E-sports industry eyes a move away from violent games to become an Olympic event

  • The competitive gaming industry is said to be worth close to $1 billion a year.
  • IOC President Thomas Bach has warned against some e-sports games being “too violent” for the Olympics.
  • E-sports is set to be included as a demonstration sport at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Courtesy of Konami

Competitive gaming, or e-sports, has just completed its first step towards becoming an official Olympic sport.

Estimated to be worth close to $1 billion a year, the e-sports industry staged a demonstration event at the recent Asian Games in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang.

However, for e-sports to find a credible place within the Olympics, some of its competition elements need to evolve, including a move away from violent games.

"If you have egames where it's about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values," International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said at Jakarta-Palembang 2018.

Now recognized by the IOC as a sport, but not yet an Olympic event, the Asian Games was a trial run for e-sports to be included as an exhibition event at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, which will follow another outing at the next Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in 2022.

The demonstration program at Jakarta-Palembang featured globally popular arena battle games including League of Legends (LoL) and Arena of Valor/Honor of Kings, as well as traditional sport titles such as Pro Evolution Soccer (PES).

"When it comes to e-sports, there are different ways of taking part in besides participating as a player, such as cheering on at the venue, or watching the live stream." PES European Brand Manager Lenni Bobzien told CNBC. "We see e-sports as a new way of enjoying games."

Referring to the long-running soccer video game potentially being added to the full Olympic program, Bobzien believes there is at least a curiosity value from traditional sports fans.

"E-sports enables us to provide various touch points to get more people to know the game better, even to those who usually don't play games," he said. "Sports games are easy to follow for everyone, and we believe that it had high affinity with a global sports event like the Asian Games."

Players from 18 nations competed across six different games at Jakarta-Palembang 2018, which ended on Sunday, in competitive video gaming's debut at a major multi-sport event. The long-term involvement of some of those games is unlikely to convince doubters though, who believe the violence in some games, however popular they are commercially, was contrary to Olympic values.

"E-sports should be about sports, not entertainment and about the honor of representing your country," said Zhang Dazhong, CEO of Alisports, the sports arm of Chinese tech giant Alibaba.

Alisports partnered with the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in order to feature electronic sports as a demonstration event at Jakarta-Palembang.

Zhang said the games titles likely to feature at Hangzhou in 2022 would be similar to PES. He cited Tencent's Honor of Kings, which has more than 200 million players in China, as an example of "violent content" that would probably not feature at the next Asian Games.

The CEO said "a move in the direction of sports-focused e-sports" was happening globally, referencing a crackdown in China on mobile gaming. Beijing announced last week that it would limit the number of new online video games, take steps to restrict the time young people spend playing games, and explore an age-appropriate system for players.

The gaming subdivision of Chinese conglomerate Tencent was hit hard by the announcement and the following day saw big losses of around 5 percent in its share price.