How long before esports applies to IOC for Olympic Games status?

ED COUGHLAN: How long before esports applies to IOC for Olympic Games status?
The two-storey, player stage inside of Arthur Ashe Stadium, designed by Steve Kidd and Guy Pavelo, ahead of the 2019 Fortnite World Cup. Esports are no passing fad, says Ed Coughlan, and he predicts Esports will take a place in the Olympics in the near future. Picture: Steven Ryan/Getty Images

I remember a time when a wrapper was something that covered a bar of chocolate.

I also remember a time when fortnight described a two-week block on the calendar.

Yet, nowadays, it’s best known for triggering the freshest generation to think of their favourite computer game character within the global phenomenon known as Fortnite.

My first experience of Fortnite was during the 2018 Fifa World Cup when France’s main man, Antoine Griezmann, celebrated opening his goal-scoring account against Australia, in Russia, with a strange-looking, crotch-holding jig towards the packed stands.

In my innocence, I thought it was a lame rebuttal to compete with Paul Pogba’s Dab celebration, which had hijacked the celebration world and was now being used to mark achievement in everything from bottle-flipping to fidget spinning.

Thankfully, fads fade away.

But Fortnite is no fad, and it is not going to fade away anytime soon, if anything it is going to develop into something other-worldly and with it create a new race who may exist entirely in that domain, in time.

Remarkably, my second experience of Fortnite was in April when Kieran Shannon interviewed the world-renowned coach educator Wayne Goldsmith for this newspaper as part of his European tour, before speaking to a packed auditorium of coaches at Cork Institute of Technology. The title of the piece was ‘Fortnite is not sport’s enemy — outdated coaching is’.

In it, the Australian mentions how we as coaches may have to come up with some form of Fortnite within our coaching practice that engages, inspires and allows kids to connect with others. He states, ‘if you’re waiting for kids to change and go back to the way things used to be, you’re deluded’, before suggesting, ‘life doesn’t go backwards, and the issue isn’t that kids have changed. They haven’t. The problem is we (the coaches) haven’t changed. We have to come up with ways to find it interesting and exciting for them to want to work hard and get better at sport’.

But what if Fortnite was the sport, the goal, the industry, and even the career path?

Is this possible?

Not only is it possible, it’s already happening.

My third and most recent experience of Fortnite was the news story that the Fortnite World Cup was entering its final stages in a bid to find the champion gamer of the virtual behemoth.

Only last weekend, Flushing Meadows, the home of the US Open, and the largest tennis arena in the world played host to the final stages of a competition that began three months earlier with over 40 million entrants.

The final 100 gamers descended on the New York borough of Queens to battle it out for the $30m (€26.9m) purse. In keeping with the venue, there was also a doubles competition, but the blue ribbon event was still the battle for the singles title.

What started in the 1980s with the Commodore 64 and Amstrad computers with games that loaded from cassettes and floppy disks, has rapidly developed through the more recent X-Box and PlayStation consoles, from CDs to where we are now, where everything is online and ready to play anytime, anywhere with anyone.

EA Sports were one of the pioneers to capitalise on the burgeoning industry developing games for the major sports we all loved to watch, such as FIFA, NFL, NBA, NHL and most recently PGA Tour Golf.

Fortnite is by no means the first to globalise their game into a competition format.

Fifa partnered with EA Sports in 2004 to launch the Fifa Interactive World Cup (FIWC), now known as the Fifa eWorld Cup. Fifteen years later, the 2019 grand final will be played out this coming weekend in a packed O2 Arena in London, where the winner will walk away with $250,000 (€224,500) in prize money.

So where to next?

Well, Staffordshire University have recently advertised a post for a lecturer in esports, and I suspect this is just the beginning of what will be become a bond fide area of study and research in years to come, if it’s not already here. 

LERO, the Irish Software Research Centre is already funding research into esports and people like Dr Mark Campbell at University of Limerick, an academic with extensive experience in the real sport world, is one of the leading researchers in the virtual world. As you can see, the transition is well underway.

No longer will the revolution be televised, it is more likely to be uploaded and live-streamed.

In fact, the years of administrative effort invested to finally have physical education as an examinable subject in second-level education will pale in comparison to the swiftness that gaming will one day find its way onto the Leaving Cert curriculum.

The next new term we need to prepare ourselves for is esport athletes. Where elite athletes once played computer games to switch off from the stresses of their job, esport athletes will switch on to do their job. 

How long will it be before the IOC consider an application from the esport community to join the summer games programme? I believe viewing figures and access to a completely new audience and unrivalled revenue opportunities will make their decision a swift one.

The move will be complete when a kid known only by their online handle, not by their name, will carry their country’s flag in the opening ceremony.

As a self-confessed technosaur, I look forward to how things will develop. I hope to stay more up-to-date than I have done in the past. The long-term measure of this will be in my capacity to connect with my grandkids on their level and not bemoan the olden days when things were simpler and slower.

In the short term, I can’t see myself getting a games console any time soon. I don’t need to get one to understand them, but in order to connect with the kids I coach, I need to understand them to get them.

The onus is on me to meet them where they are at, not the other way around. If Wayne Goldsmith was correct to suggest we would be deluded to expect kids to come back to us when everything about development and progression is about exploring better ways of doing things, then I for one need to work harder than them to be better for them.

With thoughts of progression, I can’t help thinking about last week’s hurling action that gave us the mouth-watering prospect of a Kilkenny-Tipperary All-Ireland final on August 18.

The games have progressed at a rate of knots and the players who have lead the progression have adapted along the way. Is it time now for the gatekeepers of the sport to catch up finally, and to bring their match officials into the 21st century?

How long will tradition prevail in place of progression?

The use of Hawk-Eye for determining scores is one step in the right direction, but for the endless instances that happen both on the ball and off it, the referee needs more help.

Maybe not in the technology, but in the deployment of a second official on the field of play.

Remember, the kids aren't coming back to us; if anything, they’ll leave us behind.

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