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Olympic eSports

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  • The world of eSports collided with physical sports this week when Olympics sponsor Intel Corp hosted a StarCraft 2 tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A couple of miles away, some of the world’s leading athletes were limbering up for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but millions watched the action StarCraft action unfold. It was a historic moment as Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn became the first female to ever win a major global StarCraft 2 tournament.

    Intel Corp has been offering demonstrations and interactive gaming experiences throughout the Olympic Village for attendees and athletes. But some are distinctly underwhelmed by the advent of eSports. “They are two totally different worlds,” said two-time Olympic gold medallist Ted Ligety, an Alpine skier for Team USA. “Physical sports belong in the Olympics. I don’t think eSports belong in the Olympics. The mental side of eSports can be tough I’m guessing for those guys, but the Olympics is where you have to do some sort of a physical exertion.”
    Critics added that eSports should never be allowed to eclipse physical sports, but they may be fighting a losing battle. Last year eSports were worth $1.5 billion in total revenue, and that figure is tipped to rise to $2.3 billion by 2022. The likes of Valve Corporation, Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment are becoming huge, and the popularity of League of Legends, Call of Duty, DOTA2 and Starcraft continues to soar. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, Unreal Tournament 4 and Quake Champions will only further boost its popularity. It is becoming big business for the bookmakers and wagering on eSports can be a lucrative enterprise for those in the know. Betting on eSports has already eclipsed several traditional sports and is expected to eventually overhaul the likes of football and basketball. Betting sites will have the latest odds, make sure to check them out and you will see just how widely prevalent it is.

    The success of the Overwatch League will be a critical factor for eSports as it has a raft of sponsors, and there will be a lot of attention on that, but initial signs are positive. The streaming deal between Riot and Bamtech has also come into effect, allowing Riot to make synergies with League of Legends. All these developments are making eSports more of a viable alternative to physical sports, and those trying to fight its growth are reminiscent of the luddites during the Industrial Revolution.

    You cannot get a much more high-profile promotion platform than the Olympic Village, and Intel Corp is hell-bent on giving more people around the world a chance to experience the thrill of esports.

    Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri, who reached the last 16 of the StarCraft 2 tournament won by Scarlett, hit back at Ligety’s claims, saying: “If the athletes saw how we actually compete, how we practice, how much effort we put in our daily routines to get better, I think they could only respect the efforts we put into it.” John Bonini, Intel’s vice president and general manager for gaming and eSports, added: “There are some people who think it doesn’t have any fit [with physical sports] at all. I would like to hear more from them. Is that ever going to change? Or are they open minded?”

    They will most likely have to be as eSports is on course to dwarf everything else, and Scarlett herself argued that it can actually benefit the Olympics. “I think it’s a good thing to have diversity so that it gets more people to tune into the Olympics in general,” she said. ESports is not going anywhere and tournaments regularly get more than 40 million viewers, far more than many Olympic events can hope to muster, so they could learn a thing or two from their digital cousins.

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