eGames: Esports Is Heading To The Rio 2016 Olympics

The London Games Festival’s esports summit saw the announcement of the “eGames“. It’s an international esports competition intended to take place during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and is being billed as “an international gaming tournament where national pride is the prize”. Also medals. Medals are the prize.

According to the announcement every country will have the opportunity to field a team but only the UK, USA, Canada and Brazil are confirmed right now. The initiative is not-for-profit and is being supported by the UK government.

From the session I was at today, it’s being positioned as this opportunity to take the positive “togetherness” aspects you get around the regular Olympics and replicate them for an esports event. Which is a kind of “heart in the right place” sentiment but I didn’t see or hear anything which made me understand either how this whole thing is even going to work or where it really fits in terms of the current esports landscape.

I’m going to try and get some time with someone to go through this stuff over the coming weeks (no interviews today) but I’ve put together a not-at-all-exhaustive list of questions and concerns.

Pip’s list of questions and concerns:

1. Which games are involved and why? I think the lineup is still to be finalised but the games which are likely to be on the table – League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, Starcraft 2… – are all the intellectual property of particular studios so the picks and the omissions will have financial consequences.

2. If there is no prize money, just medals and “national pride”, what is the incentive for someone to put effort into joining a national team – how will that be sustainable or affordable?

3. If the expectation is that people will be part of a regular team and then play in the national squad then how will that work in terms of logistics and practice time and maybe even being in totally different continents and thus needing to contend with ping issues and what about needing to prepare for the existing tournaments which crop up throughout the calendar year and and and and and………………

4. On that latter point, the inaugural eGames will take the form of a two-day pop up event during the Rio 2016 Olympics which is 5-21 August. The Dota 2 International is 8-13 August so if that game is involved which top tier pro players would pass up TI and its prize pool for national team play?

5. But if it’s not a tournament for current pro players then what’s the draw for sponsors or the audience? (I mean, it’s entirely possible there would be limits on pro player participation – in the traditional Olympics there used to be rules about whether professional soccer players could even be part of the men’s tournament. Nowadays it’s that you can use professional footballers but only field three players over the age of 23 which thus limits the amount of international experience possible within a team.)

6. Something else I’m questioning is the heavy nationalist slant here. Essentially, given the casual racism and strands of toxic nationalism I see in multiplayer gaming and spectating, I want to know what consideration the organisers are giving to that side of things. Nationalism was billed as this positive rallying force at the event today but I didn’t hear anything about how that was going to work in practice or why pushing national pride was a useful or good thing for esports. One of the things I like about esports is that national teams haven’t been an enforced thing (although it does still end up happening for various reasons, depending on the game or the specific team set-up).

7. I’m also wary of relying too heavily on sports for the framing of esports events. It’s useful up to a point but the sports industry isn’t without fault so I’m wary of importing the bad as well as the good.

8. Competitors can be male or female but must be over 18. That means that some really famous esports professionals – Dota 2’s Sumail “Suma1l” Hassan springs to mind – wouldn’t even be eligible.

9. In the press release I got sent there’s a quote from Chester King, the chief marketing officer for the International eGames Committee, which says “We plan to take the very best practice from the sports world and bring it to competitive gaming. Our ambition is to bring credibly to the sector, dignity to the players and inspiration to the spectators.”

There are a lot of assumptions in that, I think. I do feel like this has the capacity to be a good thing. I am also really interested in the idea of connecting up a bunch of organisations which might be able to look at strategies for combating cheating and doping and so on effectively. Organisations are already investigating that side of things – ESL worked with WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) relatively recently on their anti-doping policies if memory serves – but I think more conversation and collaboration can only be a good thing.

But the statement also puts forward this idea that esports are currently without dignity, inspiration and (assuming “credibly” is a typo??) credibility. That feels like such a non-esports perspective. The majority of these events already have credibility and already offer inspiration of various kinds to their spectators and fan communities. Dignity is a weird one because it feels really… sort of snobbish? Superior? I mean, maybe they mean they want pro gaming to be less convulsive in terms of team shuffling or with fewer controversies, but the choice of “dignity” as a word is really, REALLY loaded and I’m struggling to see that phrasing as not condescending to the various esports scenes as they currently stand.

