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IOC ‘needs to be involved in esports’, says virtual sports chief Pereira

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Esports must be integrated into the Olympic Movement in order to keep pace with social trends, Vincent Pereira, head of virtual sports and gaming at the International Olympic Committee, has said.

Pereira, speaking at the Sports Matters conference in Singapore yesterday (Tuesday), said the committee “needs to be involved in esports” as a way of attracting younger audiences and “moving with society”.

Pereira did not, however, give a timeline for the potential inclusion of esports events at the Olympic Games.

Last year, the IOC pledged to “encourage the development of virtual sports and further engage with gaming opportunities” as part of its Agenda 2020+5 priorities. Pereira, who joined the IOC earlier this year after serving as head of digital at Tour de France organiser and promoter Amaury Sport Organisation for four years, said the committee is now considering ways of integrating competitive gaming into the wider Olympic Movement.

“75 per cent of people support the integration of esports into the Olympic Movement in a similar way to the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games,” he said. “The most important thing is to bring together the Olympic Movement and the esports communities to collaborate on the future of these competitions.

“Competition is at the heart of the Olympic Games and, at the IOC, we are hoping to introduce new competition programmes and new disciplines as we will see with breaking coming for Paris 2024 and skateboarding in Tokyo. And so what we’re trying to do is find a way of integrating these new ways of competing.”

Pereira said the task of integrating esports into the Olympic Movement while respecting the movement’s traditions is complicated by the lack of a universally recognised governing body for competitive gaming. The International Esports Federation and Global Esports Federation are two of the foremost organising bodies, but neither is recognised by the IOC, while some other federations lay claim to gaming involving their sports.

However, Pereira said the committee has been encouraged by support from esports athletes.

“We’re talking with big esports athletes,” he explained. “And representing their country, their flag, their nation – which we’ve seen at the Commonwealth Games for example – is something they have come to love.”

Pereira said the IOC is ultimately aiming to create new opportunities for people to engage with the Olympics.

“We’re creating a new product, we’re creating new experiences and we’re trying to create a new space for the Olympic Movement to demonstrate how it can attract the youths and connect with people and engage with people,” said Pereira. “We need to create opportunities to connect with people and keep contact with them.

“It is also about moving with society and following the trends and listening to people.”

When asked whether there is a danger that esports become bigger than the Olympic Movement itself, Pereira said the focus should be on making both movements bigger, through cooperation.

“The question for us is how we can bring [esports] into the Olympics to make the Olympics bigger,” he said. “When we’re seeing stadiums full of people wearing jerseys of their [esports] teams, we see there are a lot of similarities [between esports and the Olympic Movement]. And now we can build something together because there is a lot of emotions and passions around these worlds. And this is what sports is about.”

Olympic Esports Week

Next year, the IOC will stage its inaugural Olympic Esports Week. The event, which has been described by the committee as a “festival of virtual sports and gaming”, follows last year’s first-ever Olympic Virtual Series.

Pereira said the IOC is in talks with Singapore over hosting the event and hoped to announced “some great news” soon. The event, he said, will take place over three or four days and will encompass competitive gaming, with around 10 virtual sports titles and simulation games set to be included, with exhibitions alongside.

“Last year, the first Olympic Virtual Series was a pilot,” Pereira said. “It was a test. It was a good start with five sports – cycling, sailing, baseball, motorsports and rowing – and a quarter of a million people participating.

“The Olympic Esports Week will be about entertainment and how we can encourage people to virtual sports and new disciplines. We can do it by creating a huge free-to-play zone where the idea for us is to create a journey for the people where they will enter into the Olympics through technology and innovation. [People] will come and experience [sports] by doing a golf simulator, enjoying some races and doing other activities.

“And why are we doing this? Because we need to connect with the youths. We need to keep this contact with the generation that is playing games…We shouldn’t miss this opportunity to connect with the youths.”

Beyond sports titles

While the IOC’s esports initiatives have so far predominantly focused on sports titles and simulation games, Pereira said the committee is also looking towards non-sports titles, including Psyonix’s Rocket League.

“We know there is a lot of synergies [with titles that are] very famous like Rocket League,” he said. “If you’re looking at Rocket League, there is the same rules as football, and you can find some synergy. So that is why we’re now also thinking about these games being integrated because it’s contributing to our values. It’s the same for some martial arts games that could also work with some disciplines that we have in the Olympics.”

Pereira said he realises that many of the most popular competitive gaming titles do not have direct links to Olympic sports and, if the Olympic Movement is to truly integrate esports, it will have to branch out.

“We’re talking with esports athletes and planning games that are more famous,” he said. “We have the humility to say that these [current] titles are virtual sports – we are encouraging and supporting the development of virtual sports to help international federations – and these aren’t the big ones. We are humble about that.”