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Historic IOC Esports Forum Strives for Mutual Understanding

This weekend, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) will host the Esports Forum. The key objective of this historic event is to build understanding between the Olympic and esport communities, as well as to set the foundation for future engagement.

Setting the Stage

This past October, leading stakeholders of the Olympic Movement were invited by the IOC to discuss a wide range of issues including esports, at the 6th Olympic Summit. The official summary of this summit stated that competitive sports could be recognized as a sport, due to the training intensity of players. However, in order for esports to receive this recognition, the summit decided that there must be an organization “guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement (anti-doping, betting, manipulation, etc.).” It was also made clear that to be named a sport by the IOC, esports content must not interfere with “Olympic values.”

IOC President Meets with Esports Professionals. Image Courtesy of IOC/Greg Martin

This summit provided a launch pad for further discussions and collaboration between esports stakeholders and the Olympic Movement, leading to this weekend’s Esports Forum. This event taking place at The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland and will be attended by the CEOs of various gaming establishments including Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games. Rick Fox, the owner of Echo Fox, will moderate a variety of panels featuring Olympians, professional esports players including Jacob “Jake” Lyon and Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer, and many more influencers from both the esports and Olympic communities.

IOC spokesperson Mark Adams clarified at a recent conference that the forum is “to meet and understand what we have in common and […] to put our principles on the table. There’s no thought at all at the moment of it being anything to do with the Olympic program.”

Points of Discussion

As detailed in the published event program, the Esports Forum will start on Friday, July 20th where delegates and speakers, not media, will attend a networking dinner. This reception will feature opening remarks by IOC President Thomas Bach and a League of Legends Explanations and Viewing Party. This event will culminate with a live match between Splyce and Giants Gaming after a brief explanation of the game.

The Olympic Museum. Image courtesy of TSE Consulting

Saturday’s proceedings cover a wide array of topics, including a spotlight on the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Panels and interviews in the morning will discuss a day in the life of a professional esports player, gender equality, and the key to Twitch’s success. Following the morning sessions, the afternoon program will feature round table discussions to encourage open dialogue. The four discussions revolve around sports organizations’ best practices, how media can reach fans, the athlete perspective, and the investor perspective. More details on panelists and times may be found in the linked event program.

With multiple stakeholders present at this long-anticipated forum, there is a natural curiosity as to what the future will hold for these two entities. This morning, IOC President Thomas Bach revealed that “we want to go into this meeting with a very open mind. We want to listen, we want to learn, we want to inform them a little bit about our world, and are looking forward to an inspiring discussion.”

What are Olympic Values?

In the past, however, Bach has expressed his disapproval of violence in video games. This April, Bach said that the IOC has “to draw a very clear red line in this respect and that red line would be e-games which are killer games or where you have promotion of violence or any kind of discrimination as a content. … They can never be recognized as part of the Olympic movement. They would be contrary to our values and our principles.”

Image Courtesy of NBC Olympics

So what are Olympic Values? Ever since Pierre de Coubertin announced the re-establishment of the Olympic Games in 1892, the goals of his Olympic Movement have remained relatively unchanged. As stated by the organization, “the goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.”

Some of the activities that the Olympic Movement says contributes to the fulfillment of this goal are fighting against doping, raising awareness of environmental problems, and advancement of women in sport. As this author wrote in a previous article, games such as Overwatch are taking steps forward in creating a more positive, value-based gaming environment for all. With added pressure from the IOC, it remains to be seen if more initiatives throughout the esports community will start to convince leaders like Bach that esports can be a logical partner with the Olympic brand.

How to Participate

The Esports Forum on July 21st at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland will be streamed on the IOC Media YouTube channel. For the opportunity to ask questions eventually posed to forum panelists, observers can use the hashtag #EsportsForum and follow @iocmedia, @GAISF_sport and @GAISF_President.


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