The introduction of Olympic Virtual Series did nothing to boost the Esports sector while enhancing the popularity of the physical sports
With the Tokyo Summer Olympics finally set to begin from 23 July, its cause of celebration for both physical and virtual athletes. This year the Olympics will host the first ever virtual games under Esports. As a pre-game series, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rolled out The Virtual Olympic Series where competitors can play in virtual versions of five different physical sports– motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing, and rowing. While this is the first stride the IOC has made towards accepting Esports as a legitimate sport, the industry believes that this is not enough and a lot more needs to be done. “As of right now, the IOC has simply launched physical sports in a virtual manner. Esports, just as any other sports, is a spectator game and this virtual series has done nothing to attract Esports spectators. Hence, the Olympics still has a long way to go for fully embracing Esports as a sport and that will not happen until they introduce Esports title such as Valorent, FreeFire, Call of Duty, Counterstrike, among others,” Anurag Khurana, founder and CEO, Newgen Gaming, told BrandWagon Online.
Held between May 13 – June 23, 2021, the Virtual Olympic Series wasn’t a medalled event this year. However, there are talks of it becoming one as early as the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games.
The IOC has partnered with five international sports federations and game publishers for the Olympic Virtual Series — World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), World Rowing, World Sailing, Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). These federations have further partnered with game publishers to design a virtual version of their physical sport. This does not bring forth any limelight on the reigning Esports titles but simply enhances the spectatorship of the physical sport. “The federations have introduced the virtual sessions as a marketing tactic to popularise the physical sport in the Olympics through their digital version. The true sense of Esports has still not featured in the Olympics,” Akshat Rathee, co-founder, Nodwin Gaming, highlighted.
Many industry experts believe that the half-hearted inclusion of virtual games in the Olympics is not targeted to fetch Esports players but is being used to popularise physical sport players. The same impact is felt in India where associations are using the virtual series as an example to encourage players to participate in the physical sport, sidelining the Esports sector and players completely.
Leveraging the wave of Esports and rise in online gaming sponsorships, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) recently announced Mobile Premier League (MPL) as its principal partner. Due to this association, some analysts believe that it is a step towards acknowledging the online gaming industry by the government. “The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognising Esports and organising an event is a big step in mainstreaming it within the sports ecosystem. Further, with Esports being recognised by other sporting bodies such as the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control in India) and now IOA, one can expect various competitive Esports events at marquee international events. I believe it’s time for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to support Esports athletes through funds and infrastructure in the same way as they do for athletes playing physical sports,” Jay Sayta, technology lawyer, said.
Asian Games Committee, on the other hand, has seemed to truly embrace the Esports segment when it decided to include Esports as a competitive sport. To be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China in 2022, the committee will be leaving the decision of Esports titles on the host. For industry experts, Asian Games has given legitimate standing and recognition to Esports, while the Olympics fell short of its ambition to mobilise virtual sport, Esports and gaming enthusiasts all around the world.