IOC Makes Biggest Esports Statement Yet With Launch Of Olympic Virtual Series
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken its biggest step forward in the world of esports with the launch of the Olympic Virtual Series (OVS).
Five sports – baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and motorsport – have signed up for the mass participation initiative that will kick off on May 13 ahead of the revamped Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
According to the IOC, the OVS “will mobilize enthusiasts of virtual sports, esports and games around the world in order to reach new Olympic audiences”.
It will also encourage “the development of physical and non-physical forms of sport,” according to a statement.
Olympic officials debated how best to advance the relationship between “traditional” sports and the burgeoning esports industry, with the OVS making it clear that the IOC does not want to be left behind.
Encouraging the “development of virtual sports and more engagement with video game communities” was included as a recommendation in the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 + 5, which was approved in March.
“The Olympic Virtual Series is a unique new digital Olympic experience that aims to increase direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.
“Its design is in line with the Olympic Agenda 2020 + 5 and the IOC’s digital strategy.
“It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with particular emphasis on youth.”
The World Softball Baseball Confederation, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), World Rowing, World Sailing and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile are all involved in the project.
FIFA, the International Basketball Association, the International Tennis Federation and World Taekwondo have confirmed their interest in joining future versions of the OVS.
Fans will be able to watch the action on the Olympic Channel with information on how to enter, as well as the prizes available at selected events, to be announced shortly.
“The OVS creates a scene to connect the world of physical sport with the community of virtual and simulation sports games, thus providing the opportunity to engage with the Olympic Movement,” said the IOC.
“Each international federation will offer its corresponding event in a format that maximizes online mass participation and prioritizes inclusion and participation across the OVS.
“The mass participation series allows participants from all over the world to compete from home or from their training facilities to build excitement ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“The five OVS events will differ in form and concept, and will operate through the respective sport publisher platform where participants can participate.”
Baseball will feature in the OVS thanks to eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020, by Konami Digital Entertainment.
Cycling events will use Zwift platforms while rowing will be an open format.
Gran Turismo by Polyphony Digital will represent motorsport with a virtual sailing regatta also organized.
Many sports already have their own virtual competitions and esports has been added to the program of multi-sport events such as the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games.
The IOC hosted an esports summit in 2018 and its leading sponsor Intel hosted a tournament ahead of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.
Another event was planned on the sidelines of Tokyo 2020 before the Games were postponed for a year by the coronavirus.
The debate over whether esport will one day become a full-fledged Olympic medal event has continued, as computer games discourage physical activity among young people.
Bach said games where “violence is glorified or accepted” will not be welcome.
UCI President David Lappartient, who chaired the IOC e-sport and gaming (ELG) liaison group, said: “On behalf of the ELG, as well as the UCI, I am delighted to be involved in the launch of the very first Olympic Virtual Series.
“A number of IFs have well-established virtual sports initiatives, and through cooperation between the IOC, IFs and publishers, the OVS is an exciting step forward for the world of virtual sport and the Olympic Movement. “
One problem with global esports is governance, with the International Esports Federation and the World Esports Federation in operation.