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?