Despite what older generations would have you believe, gaming can become a career. E-Sports, much like other sports, is consists of teams which – if professional – can result in a surprisingly hefty pay cheque. Though it differs from team to team, professional e-Sports players earn on average a minimum of £1900 a year; a figure that only increases with the addition of sponsorship deals and prize money.
In fact, a grand total of £76m was won in prize money in 2016, split among the various global competitions. Therefore, it’s not shocking to discover that e-Sports generated £400m last year and is predicted to be generating £1bn by 2020. While this is a sizeable amount for what is considered a lesser known sport, it’s still substantially below what other sportsmen earn. Premiership footballers rake in a huge average annual salary of £676 000 — approximately 355 times more than the average professional e-Sports player.
However, although e-Sports isn’t as widely known as football or rugby, competitive gaming still draws in huge crowds, both in stadiums and online. 2017’s IEM World Championships in Poland brought in a total of 173 000 spectators, while the online audience for e-Sports is constantly growing. Last year saw an online audience of 320 million, a large number which is only going up, with predictions to almost double to 600 million by 2020.
It is partially due to these large figures, of both revenue and viewership, that e-Sports is a serious contender for Olympic recognition. Especially as the new guidelines of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) primarily focus on appealing to younger audiences and maximising general popularity. Two tasks that the inclusion of e-Sports would greatly aid in accomplishing.
The popularity of e-Sports popularity is partially due to the global audience they receive and the cultural diversity of its players. The International e-Sports Federation, an organisation aiming to have the discipline recognised as a legitimate sporting event, has a total of 48 member nations. However other countries, such as the UK and US, also have their own independent and popular e-Sports teams.
In addition, many sports clubs – including Manchester City and West Ham – have signed eSports players to represent their club in e-Sporting events. Paris St-Germain (PSG) went as far as to sign three of the world’s leading professional gamers to form a League of Legends team. If it wasn’t considered a legitimate sport before, the adoption of e-Sports by other pre-existing sports teams should add to its validity. PSG’s Director of Merchandising Fabien Allegre believes it to be the “future” of football clubs.
In the end, the likelihood of the inclusion of e-Sports in the Olympics lies, in part, with Co-President of the Paris bid committee, Tony Estanguet. Estanguet has confirmed he will be speaking with the IOC. His lobby can only be helped by the announcement of the sport as part of the set-list for the Asian Games in 2022. These games are the second largest multi-sport event after the Olympics, and so for e-Sports to be considered a part of the prestigious event will surely aid in convincing the IOC.
However, Thomas Bach – IOC President – told Inside the Games that they’re “not yet 100 per cent clear whether e-Sports is really a sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered a sport” and that e-Sports don’t align with “Olympic rules and values of sport”.
Despite what at a first glance appears to be a damning denial, e-Sports may still be in with a shot at Olympic recognition. IOC history clearly diverges from Bach’s “rules and values of sport” with medals having been previously awarded for town planning and poetry amongst others. As a result, Bach’s near dismissal of e-Sports as a contender loses its definitive edge.
Unfortunately, regardless of how widespread e-Sports is, and how quickly it is growing in popularity, the benchmark for Olympic sports remains a total of 75 countries encompassing four continents. Furthermore, if the more famous sport of squash has been lobbying for Olympic recognition for decades and failed, it is unlikely that e-Sports will be seen on our screens during the 2024 games.
Although, the growing viewership and current rate of global expansion might be enough to persuade even Bach of the benefits of e-Sports. Regardless of the IOC’s decision for 2024, we may yet see an Olympic Games in the future of e-Sports.