The International Olympics Committee has for the upcoming Olympic Esports Series, which will take place in Singapore in June. The lineup features facsimiles of real-world competitive events rather than what many people may think of as traditional , such as real-time strategy titles, fighting games and first-person shooters.
The initial batch of nine games connect to disciplines overseen by international sports federations. They include and online chess from Chess.com. Some titles that have appeared at previous IOC-sanctioned events are returning, including and , which requires participants to physically pedal on a stationary bike. Archery, baseball, sailing, taekwondo and tennis games round out the list. Qualifiers for the various titles, which include mobile games like Tennis Clash, start today.
"The Olympic Movement brings people together in peaceful competition," David Lappartient, chair of the IOC Esports Liaison Group, said. "The Olympic Esports Series 2023 is a continuation of that, with the ambition of creating more spaces to play for both players and fans of elite competition."
The Esports Series follows on from the Olympic Virtual Series, which took place in 2021 in the lead up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. That esports event featured baseball, cycling (on Zwift), rowing, sailing and motorsport. The IOC says the series drew in more than 250,000 participants from 100 countries.
Although the organization is still just warming up to the idea proper, the series is part of the IOC's efforts to engage with younger people and perhaps provide a gateway for them into sport. A strategic plan () approved by the IOC includes a recommendation to "encourage the development of virtual sports and further engage with video gaming communities." Part of this involves an effort to "strengthen the roles and responsibilities of [international federations] in establishing virtual and simulated forms of sports as a discipline within their regulations and strategies."
“The idea first is really to make the bridge between the sports and the gaming space," Vincent Perieira, the IOC's head of virtual sport and gaming, told the . “We’re not making [an] opposition between sports and gaming. The point is really... how we can encourage people to do both to keep a good balance.”
On one hand, it makes some sense to ground the Esports Series in virtual versions of traditional sporting disciplines. The basic rules of virtual cycling, chess and tennis should be generally easy for participants and viewers to understand.
However, the IOC may be missing a trick by opting not to feature the likes of League of Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, , Minecraft, Fortnite or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Those games (and many others) have significant built-in audiences that may not especially care about the Olympics otherwise. Perhaps one day we'll see , and GeoGuessr as medaled events at the Olympic Games, but not anytime soon.