Will eSports go to the Olympics? Apparently the Olympic Committee is thinking about it, and mentioned it in a recent statement . As foreseeable, such news sparked a mountain of reactions from commentators of a certain level , many of whom, as usual, speak of topics they do not know at all.
So I thought it could be a good idea to make some reflection about this topic – and maybe we could also give some details to those who, when hearing about video games at the Olympics, think about the children in their backseats, playing with their Gameboy.
Instead, just to let you know, we are talking about something like this:
Wikipedia reports an estimated 226 million (repeat it slowly: two hundred and twenty-two million) eSports viewers during 2015. In 2013, the estimate number was 71.5 million, so if the trend is confirmed, 2016 and 2017 figures are going to be loud.
Just to make a comparison, the SuperBowl viewers in the last five years have always settled around a hundred million, precisely 111.3 million for 2017 according to the CCN . This means that eSports has widely dubbed them two years ago already, and they are now aiming at the podium of the single most watched sport event in the world, the final match of soccer world cup (in 2014, more than 560 million viewers from home ). Obviously, things are different with the summer Olympic games, which make much bigger numbers (around 3 billion viewers) but last for weeks … and in any case, the last games of 2016 saw the figure drop after two growing editions .However, eSports is a worldwide phenomenon that attracts large numbers of audiences. Someone should note it down.
Allow me a side note: eSports often have European teams, with participants from several EU countries competing together – something that in the “official” sports competitions for the time being has always been a dream of few ( or a nightmare for many ?). For example, the final of The International World Championship of DOTA 2 game was won in 2017 by the European team Team Liquid , which was born in 2000 around the StarCraft 2 video game. They also made a beautiful documentary about it:
The team is European, based in Holland, but among its shareholders we find names like Magic Johnson (yes, that one!) and the co-owner of the Golden State Warriors football team, while official sponsors include names like HTC and Alienware , the most important gaming-computer makers worldwide. For the record, the money prize for the 2017 victory was more than ten million dollars. Another thing to note: eSports is a world-wide economic interest, comparable at least to boxing (which has been an Olympic sport since 1904).
Just summing these two small reasons (audience and money!), everyone could understand the motivations of the Olympic Committee’s idea. But of course there is more, and here things start becoming interesting to me.
Esports are above all a formidable tool for getting in touch with younger generations, which are their audience and their athletes. In Asian countries the incidence of eSports on the population of young people has impressive numbers, and now the phenomenon has exploded in Europe quite a bit too – so incredibly even in Italy somebody begins to notice it.
In countries that for so many reasons, starting with the climate and geography, have a different approach to youth work, such as Finland, eSports have been one of the stable ingredients of the activities that various Youth centers all around the nation would offer their goers for some years already – while here, if you’re lucky, you get table tennis or table soccer.
Obviously then, the institutions in charge for the training of youth workers, which in countries such as Finland do exist (hello there, Verke friends!) would publish practical guides on how to build lan-parties or how to do eSports in your own youth center. Can you figure it?
To make a comprehensible comparison to Italy (which also says a lot about the condition of youth services in Italy …) it would be as if such guides were published by our Federation of Church Youth Clubs, which then promoted their use in all Italian Church Youth clubs. Sure.
When I talk to youth workers in countries where this phenomenon is already widespread , one of the things that comes immediately up is how to be able to keep the amateur fun from the strong agonistic component, and above all the heavy pressure exerted by great visibility and great economical gains, that circulate in the professional eSports environment.
To think about it, it’s the same question that football or basketball coaches with medium-level skilled kids should ask themselves very often. Along with these, if you know a little about the world of professional esports, you should also have heard about doping, such as taking substances that can improve the performance needed for this type of discipline: drugs or products that would give you the better resistance, the better concentration and reaction speed etcetera. Even in this case, there are people who have made this subject a starting point to get in touch with the youth world, and then talk about doping in the broader sense of substances/drugs abuse.
Finally, the world of esports is an almost masculine-only world that brings to the highest degree many of the relational problems already present in so many online communities of (male) video game players: sexual and racial discrimination, hate speech and so on, rumbling in sewage.
Just look at the welcome gotten by the new version of the immortal Castle Wolfenstein game, Wolfenstein II, in which you fight the Nazi and KKK in a parallel America where Hitler won the World War 2 (as in The Man in the High Castle novel and TV series), to realize how bad the situation is.
(…anyway to find out how bad the situation is, it would be enough to just look at the nazi writings and stickers to be found on the walls and pillars of light in any city, beginning with mine…)
Even more then, mention of honor to the author of the game and to Bethesda, the company that published it; both seem to have (still) clear ideas on how to deal with the Nazis:
On such topics we already have a lot of active organizations, such as the German friends of Game Over Hate . In my opinion, eSports should be part either of youth entertainment and leisure, and of the efforts of those who in this leisure time and through this fun try to educate kids in a more effective and less school-smelling way.
It is interesting to point out that the Olympic Committee’s communication refers to all these issues: respect for the Olympic values of peace and brotherhood in contrast to racial and gender discrimination, creation of supervisory bodies and therefore national or international federations of professionals, which will be also in charge of preventing and controlling the use of doping in competitions – this would be in my view some necessary innovations in a world that is growing super fast, but without any control or attention from the outside, as it happens often with things born online.
Certainly, bringing even a tenth of the attention and resources dedicated to the youth sectors of traditional sports to the phenomenon of team competitions in videogames, could result in a very interesting educational impact on a subject still surrounded by a lot of ignorance and legends , starting with the infamous video games addiction syndrome, already included in the draft of the next edition of DSM (the international manual that collects and classifies mental disorders and disorders), and whose very existence has just been rebuffed by a study of the University of Cardiff .
As usual we will see, and meanwhile we collect your opinions.