Fans of esports may be closer to seeing players compete at the Olympics — but some of the most popular games may be missing.
Major Olympics sponsor Alibaba says it will support esports as an official competitive sport at the games, but the company says it wants to focus on non-violent games related to existing sports — apparently ruling out League of Legends, Dota 2, and Overwatch. (Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)
"For the first time [at the Olympic Games] and for a global audience that may not have known or watched esports before, having a focus on sports games or games that are less violent in nature will help with the public perception of esports," Jason Fung, global esports director at Alisports, told us.
But games based on existing sports like FIFA or NBA 2K -- the kind others have suggested could appear at the Olympics -- aren’t as popular as esports.
Instead, it’s games like Overwatch and League of Legends that fill stadiums, according to Derek Cheung, CEO of Hong Kong Esports.
Both games, along with Hearthstone and Dota 2, are consistently among the top ten most-watched on Twitch, with tens of thousands viewing streams at any given time — compared to around a thousand spectators for FIFA.
The President of the IOC Thomas Bach recently declared "we want to promote nondiscrimination, nonviolence, and peace among people."
While the Summer Olympics are still working out the details, other sporting events are experimenting with esports — including the Winter Olympics.
An esports tournament featuring StarCraft II was held on the sidelines of this year’s games in PyeongChang, South Korea. The famous real-time strategy game features galactic species battling for territory and resources. It is not a particularly violent game — but it is still one about defeating another army.
It also featured at last year’s Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) in Turkmenistan as a demonstration sport, where the divide between sporting titles and those that are popular in esports was again on display.
After initially announcing that NBA or FIFA would be included as one of the four games, it was later replaced by fighting game The King of Fighters XIV. The other games were all esports staples: Dota 2, StarCraft II and Hearthstone.
Esports will also be a medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China. Conveniently, the event will be held in Alibaba’s home city of Hangzhou.