Should Video Game-Playing Be an Olympic Sport?

Written for Acculturated

August 10th, 2017

I’m pretty much a one sport guy. I watch tennis, I play tennis, I read about tennis. It’s my sport and I follow professional tennis and analyze it with the same obsessive fervor as Fantasy Football nuts—speaking of, I am, honest to God, in a fantasy tennis league. Yes, they do exist. Despite my monogamous and happy marriage to tennis, every time the Olympics come around I watch other sports. Swimming, gymnastics, archery, and a host of other sports I’d never care about on a day-to-day basis suddenly become deeply fascinating to me, as I suppose they do to every lover of any sport. Athletes train for years in the hope of competing in the Olympics, and there’s simply something beautiful about seeing all that training in action. To watch Olympians do things we know we never could, while making it all seem so effortless is a sight to behold, tantamount to gazing upon a spectacular painting somehow brought to life.

Olympic events are designed to test and showcase the abilities of the world’s greatest athletes as they push themselves to the limit, leaving we mere mortals to question what we’ve done with our lives as we watch teenagers win gold medals. It’s awe-inspiring and even, at times, jaw-dropping to see what these incredible athletes are capable of doing, making it a certainty that generations to come will tune in every four years to watch athletics raised to art as these competitors battle it out in the swimming pool, on the track, and on Rainbow Road. Oh yes, you read that right. Future Olympic viewers may turn on the TV only to find Mario racing across their screen on Rainbow Road, the notoriously difficult race map on Mario Kart, because the International Olympic Committee is now considering adding competitive video gaming to the Games in addition to, you know, real sports.

The video game proposal is being brought before the IOC by Tony Estanguet, a co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee. Estanguet hopes to have video game events, which have been given the newspeak moniker “eSports,” in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Estanguet and other proponents hope to bring video games to the Olympics because of their popularity with young people. That such people are using popularity as the measuring stick instead of whether an activity is a sport is a truly terrifying prospect. I hope Estanguet never meets Mike Cernovich, else “Strategic Memeing” may soon by a medaling event. God help us all.

The eSport phenomenon is unlikely to pan out in the Olympic games thanks to Thomas Bach, the IOC president, who has questioned whether video games qualify as sports given their lack of physical activity. (They will, however, be an event in the 2022 Asian Games). Still, the movement to make eSports an Olympic category shows just how far down the virtual rabbit hole our society has gone. The average American adult exercises roughly five hours a week, while the average gamer is plugged in for over six hours a week. Throw in all the time spent on social media and on smartphones, and total screen time increases drastically. Physical activity has fallen by the wayside and been replaced by virtual activity, and along with it has gone the importance that was once placed on being physically fit.

It is important that we still choose to recognize those athletes who are at the peak of their physical prowess. They are, in a sense, better than the rest of us because of their accomplishments. The self-control and discipline athletes must exercise is superhuman, and the Games are a celebration of the virtues sports engender. The Olympics are about the dedication, commitment, and endurance that each athlete put in to get to where they are. Athletes deserve our respect and admiration because they do things most people aren’t capable of. They represent the physical ideal, something most of us won’t achieve, but still ought to strive for all the same. Placing video game playing on the same level as what Michael Phelps, Larisa Latynina, and Usain Bolt have done is an insult to athletes everywhere and cheapens the greatest sporting event in the world.