A recent announcement about the Olympics Virtual Series had the gaming world excited. I dig deeper into what is the OVS, what are its advantages and what could be the way forward from the perspective of promotion of eSports as mainstream sports.
For long, the debate has raged on the eSports’ place among the mainstream sports.
However, in recent years, the eSports industry has quite successfully taken on such notions with its rapid growth and professionalisation.
Ahead of the Asian Games 2018, it was included as a demonstration sport but its elevation to a main event for the 2022 edition has made its case even stronger for the Olympics.
After all, the Olympics is the pinnacle of sporting competition and glory. For most athletes, it is Olympic glory that they yearn for and eSports professionals are no different.
In recent times, there have been various indications from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they are considering eSports as a viable inclusion at their marquee event.
In April 2021, the IOC announced the Olympic Virtual Series (OVS), which was scheduled to be held in the leadup to Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021).
The Olympic Virtual Series, or OVS, held across two months from May to June 2021 has a vision to reach out to a new legion of fans. The announcement is seen as a big step on the IOC’s part in welcoming eSports into the main fold.
Many sports such as badminton, baseball, judo and taekwondo to name a few started off as demonstration sports before making it into the Olympics. Some would say that those sports were physical and hence their inclusion was easier, but the latest announcement by the IOC is a signal that they are open to the idea.
Let us explore what the OVS is and what it means to the future of eSports.
The Background of OVS
In view of the growth of eSports and its popularity, the IOC recognised its importance to the movement. One must remember that the Olympics is a movement – brought in with the spirit of universal brotherhood and to encourage sporting prowess.
But with time, everything needs to evolve to fit in. As such, the Olympics may be a marquee event that is eagerly anticipated, it still needs to remain relevant and attract newer audiences.
In that regard, the IOC had issued a document called the Olympic Agenda+5, which sets forth the vision for the Olympic movement.
One of the key recommendations of the report is to grow digital engagement.
“In a world where connectivity continues to grow, we need to reflect the acceleration of digitalisation observed throughout society and address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the growing digital divide between communities,” the report states.
However, the most important recommendation in the document is to “encourage the development of virtual sports and further engage with video gaming communities.” Back in 2018, ahead of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Intel had hosted a tournament just as a precursor.
What is the Olympic Virtual Series?
The Olympic Virtual Series (OVS) was announced to begin from May 13, 2021 to June 23, 2021. Announced in April 2021, it is described as the IOC’s first ever licensed eSports competition.
Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC said:
“The Olympic Virtual Series is a new, unique Olympic digital experience that aims to grow direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports.”
“Its conception is in line with Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and the IOC’s digital strategy. It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values with a special focus on youth.”
The OVS will feature five different sports, which are being staged in coordination with their governing bodies and the companies that have made their virtual games. Each sport has its own way to participate and one can join in from anywhere in the world.
Which Sports are a Part of OVS?
The five sports picked by the IOC to be a part of the OVS to begin with are as follows. As time goes on, more and more sports will be added to this list, that one can be sure of!
- Automobile Racing
Each of these sports have different game creators and different ways of participating.
For example, one can join in the virtual rowing from a gym or home with a rowing machine, which will be an open format. Whereas, automobile racing will have games like Gran Turismo as a part of it.
Baseball will feature Konami’s eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020. Sailing will have Virtual Regatta and so on.
Why No Combat Games in OVS?
One can see from the list above that combat games are not included in it and these are only ‘proper’ sports. This is because the IOC believes that the combat sports are not in line with the Olympic Charter and hence cannot be included in the OVS.
The second fundamental of Olympism according to the Charter reads as, “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
The Way Forward for OVS
The IOC is excited about the OVS and are hoping it grows into something that helps the Olympic Movement grow.
Speaking to Insidethegames.biz, Kit McConnell, IOC’s Sports Director said:
“We look to develop it as we look forward and have a longer runway to plan future editions. We’re really happy with the five and we will look to probably expand if we are given the opportunity in the future.”
What also pushed the IOC into action was the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of the Tokyo Games helped them announce the inception of the OVS.
What About Other Famous eSports Games?
There is a school of thought though that the IOC must also consider other popular games, that aren’t sports games but are popular. If the idea is to attract younger audiences, the combat games with violence are some that will attract you the viewers due to their unmistakable popularity.
Brandon Byrne, CEO of Opera Event, wrote in his article for TechCrunch that the Olympics need eSports more than the other way around.
“I think you would have to live under a rock if you thought that competitive sport climbing held a candle to Fortnite or League of Legends in terms of generating youth interest. Frankly, this seems like an idea that came from an old person trying to find a way to “get the kids back.”
The IOC though have started the conversation and although eSports are not a part yet of mainstream Olympics, there surely is a lot of progress being made on that front.
The OVS is something that sets it up for future and has the potential to attract new audiences. How the IOC manages to balance its expectations and hopes from its charter and its ambition to grow and tap into new audiences remains to be seen.
With the Asian Games making a big move of including eSports, the IOC couldn’t look further away. Tokyo 2020 included sports like Skateboarding and Breakdancing, in effect bringing in a bigger and different audience.
One can safely say, eSports in mainstream Olympics may not be far away.