Why esport is fast becoming the next new Olympic sport

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On the first day of the Games, on the eve of his sport’s Olympic debut, Tony Hawk jumped on his board and tested the new bowl on the Tokyo waterfront. He called the experience of shredding the Ariake Urban Sports Park surreal. Skateboarding had already entered the mainstream, but reaching that stage was another level.

“As a kid who was primarily blasted for my interest in skateboarding, I never imagined it would be part of the Olympics,” Hawk wrote on Instagram.

Hawk’s competitive skateboarding career began when he was 10, two years after the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, when the stigma of skateboarding seemed overwhelming.

By the turn of the century, he was widely regarded as the greatest skateboarder of all time. He was in commercials, movies and TV shows. He had his own video game. He was the sport’s most famous ambassador, a household name alongside Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. But he never had the opportunity to participate in the Olympics.

“I’m surprised it took them this long to figure it out,” Hawk said. “I think they needed young energy for the Summer Games and it’s overdue.”

The International Olympic Committee certainly understands his situation. The Olympics audiences are getting older and the battle for younger eyes is fierce with more entertainment options than ever before. The grip of the event is slipping.

Reality prompted the IOC to make their skate, surf and sport climbing debut at the Tokyo Games. All three will remain on the program for Paris 2024, which will also include breakdance for the first time.

The benefits go both ways. Sports give the Olympics a different energy and a gateway to a different audience. The Olympic Games offer unparalleled exposure to sports.

“I think it is important for our sport to develop even more,” said Slovenian female sports climber Janja Garnbret. “More people will get involved in rock climbing, so I think it’s good in all aspects.”

Garnbret won gold on Friday in a final unlike most at the Olympics. Music exploded throughout the six-hour event. Commentators spoke into the speakers as the eight competitors climbed, cheering on the climbers when they weren’t recounting the action. Enough event workers, team members and Olympic officials gathered to briefly make the absence of fans an afterthought.

It was a successful step into uncharted territory, perhaps giving the IOC the confidence to pursue other less traditional sports in the future. But the next frontier remains troubling.

Electronic sports meet the criteria to support the demand for the Olympics. Competitive video game tournaments draw thousands of in-person fans and millions of additional viewers on shows around the world. Global revenues are expected to exceed $ 1 billion in 2021, according to a report by games and esports data company Newzoo. It grows endlessly in sight.

The IOC did not ignore the push. The first Olympic virtual series was launched ahead of this year’s Games with players competing in five sports simulation competitions: auto racing, baseball, cycling, rowing and sailing.

The IOC also recognized the Intel World Open, an international virtual event that brought together players competing in “Street Fighter V” and “Rocket League” last month. Although not an officially sanctioned event by the IOC, it was featured on the IOC website.

“I think esports will be part of the Olympics at some point. Absolutely, ”said Steve Arhancet, co-CEO and owner of Team Liquid, a North American professional esports organization. “Absolutely. There are far too many gamers. There are too many people watching other people play video games. The game is now more ubiquitous as you grow older. And it’s all on the top and right. That’s a fact. .

Tokyo Olympic Games coverage

“So for the Olympics to stay current, they will need to take a serious look at this and figure out how to bring eSports into the Olympics.”

The potential inclusion of esports presents unprecedented complications, however. Entities do not own traditional sports, but companies do own esports titles. Asking developers to publish their IP would require negotiation. The choice of games would require a quadrennial discussion as popularity is often cyclical.

Then there is the issue of violence. The IOC has refused to consider the games it deems violent, which could prevent the majority of the most popular esports titles from being taken into account.

But the esports application begins with a fundamental question: is the game even a sport?

“All of our players are athletes,” said Tricia Sugita. “I don’t think you can argue about the skill or the time invested. I think the last part that may be questionable for some is just the physicality and that’s just the last criterion.”

Sugita is the CEO of FlyQuest Sports, another leading North American esports organization. It was founded in 2017 by Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens, a member of a growing group of traditional sports leaders who have invested heavily in the esports industry.

Edens saw two of his Bucks players – Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton – win gold with the US men’s basketball team in those Olympics. Someday, if the hunt for young Olympics viewers turns to the next frontier, he might see one of the FlyQuest players take home gold in esports. It may only be a matter of time.


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