June 23, 2024

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Esports to Hit the Olympics in 2026

Like the ultimate union between sports and video games, the esports industry is finally making its way to the Olympics — one of the biggest multi-sport events in the world. Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced further updates on its plans for hosting an esports event due to the host of opportunities offered by the thriving industry. In his announcement, IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed that the IOC’s Esports Commission is studying the creation of the Olympic Esports Games.

Further solidifying the impact and growing interest in esports is the first-ever Olympic Esports Week held in Singapore in June 2023. The event hosted around 500,000 unique viewers and garnered more than six million views on live channels. 130 participants competed in ten different esports events. The results reinforced Bach and other IOC members’ desire to move forward with plans to organize an official competition. Since then, The Japan Times has reported that Japan is the frontrunner in hosting the inaugural event after being ruled out of hosting the Winter Olympics in Sapporo in 2026.

We’re yet to see the full details or get any sneak peeks into what the first Olympic Esports Games may look like. Based on previous events like the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore, esports and sports fans can expect sports simulation games to be played by teams or players from around the world, including cycling, archery, and chess. The IOC has also repeatedly stated its stance on only adopting non-violent game titles recommended by existing sports federations to encompass traditional Olympic values.

While hosting any Olympic event is a well-sought-after honor, hosting the first official Olympic Esports Games would be a history-making event, considering the industry’s rapid growth. The global esports market is expected to reach $4.75 billion by 2030, a sizable growth from the $940 million generated in 2020. The major shift towards online gaming has spearheaded the market’s continuous growth, matched only by increased esports events and tournaments.

Esports and the Olympics

Initially, there were concerns that the Olympics had a different view of esports and gaming than most viewers and fans from the esports community expected, made clear by the Committee’s insistence to only include video games that are essentially simulations of real-life sports. In contrast, dominant esports titles today vary in genres, from shooters and real-time strategy to battle royale and MOBAs.

Still, this doesn’t mean that gaming and sports aren’t meant to be. The two worlds share some similarities: team play (for some esports games), familiar league systems, and the excitement of live events worldwide. While esports events aren’t as mainstream as traditional sports and music, some of the biggest esports events enjoyed a massive explosion in viewership numbers thanks to digital streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. For example, the 2022 League of Legends World Championship gathered over 5.1 million viewers.

Another similarity between sports and gaming is the burgeoning betting culture the two share. Sports fans familiar with traditional sports betting can quickly learn esports betting tips like understanding betting odds — decimal is popular, although choice bookmakers may offer fractional odds — and settling on the smartest esports betting strategies, whether proportional or fixed. As many viewers and bettors bet on the Olympics, it’ll be interesting to see if the betting culture will carry over to Olympic esports.

Sports in Esports

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While the Olympics’ early attempts at including esports in its traditions fell short of viewer agreement, numerous entities in the video game industry meet sports fans’ demands. Sports simulator games from developer EA Sports include the NBA 2K franchise, the FIFA games, and the Madden NFL series. As their names suggest, these are officially licensed video game counterparts to their respective real-life sports. 

In these games, sports fans can form and play in fantasy “ultimate” teams of their favorite sports, mixing legendary players to create fanmade all-star teams. These sports sims also take into account the real-life counterparts of the in-game players. If a football player is underperforming in the real-life NFL season, for example, his virtual self in the Madden NFL game may suffer from decreases in player stats and ratings as a result.

Like many other video game genres, officially licensed games have their respective esports scenes. The latest Ultimate Madden Bowl was at football’s biggest stage — the House of Blues in Las Vegas — ahead of Super Bowl LVIII. The decision to move the Madden Series Finale to Las Vegas helped commemorate the much-awaited Super Bowl and allowed the virtual and real-life to meet, putting Madden players “right in the middle of the action.”

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By I&T Today

Innovation & Tech Today features a wide variety of writers on tech, science, business, sustainability, and culture. Have an idea? Visit us here: https://innotechtoday.com/submit/

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