The calls for esports to become a fully-fledged discipline of the Summer Olympic Games have been ringing out for decades.
A new breed of “e-athletes” has emerged from a sport that requires cat-like reflexes, laser-targeted accuracy and lightning-fast decision-making.
Yes, the competitors usually sit in front of a screen, rather than showing physical prowess, but their approach to honing their skills is on the same level as many other professional sportspeople. Athletes in esports have fitness coaches, psychologists, nutritionists and more tasked with keeping them in peak condition. As such, esports would fit in nicely with the Summer Games lineup.
Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee still appears to be perplexed by the sport.
On March 1, 2023, the IOC announced details of its brand-new Olympic eSports Series 2023. And in one simple press release, it managed to marginalize an entire community. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the Olympic eSports Series would be separate from the official Summer Games rather than part of it. Secondly, this sideshow, which is to be held in Singapore from June 22, would include “games” such as archery, sailing and chess. Only two recognized video games would make up the nine disciplines — Gran Turismo (motor racing) and Just Dance (dance). The IOC’s interpretations of esports are way off the mark and the news was met with disappointment. Not one of the esports chosen featured in the official 2022 Top 40 most popular eSports chart.
For the uninitiated, games like CS:GO, League of Legends and PUBG are huge in esports and often pull in viewers in their millions across platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. At best, the IOC has been misinformed about what constitutes a true esports video game. At worst, it simply doesn’t care what the industry thinks, and this is an attempt to bend the future of eSports to its whim.
Saudi esports pro gamer Omar “Eaglex99” Dajani is frustrated with the IOC.
“It feels like the IOC was in a bubble when it came to selecting the games to be featured,” he told Arab News. “I think a lot of games are (better) suited for the Olympics, such as FPS (first-person shooters) like Rainbow Six: Siege and Valorant, and sports titles like FIFA.”
It’s a sentiment that is not only shared by his peers in esports but by the countries and governments that are investing heavily in the sport’s infrastructure.
Take the Kingdom’s Savvy Games Group for example. The Public Investment Fund-owned portfolio recently invested a record $265 million in Chinese esports startup VSPO. This type of investment demonstrates just how important the esports scene is to the country. It’s also part of a more holistic view that Saudi Arabia has of the games industry. Savvy Games Group is set to invest $37.8 billion to turn the country into a global gaming hub that creates thousands of jobs and nurtures the esports champions of the future. This trailblazing effort will put Saudi Arabia among the top countries that could potentially dominate esports in the future. In fact, if the IOC does eventually see sense and integrate it into its Summer Games, then Saudi could finally end its wait for an Olympic gold medal.
It’s already home to a number of esports champions. The biggest superstar is Musaed “Msdossary” Al-Dossary, who rose above his rivals to win the coveted 2018 FIFA World Championship.
Dajani agrees: “Saudis are most skilled at the sports genre such as FIFA. I believe this is our best chance of securing a gold medal at the Olympic games.”
Although the disappointment of the IOC’s decisions is still raw, there is hope for the future. It wasn’t long ago that esports were completely ignored by the governing body, so in this regard, some progress has been made.
There will no doubt be revisions to the current setup and hopefully, the backlash will at least make the IOC sit up and take notice of the concerns that are being aired. If and when they do include esports in the Summer Games proper, expect to see Saudi Arabia standing proudly atop the podiums with a shiny medal in hand.