Olympics finally embrace esports with Virtual Series event

Adam Fitch
Olympic Virtual Series

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have finally decided to embrace esports, somewhat, with their first licensed event for “non-physical virtual sports” starting May 13.

After years of back and forth as to whether the IOC would ever include esports in their event, the Olympic Virtual Series appears to be the start of that very thing happening.

The team behind the sporting spectacle have partnered with sporting federations and game publishers to bring five “non-physical virtual sports” together as part of the event.

Konami’s eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020, online cycling platform Zwift, international rowing federation World Rowing, sailing race simulator Virtual Regatta, and racing gaming Gran Turismo have all been tapped for the event.

Zwift esports
Zwift already has a burgeoning esports scene with their own world championship.

The Olympic Virtual Series starts on May 13 and runs until June 23, serving as a precursor to the Olympic Games Tokyo to “mobilise virtual sport, esports and gaming enthusiasts all around the world.” It’s being produced by DreamHack Sports Games, who focus on turning traditional sports leagues and tournaments into esports.

While the IOC may still stand by their previous stance in which they believe esports titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are “promoting violence” and “contradictory to the Olympic values,” this event could be seen as them truly dipping their toes into the waters until postponement occurred.

In September 2019, technology giants Intel announced the $500,000 Intel World Open — a tournament featuring Rocket League and Street Fighter V on the lead up to the Olympic Games. This was viewed as an exploration of esports and the Olympics engaging with each other.

The virtual series is aiming for “online mass participation” with each title being different in form and concept, and the IOC believe it will encourage more sporting activity in line with their Olympic Agenda 2020+5.

“The Olympic Virtual Series is a new, unique Olympic digital experience that aims to grow direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports,” said IOC president Thomas Bach.

“It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth.”