Why are Olympic Series Esports games so weird? We asked the IOC

On March 1, the International Olympic Committee announced the first details of the 2023 Olympic Esports Series, the next step in the venerable sports body’s tentative move into the esports arena. (It previously hosted a Virtual Olympic Series in conjunction with the Tokyo 2020 games.) Starting with qualifying this month and culminating in the live finals in Singapore in June, and open to both amateur and professional gamers, the Esports Series looks like a moderately serious offering. by the Olympic movement to get involved with competitive gaming, as underscored by their brand shift toward using the community’s favorite term, “esports.”

However, there is only one problem: the choice of games is… strange.

You won’t find any of the most popular esports represented here. No League of LegendsNo counterattackNo Fortnite, Supervision, Street Fightereither rocket league. None of the esports that people actually watch.

Instead, the nine initially confirmed games are all, to a greater or lesser degree, simulations of real-world sports, games, and activities. Only a couple of them are instantly recognizable as video game brands: Gran Turismo and Just Dance. (Hold on… Just dance?!) Leading chess website Chess.com and indoor cycling trainer Zwift are also represented. The list is completed with obscure simulators: virtual regatta (navigation), virtual taekwondo (Guess), tennis clash (it’s a mobile game!), by Konami WBSC eBaseball: Power Pros (which rolls off the tongue), and archery game tic tac toe arc (another mobile game). What’s going on here?

Perusing the list, I wondered why the IOC decided not to meet esports fans where they are, which is to watch the world’s most popular games. It’s true that the world of heavily promoted and deep-pocketed professional esports leagues is anathema to the ideals of the Olympic movement, but that didn’t stop the IOC from embracing boxing, shall we say, at the amateur level.

I guessed two possible answers for the odd list. One, that the IOC would not want to endorse violent gaming, not even the broad fantasy violence of something like League. And two, that it was keeping a focus on the virtual analogues of real-world sports. But this still didn’t explain the presence of chess or motorsports, two activities that would never be included in the real-life Olympics, or the absence of legitimately large esports with a real-world basis, like FIFA. So I asked for clarification.

The IOC responded to me with a lengthy statement that more or less confirmed my guesses. Yes, the main objective of the initiative is to promote the development of “virtual and simulated sports games”. And indeed, violence was a no-no that would have ruled out most popular esports, along with, oddly enough, the gender divide between players and “technical barriers to entry” (which I interpret as games that only can be played competitively at high levels). -final PCs, instead of mobiles or consoles). In the words of the IOC:

In considering these proposals, it is important to us that the games featured in the Olympic Esports Series align with Olympic values. This includes inclusion of participation such as technical barriers to entry, the gender division of the player base, and avoiding any kind of personal violence. in the context of the IOC’s mission, which is to unite the world in peaceful competition.

In the context of the IOC comments, the inclusion of Just Dance can even be explained. The game’s broad demographic and ease of use (you don’t even need to be dexterous with a controller) must have been attractive from an inclusion standpoint. Meanwhile, the focus on console and mobile gaming, and Gran Turismo’s selection over, say, iRacing, makes sense when considering the requirement for a low technical barrier to entry.

Another drawback is the IOC’s decision to partner with international sports federations to select the games to work with; therefore the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile suggested Gran Turismo to represent motorsport, the World Archery Federation suggested. tic tac toe arc, etc. The objective is not necessarily to select the most famous games, quite the opposite. As the IOC says:

The Olympic Games have always offered a diverse programme, including those sports whose competitors do not benefit from the platform of other high-profile competitions. In order to build a similarly diverse program for the 2023 Olympic Esports Series, we have partnered with International Federations (IFs), who in turn propose game developer associations. Although the sports are not currently on the Olympic programme, both chess and motorsports are recognized international federations, so they were invited to submit proposals to be part of the competition.

If nothing else, the involvement of sports federations explains why FIFA games do not represent soccer, given the breakdown of the relationship between soccer’s governing body and the games’ publisher, Electronic Arts.

The IOC says the lineup is not complete and may still add new games. “We have had interesting and encouraging conversations with more [international federations] and game publishers, and we expect additional titles to be added to the Olympic esports series in the coming weeks,” he says. He’s also pointing to a video docuseries he’s running that features some of the best FIFA players, among other esports names.

As strange and out of place as the Olympic Esports Series playlist may seem to the average competitive gaming fan, the IOC has a compelling rationale for the choices and partnerships it has made. It’s only right that Olympic esports looks very different from (and, in fact, is a haven) from the blatant scammer commerce that surrounds professional leagues. But that leaves a huge gap to close between the ideal of Olympic esports and the popular imagination.

The inclusion of the likes of Gran Turismo and Chess.com is a step in the right direction. If the IOC could somehow circumvent FIFA and bring ea sports fc on board, or allow non-violent but fantastic sports like rocket league to be included, that would make a world of difference in making your dream of a digital Olympic movement come true.

In the meantime, how about a point nintendo switch Sports bowling? I imagine my chances.

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