The Olympics are most well-known for the feats of physical prowess from top athletes around the world, but the growing interest in esports globally may help to change that. This week, the International Olympic Committee along with worldwide sponsor Intel announced their Intel World Open, a competitive esports event that will be held in Tokyo as a precursor to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. While esports aren’t an Olympic medal event yet, this competitive event might help start the ball rolling towards their inclusion in the future.
The Intel World Open is set to feature competitive events for both Capcom’s Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition and Psyonix’s Rocket League, with a total prize pool of a whopping $500,000 to split between both titles. Intel and the International Olympic Committee will host the World Open finals event at Tokyo’s ZeppDiver City from July 22nd to the 24th, 2020, right before the Olympics commence.
Speaking to The Esports Observer, Intel’s Director of Business Development for games and eSports Mike Subotnick explained that Rocket League and Street Fighter V were chosen because both titles are relatively easy to follow, even for spectators who have never watched professional gaming before.
These two titles are something that the average consumer or audience member can look at and get what’s going on, and that’s unfortunately not always the case in esports. So that makes a lot of sense to work with these two partners.
Subotnick explained, “When we’re working with the IOC and working on something like the Intel World Open, we’re really looking for the broadest audience and the most accessibility, and these two titles really lead well for that.” Street Fighter has long-standing cultural clout and simple-to-follow format that involves characters hitting each other, depleting a giant health bar. Rocket League is familiar to a large audience as well–even though Rocket League is noticeably different from normal soccer, with the addition of very cool to watch hyper-boosted cars that can wall ride.
The cultural significance of Street Fighter in Japan also helped the IOC make their decision, and Subotnik added that the fighter’s “clear, rich” history in Japan made it a natural choice for the esports event in Tokyo leading up to the 2020 Olympics. Vice President of Marketing at Capcom Media Ventures Mike Larson told The Sports Observer that the Intel World Open is an “ideal complement” to the Capcom Pro Tour, the 3v3 Street Fighter League, and Capcom’s interest and commitment to esports and fighting games.
The Intel World Open for Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition and Rocket League are open to all hopeful competitors, with online qualifiers to be held to determine who will make it onto the national teams. A final qualifying event will take place in Katowice, Poland which will decide who will figuratively “take the gold” at the World Open Finals.
The Intel World Open marks a major step forward for esports, and esports has met its share of resistance from Olympic officials in recent years. After an announcement was made that esports and gaming would be included as a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in China, a multi-sport competitive event similar in scope to the international Olympics and recognized by the IOC, conflicting opinions were presented about the future of gaming at Olympic-level events.
One major concern for many Olympic officials is the presentation of violence, which the IOC is not eager to compromise on despite their desire to draw in younger viewers. Speaking to the South China Morning Post in 2017, IOC President Thomas Bach explained that the Olympic Games were including more events that appeal to “millennials,” but would “proceed with caution” when it comes to esports.
“We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line,” Bach said. Eports based on real-life sports like soccer or basketball would be considered feasible, but blood and gore would go against “Olympic values,” according to Bach.
Another hurdle esports faces are the Olympic rules and regulations, which mandate that each official Olympic event have a governing body. It’s a tall order to get all of esports under one regulatory umbrella, and it isn’t necessarily something that would be healthy for the disparate esports communities. “Behind this term e-sports, actually it’s so many communities, so many cultures. No one is the same, it‘s a really a very heterogeneous ecosystem,” Nicolas Besombes, an e-sports advisor for the GAISF, told Fortune in March this year. Other issues like licensing, perceived violent content, and the lifespan of titles are concerns as well.