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The Asian Olympic Council should not be trying to make video games an Olympic sport

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“I like sport. I like video-games.” Many people, from all over the world, can say this. I’m one of them. But that’s no reason to confuse the two or treat them as in any way similar. However the Asian Olympic Council has decided that video games, (or ‘e-sports’… if you’re so inclined,) will feature in the 2022 Asian Games.

An e-sports demonstration is planned at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and this year’s Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games will also feature e-sports, including FIFA 17, a real time strategy game and an online multi-player battle game.

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Some claim these inclusions are the manifestation of on-going attempts from the Asian Olympic Council to see e-sports included in the Olympic Games. If that is the case, it’s an agenda that needs to be fought against by other Olympic councils.

The Olympic Games have changed a lot since their Ancient Grecian origins - no longer can we expect toga-clad wrestling, chariots or battle practice. The Olympic Games have continually evolved for modern audiences and consistently entertained them as a result. While it’s important to welcome change and not cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, the potential inclusion of e-sports would be a step in the wrong direction for the Olympics.

The Olympics has always been a chance to test and marvel at the limits of human physical achievement. While some events are less physical than others, shooting and golf being perhaps the most notable examples, they still represent more of a physical task than e-sports. To illustrate this point it’s worth pointing out, especially for anyone who hasn’t experienced either, that accurately hitting a target with a firearm is a lot more difficult in reality than it is in virtual-reality.

Imagine record breaking athletes, the Bolts, Farahs and Nicola Adamses of the future, featuring in medal tables alongside e-sports athletes who excelled at FIFA. Seems wrong doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

That’s not even necessarily to undermine e-sports. They’re growing exponentially in Asia at present and, while they remain harder for Western audiences to understand and embrace, that surging popularity implies they hold some value as a spectator sport and indeed, that skilful e-sports ‘athletes’ have developed admirable skills.

The growing audiences e-sports are attracting in the East will see them taken more and more seriously, but popularity alone should not see them included in the Olympic Games alongside conventional sporting events. They’re just too different.

Without being fully qualified to comment on the merits of e-sports, there’s another important reason they should not become a feature of the Olympic Games. Their inclusion in the Asian Games is sinisterly corporate.

Alisports (the sporting/gaming arm of Alibaba, which is China’s answer to eBay) recently invested $150m in the International eSports Federation. Their financial backing seems to be going a long way towards the growth in popularity of e-sports. It’s also worth noting that e-sports comes with financial and corporate baggage in the sense that companies make and own the games within which e-sports athletes compete. Those companies can change the rules at any time or charge athletes or authorities to compete.

Without wanting to stand in the way of Olympic progress, the inclusion of e-sports in the Asian Games seems like an addition that will upset and divide sports fans. It also seems like one that could see complications down the line, as ties to big businesses are explored and objections are fielded by the rest of the world’s Olympic Councils.

E-sports are growing in Asia and may one day merit a bigger audience, but that audience should not be an Olympic one. 

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