As athletes leap, lift and dive at the 2024 Paris Summer Games, will video game players also be competing for gold medals? Adding “eSports” to the roster could be the International Olympic Committee’s next attempt to attract younger viewers.
Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee, confirmed to the Associated Press that he will speak with the IOC and eSports representatives to assess the possibility of including eSports in the official Olympic program.
Anticipating pushback from critics who argue eSports would ruin the Olympic Games, Estanguet urged people to keep an open mind.
“We can’t say, ‘It’s not us. It’s not about Olympics,’” Estanguet told the Associated Press. “The youth, they are interested in eSport and this kind of thing. Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.”
The move to consider gaming comes amid falling ratings for the Olympics, particularly among younger viewers.
The Rio Games in 2016 saw a 30-percent drop among television viewers between ages 18 to 34. To combat the decline, the IOC added 3-on-3 basketball and BMX to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This fall in viewership has a lot to do with the sheer volume of entertainment competing for viewers’ attention, according to BTIG media analyst Brandon Ross.
“If you go back to even before cable in the 1970s when the Olympics were on or any show, there was very little to watch in terms of video on television,” Ross said. “So each piece of content got very, very high ratings. That’s just not the world we live in anymore.”
ESports has grown in popularity over the last few years. The world championship finals for “League of Legends,” a multiplayer online battle area, or MOBA game, pulled in 43 million viewers worldwide last year.
“Eighty-one percent of our fans are [between] 18 and 34,” said Craig Levine, CEO of ESL, the world’s largest eSports company. “Our fanbase is a digital-first audience. That’s where eSports and gaming have grown out of. Popular platforms like Twitch and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter — it becomes a home for this generation to consume media and to interact.”
However, in an interview with Inside The Games, IOC president Thomas Bach sounded skeptical.
“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether eSports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” Bach said.
Ken Hershman, CEO of the World eSports Association, is optimistic the Olympics will undergo a similar evolution.
“As people are educated around what these athletes do, people will see it for what it is and be very comfortable that this is a legitimate sport to add,” Hershman said. “It’s not kids sitting in their basements drinking Red Bulls playing around on a computer.”
The Olympic program will begin to take shape in 2019 with a final decision to be made after the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Editor’s note: The names of two people cited for this story, Ken Hershman and Craig Levine, were originally spelled incorrectly.