Last Thursday, the International Olympic Committee announced that it has partnered with five international sports federations, game publishers, and DreamHack Sports Games to launch the first official Olympics event for physical and nonphysical virtual sports.
The committee announced that the event, called ‘Olympic Virtual Series’, will be launched ahead of the rescheduled 2020 summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. DreamHack Sports Games, the company that manages eSports tournaments for traditional sports leagues and properties, has been appointed to handle the marketing and production of the event that runs from May 13th to June 23rd.
World Rowing, World Sailing, The World Baseball Softball Confederation, The Union Cycliste Internationale, and the International Automobile Federation are the first five federations to sign up. FIFA and FIBA have expressed an interest in joining the competition in later years.
This announcement is yet another signifier that eSports is entering the mainstream. It is clear that getting FIFA and FIBA onboard in the future will bolster the success of the Olympic Virtual Series. The NBA 2K League, which could form the base of any FIBA Olympic Tournament, has gone from strength to strength with the Twitch streams up 70% in viewership in 2020. The NBA 2K League Finals saw 1.1 million viewers on Twitch alone.
The 2K League is enjoying its own mainstream success with ESPN2 broadcasting 29 nights over the 2020 season. Every NBA 2K League match on ESPN’s platforms also aired live in the Caribbean, Latin America, Oceania, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Combining Twitch viewers with the unique viewership on ESPN2, the NBA 2K League received at least one million unique viewers each time it was shown on ESPN2. This year has pushed the league even further with the 2021 NBA 2K League Draft seeing a 56% increase in viewership.
These numbers have seen some huge sponsors get involved with Tissot, Gamestop, AT&T, Champion Athletic Wear, and Snickers all being part of the fourteen brand strong lineup for the league.
FIFA has been equally successful with its entry into eSports with the FIFA eWorld Cup attracting almost 50 million viewers in 2019. The success has continued in 2021 with the EA Sports FIFA 21 Challenge event drawing an average minute audience of 254,057 and a total watch time of 1.024 million hours, making the event the most-watched esports broadcast in history operated by EA.
This summer, @Tokyo2020 will use its immense global platform to display innovative solutions to drive sustainable change. This #EarthDay check out some of Tokyo’s #Sustainability plans. #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/YiqCci1P2N— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) April 22, 2021
The accessibility and minimal barriers to entry of eSports mean that it is the perfect time for the IOC to launch an eSports arm All five OVS events will differ in concept and platform, tailor-made for its desired audience.
Fans will have the opportunity to engage and follow the events on the Olympic Channel from anywhere in the world. The D2C nature of eSports broadcasts, hosted on social platforms such as Twitch or YouTube, will drive fan engagement and create an entirely new community, giving the committee a new way to build its audience and interact with existing fans.
Inaugural Olympic Virtual Series to include International Federations and Game Publishers in Baseball, Cycling, Rowing, Sailing and Motor Sport.— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) April 22, 2021
Taking place ahead of @Tokyo2020, the series begins on 13 May, continuing through to 23 June 2021.https://t.co/cjWj33wVYD
DreamHack will likely assist in delivering an authentic eSports experience. Audiences expect certain production quality and styles, such as an ‘in game’ camera to capture different angles, in-game data displays, or supplementary content such as player views and replays.
The quality of eSports broadcasts also need to match the experience of playing the game. Viewers will expect to see high-definition, 1080p or 4K live video.
Global eSports viewership is expected to reach 646 million by 2023, with the industry predicted to be worth over $1Billion by the end of 2021. The potential for direct fan engagement, sponsorship opportunities, and content innovation is too high for major organizations to ignore. However, the challenges for breaking into this space cannot be ignored. The IOC must focus on optimizing its content to align with the high expectations of sports fans if it is to capitalize on this opportunity.