Olympic Channel set to embrace esports

Olympic Broadcasting Services chief executive Yiannis Exarchos has said the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Channel will seek to engage in esports content following the winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Stakeholders from the Olympic Movement agreed in October that esports “could be considered as a sporting activity,” leaving the door ajar for possible future inclusion at the Olympic Games.

According to a communique following the Olympic Summit, chaired by IOC president Thomas Bach, those who attended the meeting agreed that the popularity of esports, particularly amongst youngsters, cannot be ignored.

The IOC is working with Gaisf, the Global Organisation of International Sports Federations, to “explore this area further” in partnership with the gaming industry and “come back to the Olympic movement stakeholders in due course.”

The Olympic Channel is designed to engage youth with Olympic sport and Exarchos told the Reuters news agency that it could be utilised to build bridges to esports. “As a youthful digital platform we cannot ignore the phenomenon of esports,” Exarchos said. “With the channel after the Games we want to explore the area of esports more deeply.

“We want to explore this direction. We have now a major player as a ‘TOP’ partner of the IOC – Intel Corp – very much into esports precisely because Intel has a vision of seeing the Games delivered in a new, smarter and more engaging way.”

In the lead up to Pyeongchang 2018, Intel organised the Intel Extreme Masters Pyeongchang event, featuring Blizzard Entertainment’s ‘StarCraft II’ title. The company also launched a separate exhibition featuring video game developer Ubisoft’s ‘Steep Road to the Olympics’ title, the official licensed game of Pyeongchang 2018.

However, Exarchos maintained that several issues still need to be addressed before esports can be fully embraced by the Olympic Movement. “Esports is still a very male-dominated area, 85 per cent to 15 per cent,” he said. “Secondly a lot of the content is quite violent or has the violence narrative engrained to it. This is obviously very foreign to what the Olympics represent.”

He said the third concern was the “elements that encourage sedentary lifestyle.” He added: “I don’t believe any of those three current limitations are not addressable. I believe it is a movement that has emerged out of nowhere without necessarily clear directions. But those things can be addressed so that esports more comfortably can become part of the Olympic family, definitely the Olympic Channel.”

In other news, the IOC today (Tuesday) said that the world’s broadcasters have produced 14 per cent more hours of programming from Pyeongchang 2018, compared to the previous winter Olympics in Sochi.

The IOC’s director of television and marketing, Timo Lumme, said preliminary data showed overall output from the 2018 Games is greater than at any previous winter Olympics with an average of 130 hours of programming per rights-holding broadcaster.

Lumme added: “The amount of content on digital platforms is also up and expected to be double that aired on television, so two parts digital to one part television. Over five billion people will have access to TV coverage of the Pyeongchang Games.”