The International Olympic Committee Remains Focused on ‘Virtual Sports’ Over Esports

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board has released its “2020+5” agenda, detailing a list of recommendations for the organization’s continued efforts to evolve alongside an ever-changing, increasingly digital global culture. Among these recommendations is the following: “encourage the development of virtual sport and further engage with video gaming communities.” The IOC has in the past held summits and discussions with esports stakeholders to explore the potential of including esports in its games, but has repeatedly pushed back on that notion.

Instead, the committee has made clear its focus on “virtual sports,” or video game simulations of sports already accepted into its ecosystem. The recommendation specifically notes a distinction between virtual sports and competitive gaming. Rather than embrace competitive gaming (League of Legends, Call of Duty, etc), the IOC will aid in the development of virtual or simulated versions of established sports.

While esports may never be properly included in the Olympics, the IOC does recognize the value of continuing to foster relationships with gaming communities. Its agenda details the importance of developing strategic partnerships with gaming communities at the regional level in order to allow sports organizations to “reach youth demographics outside of their direct environment and get these youth engaged in sport while reaching out to new populations.”

Sports simulation games such as Madden and NBA 2K have lagged behind their “competitive gaming” peers in esports viewership, sponsorships, and publisher investment, however, some initiatives such as the NHL’s gaming competitions are finding a degree of success in bringing new younger fans into their sport. Rather than properly establish a “gaming olympics,” the IOC may be aiming to instead leverage the gaming ecosystem to help bring new fans to established sports with aging audiences.

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