Olympics Ratings Boost: eSports

Tune in to Twitch.tv at 11EST to check out the newest Olympic exhibition sport

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This week, eSports teams from eight countries gather in Rio to grab attention and down-smash the notion that video games don’t belong in the Olympics.

Though the medals look different from the ones currently giving Michael Phelps back pain, the eGames exhibition is making a case for the inclusion of eSports (a term that includes a variety of competitive multiplayer video games) in future Olympics.

With backing from the British government, eGames has assembled national teams representing Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States for two days of demonstration in Rio.

The exhibition includes panels on eSports; a showcase of SMITE, an online multiplayer battle arena game; and that staple of the American collegiate Friday night, a Super Smash Bros. tournament.

There will also be interviews with the competitors and post-match analysis. In keeping with tradition, we can only assume that analysis will conducted by a tank top-hat clad guy named DJ in between bong hits.

Sorry, gamers – it’s too easy to make jokes. But it’s also pretty hard not to take eSports seriously.

eSports  competitions are now so big that they easily drown out the voices saying they will never rise to the level of “real sport.” Those not convinced by the gameplay, which any twenty-something will tell you is plenty entertaining, may be convinced by the money. The recent International 6 tournament in Seattle gave away $20 million in prize money, with the first-place prize of $9.1 million going to Wings Gaming, a Chinese team captained by an eighteen-year-old

Sponsors have been taking note for some time, and lucrative sponsorships now pay the bills for a number of eSports players. If it’s not a real sport, then why are its stars doing underwear commercials?

With its Rio exhibition, the sport looks to take the step from ebullient underdog to serious contender. It’s worked for other sports in the past.

Until recently, the Olympics were accompanied by official demonstration sports, events showcasing a particular game whose proponents wanted it featured in the future. Many of those sports went on to become a part of the Olympics: basketball in 1904, volleyball in 1924, and baseball and tennis in 1984 are just a few examples.

There are also demonstration sports like roller hockey and pigeon racing, which never quite made it to official Olympic status.

Demonstration sports are a thing of the past, but the International Olympic Committee remains open to non-traditional events. In an effort to increase youth engagement with the Olympiad, the organizers of Tokyo 2020 have added climbing, karate, surfing, and skateboarding to their list of official Olympic events.

Though it’s too late for eSports to be considered for Tokyo, the eGames is a step in the right direction. We won’t get to hear Matt Lauer and the NBC gang’s take on it, but Tuesday’s action will be live streamed on Twitch.tv (where else?).

The Smash tourney kicks off at 12:10, right around the same time as the Olympic dinghy medal race. And to think, there was a time when people didn’t consider dinghy sailing a sport.

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