E-sports out of Olympics for now, IOC focuses on virtual, simulated sports

Virtual taekwondo, sailing and tennis could feature in an Olympic Games as soon as 2028 after a successful run at the inaugural Olympic Esports Week.

Kimberly Kwek

Kimberly Kwek

The Straits Times


The Olympic Esports Week drew criticism for its line-up that featured virtual sports instead of more conventional game titles. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

June 27, 2023

SINGAPORE – Virtual taekwondo, sailing and tennis could feature in an Olympic Games as soon as 2028 after a successful run at the inaugural Olympic Esports Week, though their more traditional e-sports counterparts look set to miss out.

The event at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, which ended on Sunday, left some of the e-sports fraternity puzzled over the omission of big titles, such as Dota 2 and League of Legends, a key part of the burgeoning e-sports and gaming industry.

Instead, it featured 10 virtual and simulated sports, including archery, baseball, and cycling. It did feature Gran Turismo 7 motorsport and the shooting competition was contested in Fortnite, an online video game.

With the International Olympic Committee (IOC) planning to make the Olympic Esports Week an annual event, the organisation’s sports director Kit McConnell told The Straits Times that there is a possibility for virtual sports to eventually become part of the Summer Olympic programme.

However, he stressed that e-sports would not be a part of it.

He said: “At the moment we’re not looking at e-sports themselves being in the Olympic programme. We see it as having its own identity and its own property, as we’ve seen here and that gives a real identity to it.

“There is the possibility for the physical virtual sports like cycling to be open in the Olympic programme and that will be a decision for Los Angeles 2028 that we will make after Paris.

“But we see overall, e-sports having its own identity and event moving forward within the Olympics movement.”

Athletes who took part in last week’s event welcomed the possible inclusion of virtual sports in the Olympics.

South Africa’s James Barnes of Team Fuego, who won the cycling competition, said: “This is the start of it, this is the catalyst and it’s the first step.

“Having this event is already an acknowledgement by the IOC, so this is the natural progression of the potential of sport. If it starts now, hopefully it carries on.”

While e-sports looks set to miss out on the Olympic roster, the community hopes to stay involved in the movement.

At the Olympic Esports Week, which attracted 20,000 attendees over the four-day event, exhibition matches for games like Street Fighter 6 proved popular with the crowd at Suntec City.

Japanese competitior Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi believes that the inclusion of these games in events backed by the IOC can only be beneficial for the gaming community.

The 37-year-old, a three-time Evolution Championship Series champion, said: “I find this kind of event is very valuable for us because fighting games right now are not accepted by everybody.

“But, by having this kind of exhibition in this kind of event, it can appeal to other people and have a far-reaching (impact).”

Initially puzzled by the choice of virtual sports at the event, Daryl Ng, head coach of e-sports team Bleed Esports, said: “It’s the first one, so it’s hard to tell (the success of it).

“But if we’re going down the same path for future editions, people in e-sports might find it hard to support.”

The Olympics may be out of reach but those who compete in gaming titles like Street Fighter may get a chance to compete on the Olympic Esports Week platform instead – though there are challenges to overcome.

McConnell pointed out that game titles would first need to meet their criteria before being added to the roster. Game publishers have to be partnered with an International Sports Federation as the organisations are responsible for the competitive elements of the sport.

The focus is on sport-based titles to “promote sport”, as McConnell cited the example of Street Fighter and Rocket League (a vehicular football video game), which have sporting elements.

Adding that they would have to “reflect the Olympic values”, he noted that the games at the event had “no violence”.

Singaporean Street Fighter player Brandon Chia said it would be disappointing if these games are left out, adding that having them as a trophy event could be an added incentive for players.

He said: “To have something new like virtual sport come and take the spotlight is maybe a bit disappointing. It’s still good for these communities for the respective games but a little disappointing for the communities that didn’t get the medal spotlight.

“They are still a new tournament body, so it’s going to take them some time to get it perfect… Let’s just hope down the road that these games get medals.”

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