When Northwest Christian University (NCU) — a small, private Christian-based institution in Eugene, Ore. — first sought to add esports to its athletics department as a means of attracting students, it had to come to terms with the video game content. Were the games too violent? Did the games reflect the school’s Christian values?
NCU isn’t alone in this dilemma. The eports industry is a $900 million market, according Newzoo’s “2018 Global eSports Market Report.” It’s one the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can’t ignore.
But do eSports jibe with IOC traditions in pacifism? In September of 2018, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said no. At a press conference during the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, he stated, “We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. So-called killer games — they, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted.”
Nevertheless, the IOC isn’t shutting esports down entirely. According to the International esports Federation, the IOC is “deep in talks” regarding the inclusion of sports-simulator games (basketball, soccer, sailing, etc.) at the Paris 2024 games as non-medal demonstration events.
Meanwhile, the 2022 Asian Games will be including esports as demonstration events. The Olympic Council of Asia established a partnership with Alisports, a division of Chinese tech company Alibaba, to add the esports events.
Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong told Reuters he believed eSports content would have to evolve in order to be considered by the IOC. “We are working towards meeting the standards set by the International Olympic Committee,” he said, pointing to “a move in the direction of sports-focused esports.”
Will the video game content standards set by the Olympic Council of Asia and IOC affect the games played in recreational and collegiate esports tournaments? It remains to be seen. Church and esports arena architect David Ellis, however, is skeptical.
Ellis, who first founded Tacoma-based Ellis Pro Media and then Continuant eSports, sees the gamers as setting the market, not the venue. “I don’t think it will have an effect,” he says. “The Olympics won’t drive it; it’s being driven by what’s popular.”