Esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports, eSports, or competitive/professional gaming) is a form of competition using video games.
Most commonly, esports takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players. Although organized online and offline competitions have long been a part of video game culture, these were largely between amateurs until the late 2000s, when participation by professional gamers and spectatorship in these events through live streaming saw a large surge in popularity.
By the 2010s, esports was a significant factor in the video game industry, with many game developers actively designing toward a professional esports subculture.
The Olympic Games are also seen as a potential method to legitimize esports. A summit held by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in October 2017 acknowledged the growing popularity of esports, concluding that “Competitive ‘esports’ could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports” but would require any games used for the Olympics fitting “with the rules and regulations of the Olympic movement”.
Two difficulties remain for presenting esports as an Olympic event according to IOC President Thomas Bach: that they would need to restrict those that present violent gameplay, and that there is currently a lack of a global sanctioning body for esports to coordinate further. On the issue of violence, while Bach acknowledged that many Olympic sports bore out from actual violent combat, “sport is the civilized expression about this. If you have egames where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values.” Due to that, it was suggested that the IOC would approve more of esports centered around games that simulate real sports, such as the NBA 2K or FIFA series.
The issues around esports have not prevented the IOC from exploring what possibilities there are for incorporation into future Olympics. During July 2018, the IOC and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) held a symposium and inviting major figures in esports, including Epic Games’ Mark Rein, Blizzard Entertainment’s Mike Morhaime, and esports players Dario “TLO” Wünsch, Jacob “Jake” Lyon, and Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim, for these organizations “to gain a deeper understanding of esports, their impact and likely future development, so that [they] can jointly consider the ways in which [they] may collaborate to the mutual benefit of all of sport in the years ahead”.
The IOC has tested the potential for esports through exhibition games. With support of the IOC, Intel sponsored exhibition eSport events for StarCraft II and Steep prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and five South Korean eSport players were part of the Olympic Torch relay. A similar exhibition showcase, the eGames, was held alongside the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, though this was not supported by the IOC.
Leaders in Japan are becoming involved to help bring esports to the 2020 Summer Olympics and beyond, given the country’s reputation as a major video game industry center. esports in Japan had not flourished due to the country’s anti-gambling laws that also prevent paid professional gaming tournaments, but there were efforts starting in late 2017 to eliminate this issue.
At the suggestion of the Tokyo Olympic Games Committee for the 2020 Summer Olympics, four esports organizations have worked with Japan’s leading consumer organization to exempt esports tournaments from gambling law restrictions. Takeo Kawamura, a member of the Japanese House of Representatives and of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led a collation of ruling and opposing politicians to support esports, called the Japan esports Union, or JeSU; Kawamura said that they would be willing to pass laws to further exempt esports as needed so that esports athletes can make a living playing these sports. So far, this has resulting in the ability for esports players to obtain exemption licenses to allow them to play, a similar mechanism needed for professional athletes in other sports in Japan to play professionally.
The first such licenses were given out in mid-July 2018, via a tournament held by several video game publishers to award prizes to many players but with JeSU offered these exemption licenses to the top dozen or so players that emerge, allowing them to compete in further esports events.The Tokyo Olympic Committee has also planned to arrange a number of esports events to lead up into the 2020 games.
The organization committee for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris are in discussions with the IOC and the various professional eSport organizations to consider esports for the event, citing the need to include these elements to keep the Olympics relevant to younger generations.