Gaming with fire: Can esports really be part of the Olympics?

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Once upon a time, fire had a divinity to it. As the mythology goes, Prometheus stole fire from the Olympians to give mankind its humanity. Part of the ancient ceremony was to ensure the fire from the temples will makes its way to Olympia, Greece — the site of the Ancient Olympic Games.

To bridge the ancient rendition and the modern version of the Olympic Games, a ceremony is held in Olympia to light the flame prior to the start of the Olympic torch relay, which ends with the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony.

Torchbearers are often significant to the host country’s culture, history and sports. In 2016, Pelé — one of the greatest soccer players of all time— was asked to be a part of the relay, but he eventually pulled out due to illness.

Shin-Soo Choo, a 13-year veteran of Major League Baseball and native of South Korea, was one of the early torchbearers for the 2018 Olympic Games.

After Choo, one of the legs on the torch’s three-month journey was completed by the starting five of KT Rolster’s “League of Legends” team. Their inclusion in this component of the Olympic Games revives a debate that was started when the International e-Sports Federation submitted a request for competitive gaming to gain recognition from the International Olympic Committee, or IOC.

After the sixth Olympic Summit, the IOC announced “in order to be recognised by the IOC as a sport, the content of ‘eSports’ must not infringe on the Olympic values.” Although it is too late to become a part of the 2020 Olympic Games, there’s a possibility for esports’ inclusion in 2024.

Some of the most popular esports titles, such as the multiplayer battle arena game “League of Legends” and the first-person shooter game, “Overwatch,” are violent games that go against Olympic principles to promote peace.

On a list for the top games of 2017 by prize money available, the first nonviolent gaming title was “FIFA 17,” which had about $1.4 million across 38 tournaments, compared to the $19.25 million 894 tournaments for “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.”

The 12 games that sit before “FIFA 17” on the aforementioned list are violent. They involve fighting, killing and shooting or, as IOC President Thomas Bach put it in an interview with the South China Morning Post, “violence, explosions and killing.”

Allowing those games to be a part of the Olympic Games would contradict its commitment to promoting peace and reviving the Olympic Truce — an ancient idea by which Greek city-states would come to truce for the sake of the Ancient Olympic Games.

Games mirroring real-life sports such as “FIFA 17” would fit the “Olympic values,” but why would watching people play a video game form of soccer be more engaging than real-life soccer?

The last major change to the Olympic program was in 2005, when the IOC elected to drop baseball and softball starting with the 2012 Olympic Games because of the lack of the sports’ universality.

That does not seem as significant of a concern for esports titles such as “League of Legends,” which the IOC stated the “strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement,” but it does not really apply to the games the IOC would approve of such as “FIFA 17.”

The attention that the debate is garnering is exactly what the IOC should want from a potential addition to the sport.

Perhaps, esports is simply garnering more attention because the Winter Games are being hosted in South Korea, where competitive gaming has a strong foothold. If it weren’t for KT Rolster’s inclusion to the Olympic torch relay, esports would not have a direct connection to the 2018 Olympic Games.

The connection happened because KT Corporation — South Korea’s largest telecommunications company — is one of the partners for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, which gives them the ability to recommend potential bearers for the Olympic torch relay, and was the original sponsor when KT Rolster was founded in 1999.

The buzz around esports is certainly warranted, but it probably won’t be in the Olympic Games.

Christopher Zheng covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].

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