The Esports-Olympics debate
The Olympics needs esports more than esports needs the Olympics. Just let that breathe for a moment. Please go back and read that again. I will wait right here.
This statement has been echoed throughout the esports community for a number of years now. I’ve used it myself on multiple occasions, whether on stage at an event, during a Q&A, or on a podcast. However, after someone recently asked me a question that made me doubt my instinctive response, I felt it was time to reexamine the topic for my latest blog post.
I was in my kitchen on a call with a contact in the space who wanted to know more about TEN. I was cooking up breakfast and first up in the house, so, no problem with a quick call. Very happy to oblige, I was mid-convo with them, nearly lost in the conversation of how awesome TEN.GG is when my 9yr old strolls in with a yawn and a fist bump. It was a Sunday, the morning after a fairly late gaming session with his pals. His scrambled eggs and sausages were almost ready, and I am pretty sure the smell of them had gone some way to awaken him from his slumber. Multitasking and finishing off my call, I gave my closing comments about what I thought of the Olympics and esports. I gave my stock answer (see the opening line to the blog) and said my goodbyes as I plated up breakfast for my hungry gamer, and we tucked in.
Now, for anyone who has kids, what happened next will not come as a shock. A week later, we were sitting on the sofa gaming, playing some Fortnite, to be exact. I was pleased with how we were doing, and we have racked up some decent dubs. But if I am honest, even though I got a few drinks of my own to add to our tally, he was carrying me big time and took pleasure in reminding me he had not even gone full sweat. But he knows a few games with his old man means the world to me, so he indulges me. Then out of nowhere, as we were heading to Kenjutsu Crossing, myself looking for a big pot, himself still grinning from boxing a duo and owning them before I could get a round of it, he asks.
“Dude, what are the Olympics again?”
As I say, any parent reading this will know that these sorts of questions can come out of nowhere and have been born from overhearing a snippet of a previous conversation. Clearly, he had heard me mention the Olympics the week before, and it had been filed away in his brain under “Must ask Dad what it is and whether it’s something I can eat, buy, play or add to my Christmas or Birthday wish list.”
My initial response was actually going to be around, “What do you mean, what are the Olympics? What are they teaching you in school these days?” But he did have a decent understanding of them. He knew they were something to do with sports, that the logo had rings in it, and that it had different sports in it. But he was not sure about the scoring and point table, how often it was, and how you got to take part in it.
And yeah….neither was I! Was it every year or four years? Did it work like Eurovision or more like the World Cup, or a bit of both?
So, pads down and, like with a lot of topics we need more information on, we went to a place that we both agreed would be a good one to start.
Did you know that during the 1936 Berlin Games, two Japanese pole vaulters tied for second place? Instead of competing again, they split their silver and bronze medals in half and fused the two different halves so that each of them had a half-silver and half-bronze medal.
Also, did you know that originally, in ancient Greece, the games lasted for six months? Oh, and Tarzan once competed in the Olympics. His name was Johnny Weissmuller, an athlete-turned-actor who played Tarzan in 12 movies and won five gold medals in swimming in the 1920s.
After a brief trip down a few YouTube rabbit holes looking at different Olympic sports over the years, we brought the conversation back around to esports and gaming in the Olympics, as we switched back to Fortnite to ready up for another few rounds of duos.
Armed with a new understanding of the Olympic Games, we discussed esports and video games playing a part. It was a very interesting and insightful discussion! As a 9-year-old gamer who not only watches competitive video gaming but also takes part in grassroots tournaments, he had no filter and little bias in his line of questioning.
In summary, he thought people stressing over whether esports should be in the Olympics or not, or which games should be selected and why, needed to ‘touch some grass’. Which effectively means they should chill out. After watching the video of the dancing horses (which is what Equestrian Dressage is, from what we could gather), and seeing that Breakdancing is being added this year, and once upon a time, Poodle Clipping was an Olympic sport, then why on earth should esports not be part of this pretty crazy mashup of different events?
If it does not work out, like Hot Air Ballooning or Ski Ballet, then you drop them, and those events continue to be loved by their fans and community anyway. I’m sure rope climbing, tug of war, and solo synchronized swimming still have competitive events and tournaments after they were dropped from the Olympics. Just the same, if the titles picked for the Olympic Esports Series fail to work out, they will still be enjoyed by their fans and communities.
I highly doubt that Fortnite will lose its player base just because it has been included in this series, considering it has hundreds of millions of monthly players. In fact, when the Olympic Series does come around, and the Fortnite event is shown, I can only see players who have not dropped onto the Island for a while jumping back in.
There will be backlash from die-hard fans on both sides of the arena, and in some ways, knowing that passion is there can be a good thing. While some of the games chosen for the Olympic Esports Series may seem a little odd and eyebrow-raising, it is not acceptable for the conversations to turn toxic and troll-like. However, people are passionate about the sport or game they love, and they are protective of it. That energy is part of what keeps it alive over the years.
Taking a break from playing and watching my 9-year-old fly about a custom map he made using grapple hook gear in an Indiana Jones skin, wielding a lightsaber to meet his pals, The Mandalorian and Lara Croft, who are currently doing the Gangnam Style dance, I am reminded that this game looks and plays very differently than when it first launched! Counter-Strike recently evolved (see my last blog for an interview with its original creator!), MOBAs add new champions and nerf others, new fighting games are being released, and the way we watch and engage with our favorite orgs and teams changes all the time. Esports and the scenes within it are more comfortable (mostly) and accustomed to change and mixing things up than any other competitive sport, Olympic or otherwise. It is part of our DNA.
So, in summary, and getting to the point, the purpose of this blog is not about who needs whom more. That would be short-sighted. Esports will continue to grow and thrive because there will always be fans and players of video games, just like the Olympics will always be around, in my lifetime anyway. After all, there will always be fans and competitors of the traditional Olympic events. As long as good people are involved for the right reasons, it is a showcase of skill, and most of all, it is entertaining, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives for their being video games and esports at the Olympics.
And if that really stresses you out, I gotta agree with my kid and say you need to touch some grass.