Over the past year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken steps to better understand esports and learn how it can sit alongside sports, having brought key players from both industries together and set up an Esports and Gaming Liaison Group.
We speak with Giacomo Modolo, Esports Project Manager at the IOC, to find out how things have gone so far and what the focus is going forwards.
Please tell us about the IOC’s research into and involvement in esports so far.
During the Olympic Summit 2017, the leaders of the Olympic Movement acknowledged the rapid growth of competitive video gaming as well as the potential for future applications of AR/VR technologies in sport and gaming.
While esports was new to the IOC, it wasn’t new for everyone in the Olympic Movement. Few international federations and Olympic partners were already engaging in competitive gaming. Our partner Intel has been crucial in this by introducing esports in an Olympic context for the first time during the Intel Extreme Masters PyeongChang 2018, right before the beginning of the Olympic Winter Games.
The first step was really about understanding the nature of esports as well as the fundamental similarities and differences with sport: something we addressed in 2018 at the Esports Forum in Lausanne and the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires.
The second step was not only to reach the right stakeholders but also to understand their role, rights and responsibilities. We realized we were navigating in a very fragmented esports ecosystem compared to the Olympic Movement, so we needed to build a network of experts from scratch.
Now we’re working in close collaboration with the community to bring those two worlds closer together and determine how we can jointly promote the Olympic values and involvement in sport to gamers and esports enthusiasts.
You mentioned the events you held last year with members of the esports community – how did they go?
The Esports Forum was an historical event where the Olympic Movement and the esports and gaming communities officially met for the first time and learned from one another.
We’ve had an incredible response with key leaders of the Olympic Movement and the esports industry coming to Lausanne, the Olympic Capital, and discussing how both worlds relate to one another. It was very important in building understanding and relationships on both sides.
Why is IOC looking into esports? What are your objectives?
The mission of the IOC is to promote Olympism throughout the world: the joy of effort, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. Within the right framework, gaming and esports can be a fantastic way to promote the same values. As part of a vibrant youth culture, esports and gaming have the power to unite players and fans who share the same passion for competition regardless of gender, ethnicity, age and physical attributes.
We have a dual objective here: the first aspect is about multiplying convergence points between sport and gaming to encourage youth to participate in sport and physical activity.
The second aspect is to contribute to the development of a healthy and sustainable esports ecosystem similar to the Olympic Movement that would support and protect all players from grassroot to the top.
“We are treating esports as what is: competitive video gaming. Instead of artificially minimizing our differences, it is more valuable to focus on our similarities, learn from one another and explore how to build a better world together.”
Giacomo Modolo, International Olympic Committee
We seem to have moved passed the whole ‘is esports a sport’ and ‘should esports be in the Olympics’ debate to ‘how can esports and sports work together’ and ‘what are the benefits of both’. Would you agree? What is your current thoughts and focus on this?
That is correct. Our early work naturally raised the question of whether esports could be considered a sport or not. To be recognized as a sport by the IOC you need an International Federation representing and governing the whole esports ecosystem. We do not recognize such a federation as of today for various reasons. First of all, every competitive video game is an intellectual property that is created, owned and ruled by a game publisher. This is without a doubt the most significant difference with sport.
A second factor is content that goes against the Olympic values. Esports is an umbrella term and it all comes down to the game titles, which greatly differ from one another. Mature-rated games displaying explicit violence and simulations of warfare, for example, don’t fit with the Olympic values despite being legitimate esports titles.
Governance and content are just two basic examples. So now we are treating esports as what is: competitive video gaming. Instead of artificially minimizing our differences, it is more valuable to focus on our similarities, learn from one another and explore how to build a better world together.
Please tell us about the Esports and Gaming Liaison Group and what it does. What are its aims?
The Esports and Gaming Liaison Group is a body centralizing collaboration between the Olympic Movement and the esports and gaming communities. The group is made of around 40 sport, esports and gaming experts whose mission is to deliver strategic initiatives to the IOC leadership and the Olympic Summit to promote the Olympic Values in esports and gaming.
It aims to foster collaborative projects to promote joy of competition, respect, excellence and integrity.
Our CEO and founder Chester King is a member of the group from the UK that was invited to the meeting, is that correct? What are your thoughts on the British Esports Association?
We have another member from the UK: Andy Hunt, CEO of World Sailing (International Sailing Federation) and former CEO of Team GB is also a member of the group. But the British Esports Association remains the only British organisation represented in the Esports and Gaming Liaison Group.
Not only is the British Esports Association is doing a fantastic job in promoting the sporting and social elements of gaming in the UK, it also focuses on promoting all the benefits of a balanced lifestyle to the youth through collaboration with sports organizations.
I had the chance to spend the whole day in London for British Esports’ pilot project at West Ham United Foundation with Archery GB, London Sport and GAME where children could participate in esports/sports activities. This is definitely something we’re trying to develop at an international level.
Can you tell us who else is a part of the esports liaison group?
The group is made of representatives of both the Olympic Movement and the esports and gaming communities. This includes the IOC, GAISF (Global Association of International Sports Federations), the Association of National Olympic Committees, International Federations, Olympians, game publishers, event organizers, esports associations and professional players. This is a very diverse crowd that brings a lot of different perspectives to the conversation.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s always a pleasure to work with the British Esports Association!
Thanks to Giacomo and the IOC for this interview. For more information, you can read more about the Esports Forum in this article.