultimately governments.
“I would say we are doing well but there is still huge disparities between nations and regions. Some countries have e-sports federations which are recognised but many don’t. Some countries have many e-sports associations and it may be clear who is the recognised body.
“To this end, AESF has the role to work with different NOC and government to streamline the structure, only by doing this, we can move on to have esports as a official sport or even start talking about an Olympic schedule.”
With demonstration status in Jakarta, the Olympic Council of Asia relaxed rules on affiliation to NOCs but such a scenario would not be allowed were it to be a fully fledged Asian Games sport. In addition, Fok said any esport body that wants to be part of the Olympic movement would need to be free of corporate influence.
“I think it’s important to point out that no matter what the format, esport associations in any regions have to be independent and cannot be lobbying for any business interests,” he said.
“Esport in reality is based on business, which is an important part of it. But any association will need to work towards a more inclusive esports environment and work with Olympic ideals.”