Will Virtual Sports Ever Win Their Way onto the Olympic Podium?

Posted by Elliot Chan

Virtual sports, like many Olympic events, require endurance, determination, precision and hours upon hours of training. But in the athletic community, the idea of video games being placed into the same category as hockey, track and field and gymnastic is laughable. There is a notion that any sport where the participant can compete while sitting on their couch or computer chair cannot be considered a real sport.

Still, all around the world, fans and spectators gather to watch the best video game players battle it out for virtual sports supremacy. These pro-gamers can earn accolades and up to six-figures playing the games they love.

Now with big name corporations such as Microsoft and Sony integrating online streaming platforms such as Twitch, video game fanatics can subscribe to channels and watch gamers compete, the same way sport fanatics would watch hockey and soccer games. With over five million people viewing these channels a day, there is no doubt that video games have a larger demographic than many other forgotten sports currently in the Olympics (handball, anyone?).

Concentration, rapid reflexes and well-thought-out strategies are the foundation of any good athlete and so it goes with gamers. While video games might not be physically draining, it does require a lot of mental stamina, like the kind it takes to play poker or chess, which has been recognized as a mind sport.

But the unique problem that video games face is that the games are constantly changing. Video games are a product of technology and technology evolves, quickly. New innovative games are being created everyday. And since Olympics only occur once every four years it’s hard to determine which games is deemed worthy of competition.

After all what games are timeless like chess, soccer, and high jump? The answer is none; even the most popular games go out of fashion and replaced by the new generations. That is why there are 20 versions of Need for Speed, over 10 different series of Street Fighter, and every year EA Sports produces a new sport game. Video games are ephemeral, like a book or a movie, when it’s done you put it on the shelf and anticipate the next one.

On the other hand, Olympic sports are subjected to minor changes every four years. Even though the athletics are the same, the course, the judging and the rules are often adjusted for practical reasons. For example, this year in Sochi, Russia, the hockey games are played on international-ice size (61m by 30.5m), meaning it’s 4.5 metres wider than the previous Olympic in Vancouver where it was NHL size (61m by 26m). Regardless, the athletes competing are on the same surface, and the objective is still to put the puck in the net.

It’s the same with video games. Sure, maybe there won’t be a specific game chosen for the Olympics, but there could definitely be a genre of games. Racing games never change, shooting games never change, fighting games never change—when you look at the big picture, video games often follow the same structure. You have to be first or to kill as many zombies, soldiers, or aliens as possible.

In the Olympics, different racing distances are rewarded different medals. You don’t categorize the sprinters with the marathon runners. Virtual sports can also be split up into different groups, one event can test gamers’ strategic planning such as StarCraft, one can test the gamers’ handling and maneuverability skills such as Grand Turismo, and one can test gamers’ accuracy and precision such as Wolfenstein 3D (remember Wolfenstien 3D?). Different factors can determine the best players, whether it’s through real-time strategy, first-person shooter, or even a basic fighting game like Mortal Kombat.

To the jock’s chagrin, video game manufacturers are starting to integrate physical aspects to video games. Since the dawn of Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Nintendo Wii, gamers are starting to be more engaged with video games that motivate them to get up and moving. Xbox Kinect and other motion sensing input devices are changing the way people play video games. Perhaps these games can one day alter certain people’s opinions and debunk the stereotype that only fat, lazy and pathetic people play video games.

It’s true: not everyone can hit a homerun, catch a touchdown pass and score a game-winning goal. But then again, not everyone can be an elite video game player. There is a skill set required and a learning curve to over come.

To many the idea of virtual sports being a part of the Olympic Games is insulting, but then again, technology advancement is inevitable—so you never know, we might be celebrating an Olympian in Mario Kart come 2020.

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Elliot Chan

Elliot Chan

Elliot is an editorial intern at Techvibes. After graduating from the Art Institute of Vancouver in 2008, Elliot worked in various areas of media and theatre production including acting, writing, directing, post-production and even stand-up comedy. Now he is a staff writer for New Westminster publication The Other Press and a content writer for Asian art and culture magazine Ricepaper... more




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