The fIrst steP on a loNg JouRney
GAISF President and IOC Member Patrick Baumann reflects on last weekend’s Esports Forum.
The Esports Forum, hosted by GAISF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne succeeded in all of its objectives.
The intention was to create an event which started the ball rolling on a dialogue between the Olympic family and the esports community, with a view to identifying areas where it may be possible to work collaboratively in the future. As we have said consistently, this was never intended to be seen as the automatic opening of a door for esports to the Olympic Games. Instead it was the first step on a journey where we will walk alongside the esports community, and the final destination will become clearer as we get to know each other better.
The Esports Forum certainly gripped the imagination of both communities. The hashtag #EsportsForum was used thousands of times to report and comment on the fascinating sessions at the Olympic Museum, and I for one got a very real feeling that we were witnessing a special moment. We were delighted to open the doors of the Olympic Museum and welcome some of the best esports players in the world along with leading publishers and promoters – in short, the people whose decisions influence the future of their sport.
I would like to thank each and every member of the Olympic family who gave up their time to share their expertise and insight to make it such a memorable event. The Forum succeeded in identifying the existing synergies between esports and the Olympic world and threw into sharper focus some of the critical differences in structure and operations between the two.
There is no doubt that we are united both in our passion for our respective sports and in the competitive spirit which runs through the veins of the players. Whether they play FIFA or Overwatch, run 400 metres or throw the javelin, athletes are united by their shared determination to perform to the best of their abilities and beat the opposition. That is in the DNA of all competitors.
But it would be wrong to assume that shared passion and competitive spirit translate into an inevitable fit between esports and the Olympic Movement. There are far more complex issues for us to discuss in the months and years ahead.
Esports come from a very different place than traditional sports. They have become a major force in the media world and in the lives of young people since the late 1990s and there is no indication that popularity will wane any time soon. The Forum reinforced the fact that esports continues on an upward trajectory.
The esports environment is every bit as diverse as that of traditional sports. There are many different types of games, from those which simulate established sports to those which take players into surreal fantasy worlds. There are games of strategy, games of skill and games which demand the most amazing speed of thought, reflex and co-ordination. Those are demands which players of all sports will recognise.
But esports are also fundamentally different in a number of key areas. Firstly, esports are controlled by the companies which develop and publish the games themselves. They literally ‘own’ the games and make the rules. They operate in a very different way to the International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs), which the Olympic world is built around. This structural difference will inevitably influence any future collaboration.
Another area for further discussion is the nature of some games. The promotion of peace and friendship are core Olympic values and, as IOC President Thomas Bach underlined during the Forum, there is a red line on any association between the Olympic Movement and any game which glorifies violence. That will not change.
These are just two headline issues – there are many more – and I raise them to make the point that while there is much which unites the two worlds in terms of skill and competition, there are also fundamental differences which cannot be ignored and which will be the subject of further discussions in the months ahead. Nonetheless, as both worlds have the youth at the core of their efforts, their paths will also cross more and more in the years to come.
It is in everybody’s interest to create a better world through an educated generation of youngsters that will seek the Olympic “balance between mind and body”, whether their competitive passion lies on the field of play, online, or both. At the Forum it was agreed that the IOC and GAISF will set up an Esports Liaison Group to continue engagement between the Olympic Movement and esports, and that the group will make a presentation at the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018). This will also provide an opportunity to engage with some of the competitors at the Youth Olympic Games, many of whom will be esports players.
IFs will have the opportunity to discuss the relationship with esports during the GAISF IF Forum (5-7 November, Lausanne), while the subject will also be on the agenda for the XXIII ANOC General Assembly (28-29 November, Tokyo). Furthermore, the IOC President will put esports on the agenda for the next Olympic Summit, to be held in December 2018.
In all, this means that in the space of only five months, all of the constituent groups of the Olympic Movement will have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion which all started at the Esports Forum in Lausanne.
We are at the very beginning of our journey with esports and it gives me comfort to know that all stakeholders will have an opportunity to contribute and guide us towards the future with an open mind.