Known as eSports, competitive video gaming long ago exited your parents’ basement and entered the mainstream. For proof, one need only turn on ESPN. In recent years, the sports network has begun to air major video game tournaments, which often offer millions of dollars in prizes. With an audience of eSports fans expected to reach 145 million people this year, per data gathered by Fortune, it’s no wonder Olympic officials might seize a share of these viewers, as well.
“We have to look at [eSports] because we can’t say, ‘It’s not us. It’s not about Olympics,’ ” Estanguet told the AP. “The youth, yes they are interested in eSport and this kind of thing. Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.”
Estanguet added: “I don’t want to say ‘no’ from the beginning. I think it’s interesting to interact with the IOC, with them, the eSports family, to better understand what the process is and why it is such a success.”
Estanguet did not offer further details about which games might compose medal events, but there is already a precedent being set for adding eSports to major sporting competitions.
The Asian Games will debut eSports as an exhibition event next year before adding it to its official program in 2022. The Olympic Council of Asia announced the decision in April, noting that first the eSports events would appear at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, which are set to take place next month. Organizers plan on offering four events featuring four games: Dota 2, StarCraft II, Hearthstone and a sports game, still to be decided, but will be either from the FIFA or NBA series.
Dota 2 has emerged in recent years as one of the most lucrative games to play. This year’s largest Dota 2 competition, the International 2017 underway in Seattle, is offering nearly $25 million in prize money, including an $11 million prize for the winning team of five.
Obviously, any program in the Olympics would not offer that level of prize money, but medals could be just as valuable in terms of prestige.
To add any new sport, however, French officials would have to get the support of the IOC, which could prove a hurdle. In April, IOC President Thomas Bach did not sound convinced that eSports would fit in at the Olympics.
“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether eSports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” Bach said (via Inside the Games). “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”
To become an Olympic event, sports must demonstrate a certain level of international organization, including having a world governing body. (For example, swimming and diving events are overseen by the FINA, international basketball by FIBA, soccer by FIFA, etc.)
ESports made significant headway toward creating a world governing body last year when several pro teams combined with eSports’ largest league, the Electronic Sports League, to form the World eSports Association. The association has not proven a smooth operation, however. Just a day after the association was announced, Kotaku reported, one of the pro teams withdrew from the association citing concern over conflicting commercial interests stemming from ESL’s involvement.
If the World eSports Association can gain a firmer foothold in the overall governance of video gaming, it will need to apply to the IOC’s executive committee to gain provisional recognition, which lasts three years. During that time, committee executives would decide whether to grant the sport full recognition, and should it succeed, the sport’s governing body could then petition to become an official Olympic sport.
French officials won’t need to worry immediately about getting the IOC on board. They have at least until the latter half of 2020, after the completion of the Tokyo Olympics, to make any final decisions.
“There is some time to look at it, to interact, to engage,” Estanguet told the AP. “We will spend some time after (the IOC meeting in September) Lima to engage with new people and stakeholders. … Let’s discuss among ourselves.”