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Behind the Line: Video Games in the Olympics

The IOC has weighed in on the idea of E-Sports being included in the Olympics… Let me tell you why I don’t care.


“Non Violent”

The chairman, Thomas Bach, is not interested in promoting violent games, stating that they go against “Olympic Values”. As he said to the South China Morning Post:

We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line

Your first reaction could be that this is hypocritical, when other events are inherently violent: Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Fencing, and Shooting to name only a few. That’s a fair criticism. Sure, skeet shooting doesn’t use living targets, wrestling isn’t predicated on causing lasting damage to an opponent, but boxing can only be so sanitized when you can win by giving the opponent a concussion/knocking them out.

Despite that, I can understand that both in appearance and in feel, having lifelike avatars subject to simulated ultra-violence goes beyond even that equivocating. A round of CS-GO would easily be the most violent imagery presented if it were included.

This point may be a simple punt, though. There are other games that are not violent at all that would make for stable competition. Tetris is a surprisingly good example. Sure, it isn’t an big E-Sport with large prizes, but it fits in well otherwise. Versus modes exist there, so use that to run a tournament. But there are still HUGE problems.



If there were a video game used for Olympic competition, it would be the only Olympic event where one commercial distributor has the sole rights to provide the framework for participating. Video games just aren’t analogous to other sports, or even games like chess. One entity owns the IP rights for the product.

Other sports may have officially licensed equipment providers, but they could change if needed. People who want to participate around the world aren’t bound to buy gloves from Everlast, or basketballs from Spalding. If you want to play Tetris, it has to be purchased from EA.


Platform Continuity and other logistical problems

Then we get to the question of what platform you use. Which console? Or will it be PC? Do you have different divisions for each? What do you do when the console generations upgrade? Would you have a PS4 and PS4 Pro division? How do you handle new hardware and ensure that all competitors are well aware of the specs used for competition? If you are going to include a game like Hearthstone, how do you handle deck expansions? If you use Street Fighter, how do you handle the sequels that will come? Other events don’t have to completely overhaul themselves every Olympiad, and there is value in that continuity.

The counter point to that may be that events like bobsledding, or slalom skiing and others of the like are not absolutely uniform across Olympiads. Turns are different, slopes are different, weather conditions are different, meaning there is not an absolute continuity even there. I respond to that by saying that those changes are still within the same framework of the event, and to shift from Street Fighter 4 to Street Fighter 5 would reflect a massive paradigm shift.


Competitive Validity

And on top of ALL OF THAT, there’s the possibility of a bug or an exploit being available to the competitors. This already happens in the E-Sports world. One recent example:

It’s not difficult to find other examples of this as well. I would feel ashamed for our medium if there were an Olympic event based on a game, and it turned into this:

or this

Game balance is incredibly difficult, and there’s a difference between running a tournament, and positioning the game to be viable for what is considered to be the pinnacle of competition. Are we willing to put our medium up on that pedestal? Maybe it’s the QA in me, but all I see is the fall that could come from that.


Sport or Film

Approaching this from a different angle, I find it interesting how this concept spotlights how video games as a medium exists somewhere between game/sport, and film. Usually I think the video games industry looks to the film industry as its bigger brother. Often there are pieces about the size of the movie market compared to the size of the games market. That’s where most of these comparisons lay. However, video games also want to be a platform for competition, for sport. I don’t think that’ll happen in time for the 2024 Olympics, but I think it can get there. Anything that can provide EVO Moment #37 has potential. Similarly, I don’t think video games have developed the same level of emotional engagement and storytelling that film has, but I think it can get there. Spec-Ops: The Line, and Shadow of the Colossus are both great examples.

Video games split film and sport, and as with any dual class, it takes a lot longer to level up. We can get there, though.



Kynetyk is a veteran of the games industry.  Behind the Line is to help improve understanding of what goes on in the game development process and the business behind it.  From “What’s taking this game so long to release”, to “why are there bugs”, to “Why is this free to play” or anything else, if there is a topic that you would like to see covered, please write in to or follow on twitter @kynetykknows

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