PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - The Olympic Channel will look into engaging with its young audience through esports straight after the Pyeongchang Olympics as the rise of competitive electronic gaming can not be ignored, its Executive Director Yiannis Exarchos told Reuters.
The Olympic Channel, a digital platform launched after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games with a budget of $450 million, was created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to maintain year-round interest in the Olympic movement and get young people interested in sport.
ESports, the competitive side of electronic gaming, has quickly amassed an estimated 250 million players, more than several of the traditional Olympic sports federations combined.
“As a youthful digital platform we cannot ignore the phenomenon of esports,” Exarchos said in an interview. “With the channel after the Games we want to explore the area of esports more deeply.”
“We want to explore this direction. We have now a major player as a top partner of the IOC —- Intel Corp — very much into esports precisely because Intel has a vision of seeing the Games delivered in a new, smarter and more engaging way.”
The IOC in November recognised esports as a sport, the first clear indication to the growing industry that it wants to link up.
The market is worth about one billion dollars a year and growing, with lucrative tournaments springing up across the world and professional teams competing for huge prize money in front of millions of mainly young viewers online.
With the IOC’s traditional audience ageing and several Olympic sports past their international sell-by date, it is desperate to attract younger people.
Exarchos said more than 85 percent of the channel’s followers were below the age of 35, almost 10 years younger than the average consumer of the Olympics.
“This is really becoming the destination for millenials who love sports,” he said.
But any linkup with esports must first address several considerations, including the current gender imbalance in gaming and its violent narratives.
“Esports is still a very male dominated area, 85 percent to 15 percent,” he said. “Secondly a lot of the content is quite violent or has the violence narrative engrained to it. This is obviously very foreign to what the Olympics represent.”
He said the third concern was the “elements that encourage sedentary lifestyle.”
“I don’t believe any of those three current limitations are not addressable,” he said. “I believe it is a movement that has emerged out of nowhere without necessarily clear directions.”
“But those things can be addressed so that esports more comfortably can become part of the Olympic family, definitely the Olympic channel.”
Intel Corp INTC.O, an Olympics top sponsor, organised an esports tournament only a stone’s throw from the Games venues last week, with South Korea a hotbed for esports.
The players, wearing shirts branded with the Olympic rings, competed for a $150,000 prize — several times more than what the vast majority of gold medallist Olympians will earn in bonuses from their home nations.
The 2020 summer Games will be held in Japan and the 2026 winter edition in Beijing, with China a major driving force of both the multi-billion gaming industry and esports.
“They (Intel) are great partners to explore together whether we can get into esports with something that would be aligned with who we are,” Exarchos said.
“I cannot believe that at this golden age of story telling esports should be limited to guns and shooting. It is something that has fed on the skewed demographics.”
“Once this narrative starts changing I believe that the demographics will start changing.”
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty