Video Games! You've heard of them. But what you might not be so aware of is 'eSports' - the growing genre of highly competitive multiplayer gaming. But are eSports really on a level where we should be seeing digital athletes at the Olympics? Rob Pardo, formerly of Blizzard, thinks so.
In a recent interview with the BBC's Radio 5 Live, Pardo - who over his many years at Blizzard oversaw the design development of the likes of Warcraft III, Starcraft: Brood War and World of Warcraft, all games that have had incredibly important roles in the development of eSports gaming as a genre - argued that not only have the games gotten to the point where they are real challenges of mental acuity and skill for the professional gamers who play them, but also that there's an untapped global audience for them that is slowly beginning to rival the audience of more conventional sporting events:
I think the way that you look at e-sports is that it's a very competitive skillset and you look at these professional gamers and the reflexes are lightning quick and they're having to make very quick decisions on the fly. When you look at their 'actions per minute', they're clearing over 300. That starts getting into how you define sport.
If you want to define sport as something that takes a lot of physical exertion, then it's hard to argue that video games should be a sport, but at the same time, when I'm looking at things that are already in the Olympics, I start questioning the definition.
Pardo's not wrong - tournaments for the likes of League of Legends and DOTA 2 regularly fill out huge stadiums with fans eager to watch teams digitally duking it out, with millions more watching over livestreams on the internet. And representation for it is slowly growing: In a groundbreaking move last year, the United States started allowing pro gamers travelling to the country for tournaments eligibility for Athlete Visas, the same rights granted to professional sports players for years.
But could we see Gold Medals handed out to Night Elves and Tauren in the future? It's very unlikely, despite the growth of competitive gaming on a global scale. The IOC has long advocated against mental competition being included in the Olympics, seeing the traditional physical challenge as a core aspect of the tournament - hence why games like Chess have long been excluded, the age-old 'Sport of Kings'. So it's probably very unlikely for the likes of DOTA or Warcraft Arenas to stand alongside the 100m Hurdles. But maybe as technology and gaming advances, we could see a sort of 'Mental Olympics' offshoot that offers a legitimate home for non-physical competitions as sports, not just games but other tests of mental strategy. There's clearly a growing audience for it, so why not? Best of both worlds that way.
You can listen to Pardo's full interview here.
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