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Can video games make it to the Olympics?

Video game players and associations seek recognition from the IOC and an entry into the Olympics.

Last updated: 18 Dec 2013 12:13
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Video-game players are often termed geeks or nerds.

But have you ever considered calling them sportsmen?

Gone are the days when gaming was just about a speedy blue hedgehog or a rotund plumber with a moustache.

Today there is dynamic world of competitive gaming out there where elite players battle it out in the middle and millions watch all around the world.

The possibility that e-sports may be played at the Olympics one day is realistic.

Alex Lim, Leading figure at the IeSF

Games like StarCraft 2 and League of Legends have gathered so much popularity that we could even see electronic sports - as they are officially known - at the Olympics one day.

That’s the view of Alex Lim, a leading figure at the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF).

“The possibility that e-sports may be played at the Olympics one day is realistic,” Lim told Al Jazeera.

However, before competitive gaming can even think about an Olympic future, it needs to be accepted by the global sporting fraternity as a real sport.

The IeSF was set up five years ago in South Korea and the body has applied for a full membership of SportAccord, the umbrella organisation for all major federations including FIFA and FIBA.

Joining SportAccord is the first step towards getting global recognition as a sport and earning the IOC’s rubber stamp.

Lim believes reaching that first milestone is not far away.

“The IeSF will keep endeavouring to work closely with SportAccord, as well as other international sporting governing bodies, during the next year to obtain full membership in time of its General Assembly in 2015.”

Before that, though, the IeSF will need to convince national governments that sitting in front of a monitor with a joystick is infact a real sport.

Government approval needed

It needs 40 of its national member federations to receive government endorsement - so far only 15 have it, while 20 are processing applications.

It may seem a tall order but the undecided governments might be persuaded by some of the achievements e-Sports have made in 2013, starting with being recognised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

In June, gaming made its first appearance at a continental multisport competition.

Having been endorsed by the Asian Olympic Committee in 2012, e-Sports was featured at the 2013 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Incheon, South Korea.

The United States authorities have recognised competitive gamers as athletes already.

In July, the State Department offered an overseas gamer the same kind of visa that a foreigner would get to play in one of the major sports league.

Dustin Beck, the Vice President of e-Sports at Riot Games which produces the popular game League of Legends, believes that move is highly significant.

In comments made to Al Jazeera, he said, “the US Government’s decision to grant visas to pro players represents a huge milestone for the entire e-sports world”.

“These elite athletes compete on the world stage with the same kind of demands as any other international sport.”

The growing fan-base of such games is another factor that might influence decision-makers to recognise e-Sports.

Huge following

The online battle arena title has over five million concurrent players during peak times, with some of them having huge followings – one player, William "scarra" Li, has nearly 130,000 Twitter followers.

Last month 13,000 fans attended the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch the League of Legends World Championships and a further 32 million watched it online.

Considering its popularity, and the growing acceptance, there is a lot of food for thought for the national governments.

But despite factors supporting the discipline, some may just find it ridiculous to accept playing computers game as sporting activity.

John Bain, who owns a StarCraft team called Axiom e-Sports, disagrees with these.

“The IOC has considered chess a sport since 1999.

“Other non-physical or dexterity driven activities such as darts or target shooting have been considered sports for a very long time.”

He added that games like Starcraft 2 require exceptional speed, dexterity, mental and physical endurance as well as quick thinking.

“We feel that if you consider chess a sport then it is logical to conclude that other games which require similar skillsets could also be considered sports in turn.”

Furthermore, Lim’s comments suggest that the acceptance of e-Sports is only a matter of time.

“We cannot think of our life without electronic devices such as a PC and smart devices so e-Sports would be a new sports paradigm which reflects the new generation and current lifestyles as integrating all concepts of sports and technology.”

It will not be easy for the e-Sports community to twist arms and convince people at the top of their worth.

But considering its popularity, even if the IeSF does not get recognised by SportAccord, and should the Olympic dream never happen, it will not necessarily mean game-over for the world of competitive gaming.

Follow Sohail on Twitter: @SOintl

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Al Jazeera
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