Could eSports be an Olympic winner?

Until recently, eSports was viewed as nothing more than an armchair activity played by teenage boys. However, competitive gaming has been gaining huge momentum on streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube – in some cases drawing more viewership than the cable news network CNN. This trend shows no signs of slowing and is expected to be 380 million people around the world watching esports content, up 13.5% from 2017.

Last week saw the kickoff of the 2018 Asian Games, which has seen eSports included as a demonstration sport. This has led to speculation that it could pave the way for eSports becoming an Olympic sport in the future. Is this a jump too far?

The growing global interest in competitive gaming has earned it the reputation as the world’s fastest growing sport and everyone wants a slice of the pie. Broadcasters from all over the world, including the BBC, OSN, SporTV and SuperChannel, are incorporating the genre into their programming line-up, and brands such as Universal Music and Mercedes Benz are flocking to sign highly lucrative sponsorship deals with eSports companies like ESL.

With so much interest in the genre, eSports has been introduced as part of the 2018 Asian Games this month as a demonstration sport. Many people in the gaming industry believe that if it is a success then it will strengthen its position when being considered as a medal sport in the 2022 Asian Games and then, possibly, The Olympics. However, it has a way to go yet.

The main barrier to eSports inclusion in a major tournament like the Olympics is the content of the most popular games, which needs more mainstream appeal.

Firstly, may of the most popular games such as Fortnite are quite violent which restricts the age of audience that can watch them and means that they can only be aired on TV at certain times. Thomas Bach, Chief of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) said that computer games promoting violence or discrimination shouldn’t be a part of the tournament because they contradict the values and principles of the tournament. However, this is changing with games like Rocket League and Street Fighter gaining momentum.

Secondly, eSports games typically last several hours without pause, and have until recently focused on complex games such as League of Legends and Starcraft II. Shifting the focus onto simpler and less violent games, such as Street Fighter and Rocket League, will be compatible with the family friendly nature of the Olympics while reducing the gameplay time.

Competitive gaming could also be included in the Olympics via traditional sports leagues. EA Sports FIFA and the NBA have developed their eSports offerings, showing that the line between traditional sports and gaming is already starting to blur. The FIFA eWorld Cup, which took place online from 2-4 August, was hugely successful and more than 29m views, up 400% from last year, and the NBA launched the NBA 2k eLeague in May this year, which is the first official eSports league owned by a US pro-league. The success of these leagues is largely down to football and basketball having a huge global following. In theory, an eSports version of these games could be considered by the Olympics because they are universally understood.

With this new genre, comes tons of opportunities for advertisers, broadcasters and brands to create new revenue opportunities. As eSports begins to be taken more seriously and attracts larger audiences there is greater ROI to be had from sponsoring players, tournaments and placing ads around the major events. With many hard to reach millennial and gen-Z audiences engaging with this content that emerged from online video roots, it is set to be highly lucrative.

So, will eSports be an Olympic sport? Probably not just yet, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t try and go for gold.

Curt Marvis is CEO and co-founder of QYOU Media.

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