10. I haven’t written this off as a concept. I really haven’t, but right now I just haven’t seen or heard anything which explains to me why this is an excellent idea or how it will work at all in practice.

11. Why isn’t it called the Espolympics? The Elympics? The Olymp-E-ad?

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  1. badmothergamer says:

    All I know is if RPS assigns Pip to cover this, please also provide a full body wetsuit and a bucket of antibiotics. Based on what I’ve read if she tries one of her vaunted pond swims she’s liable to emerge with ebola, zika, and the plague.

    • Horg says:

      Yeah, the American water sports team went over last year for a test event, and despite taking precautions 13 / 40 members got sick from water born bacteria / parasites. The Brazilian clean up crew realised that they had no chance of getting their outdoor water sports arenas up to code before the start date, so the clean up has largely been abandoned. The traditional sports teams out there will literally be dodging rubbish and rowing through raw sewage : \ Makes sitting behind a desk in a comfy chair, bashing virtual wizards into other virtual wizards seem quite reasonable.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      You have Pip and Alice mixed up. Alice is the pond swimmer. Pip is the fort-maker.

  2. GameCat says:

    But is it an official part of Rio olympics or just e-gaming event held in the same city at the same date?

    Maybe I’m blind or something, but I don’t see anywhere that it’s certain…

    • Greggh says:

      “The IEGC is fully independent and is not assoociated with the IOC or the Olympic Games.”

  3. Horg says:

    I doubt this e-sports event will see much promotion. The main events are already struggling to attract attention thanks to a combination of Brazilian political instability, the zika scare, the hostile tourist environment of inner city Rio, the negative press surrounding IOC corruption, and Brazils unsuitability to hold a multidisciplinary sporting event in the time frame they were given to prepare. Given the IOC will be desperate to salvage the main events, I can’t see anyone committing resources to promoting an e-sports event which is almost certainly going to attract ridicule from the main stream press, and will likely be ignored by the established e-sports scene. Considering the condescending passive aggressive statement from the organisers, it just feels like they realise there is money in digital competition, want their slice of the pie, but have no intention of treating the concept of e-sports as equal.

    • aoanla says:

      This, basically.
      This is the IOC doing its usual thing (which it kinda has to do nowadays, to defend the reputation its existence is based on) of pretending that no sport has relevance unless the Olympics deigns to notice it.
      This has never been true, but the Olympics itself depends on convincing people that it is true.

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    Lacero says:

    On point 10, I think you’re taking it very seriously if you’re acting as if the Chief Marketing Officer knows anything about the team shuffling / deadline controversies :)

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    Serrit says:

    Excellent questions Pip, 6 and 9 particularly struck a chord with me.

  6. Eightball says:

    6. Something else I’m questioning is the heavy nationalist slant here.

    So are the Olympics as a whole a giant hate crime, or is that only when you’re playing the Olympics on a computer?

    • PseudoKnight says:

      I’ve been watching tournaments from WCG (World Cyber Games | 2000 – 2013) and ESWC (Electronic Sports World Cup | 2003) for … oh god … 14 years now. These are both similar to the Olympics in this way. I’d only have a problem with it if these were the only formats. Since they’re not, it’s actually quite enjoyable and in my experience actually more inclusive than other formats. It allows us to see talent from a lot of countries. There are so many tournaments and leagues right now, so anything to set it apart is nice.

  7. left1000 says:

    reminds me a bit of the world cyber games. which was a pioneer. no one cares about the world cyber games anymore… and it’s too late to need that pioneer. esports are already fine.

  8. namad says:

    reminds me a bit of the world cyber games. which was a pioneer. no one cares about the world cyber games anymore… and it’s too late to need that pioneer. esports are already fine.