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Brandon Beck: "E-sports will be an Olympic event in my lifetime"

Riot Games co-founder believes games should be part of Games

Riot Games co-founder Brandon Beck believes that the popularity of e-sports could grow to the point where games like League of Legends are played at the Olympics.

Speaking to GamesIndustry International at Gamescom, Beck discussed the flourishing pro-gaming scene around Riot's free-to-play hit League of Legends. Riot Games has established a "Championship Series" of e-sports events, with prizes in the millions of dollars. According to Beck, the goal is to create "an ecosystem" where pro-gamers ambitions can become a reality.

"We don't have our sights set on replacing soccer right now, but we definitely think that e-sports has a place as a large, important, mainstream competitive activity," he said. "I fundamentally believe that e-sports will be an Olympic event in my lifetime."

However, to reach that point, Beck believes that the many industry companies now showing an interest in e-sports need to back it up with commitment to creating a sustainable infrastructure for it to thrive.

"It's important for companies to not just say they're excited about e-sports, but to actually make commitments: from a development standpoint and from a financial standpoint," he said. "These players have to make a massive commitment to become pro-athletes, so there has to be a viable career path for that to grow into anything."

After a strong start in the Quake era, the growth of e-sports in Europe and the US was stalled by a combination of network issues - latency, pings, etc. - and the fact that most games didn't involve multiplayer.

In countries like Korea, where the culture is built around LAN gaming in PC cafes, e-sports have been very popular for many years, and the network infrastructure in other markets is now at a comparable level. For Beck, the demand has always been there, and the conditions are now right for a worldwide growth.

"The innovation going forward in e-sports is all going to be around the quality of broadcasts, the quality of live events, the quality of the leagues themselves," he said.

League of Legends was recently named the most played PC game in the world, and is currently expanding into emerging markets like Russia and Brazil.

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Latest comments (26)

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
No, it wont. No excitement unless you like watching other people sit on their asses staring at a screen and waggling a mouse while tapping on a keyboard. No chance of career-ending injuries unless someone pulls a hammy while shifting in their well-padded seat too hard, no sexy outfits for the teams (unless it's a grrrl team using psychological warfare on the sexist all-male team on the other side of the room), no, no, hell ho. Keep it where it is, as driving it to a wider market will doom the hobby.

If you REALLY want to do this, hell, at least do it right. Donkey Kong, ONE credit, playing standing up, no breaks. I'd watch that just to see everyone lose.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 16th August 2012 4:15pm

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Emily Rose Artist 8 years ago
It's a hell of a lot more exciting watching pros on Starcraft and League than watching someone run up a track or jump of a diving board.
It won't be as popular because gaming requires a lot more understanding, much like chess isn't on primetime.

Carpal tunnel and other RSI's can be career ending, but why would you even hope for that Greg?? I want good matches not violent demise of real people's lives.

I very much hope eSports continues to grow.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Oh, I've actually had non-gamers over to watch videos of gaming contests and without fail, every single one of them couldn't grasp the "sports" aspect of sitting on one's ass playing a game. It's interesting to see in person, I agree, but remember, we tried to televise gaming in the US already and it was a big bust.

Oh, and I hope you realize that I was making fun of the idea that playing a game for big money and getting "injured" in the process would seem not quite as bad to some people as watching some poor footballer pop a tendon or break a bone during a tackle. Or a boxer carted out of a ring on a stretcher. Or a bad auto race wreck. And so forth and so on. Anyway, what's next, having Olympic athletes play Olympic themed video games so they won't get injured at all? Sport Champions Champions, here we come. What's next, Dominoes? Poker? Monopoly? All of those get pretty exciting with the right crowds, correct?

Wait. I've got it. LARPing. That makes total sense as it looks stupid to a lay person, but you can actually get hurt if you're dumb enough to NOT take it seriously.

Excuse me while I fall off my chair, now...
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Show all comments (26)

Precisely. This is why this idea has already failed half a dozen times ( PGL, CyberGames, CGS, etc) The only kind of "pro-gamign" that has had any legs at all is exhibition players who are used for game PR purposes. And even those generally need another "hook", like the Frag Dolls who in addition to being very skilled FPS players are also all young reasonably attractive women.

All spectator sports are designed to appeal to viewers, to the players its a job. Where the sport has things that are not interesting to the players, the professional leagues go otu of their way to modify them to make them more interesting because all the money is in spectatorship.

Videogames in general are not built to be engaging to watch, they are built to be engaging to play. If you've ever watched the final competitions at a QuakeCon, they are just a big blur on the screen. No one but a devoted and skilled *player* has any chance of making head or tail of any of it.

Now there might be some legs in casual games, which are slow enough and simple enough for anyone to follow. But thats the only place I can imagine this even might work.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 16th August 2012 5:16pm

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Aric Norine Animation, Next Level Games8 years ago
The Olympics has traditionally showcased physical talent and in some cases mixed that physicality with strategy. Playing a videogame is almost solely about your brain, not your body. What then would a gold medal in starcraft signify? Brainpower?

I'd argue that a person's brainpower (expressed through strategy) is the meaningful differentiation between competitors in a video game match. If we're going to start having Olympic events based primarily around brainpower there's a long list of classic board games who are more deserving than some flavor-of-the-decade strategy game.

Chess for example.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia8 years ago
This is silly. I don't mind gaming competitions, even serious ones, but they can never be on the same level as the Olympics.

Why not include drumming competitions at the Olympics? Or pastry cooking even? There are plenty of other activities that require time and effort to master but are not included in the Olympics for the simple reason that it makes no sense to have them there: they're not athletic sports.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
If games like Chess and Go can't make the Olympics I don't see why anyone believes video games will. The appeal is the same (strategic, rather than athletic). To be fair, there's not a lot of difference between shooting a gun in a game and shooting one in the Olympics, but that's also one of the sports that people don't care enough to watch. That said, I think there's a real future for pro gaming, as fighting games and strategy games can be a lot of fun to watch for the initiated... but the Olympics is not in that future.
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Adam Clixby Technical director & co-founder, Rodeo Games8 years ago
As Aric says: The Olympics has traditionally showcased physical talent. That's because sport by its very definition involves physical activity. The only way eSports will make it in to the Olympics is if the Olympics ceases to be a sporting event.
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Emily Rose Artist 8 years ago
Physical sports didn't grow to their current prominence overnight. Skill with a keyboard is much more useful in modern life than being able to run fast.

Esports events are getting bigger every year. The niche of people disillusioned with boring physical sports is increasing.

It's only a matter of time.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
I don't think it's the place for it, but as a point of interest, prior to the international Olympics, the precursor, the UK Olympics had events such as sewing and poetry, and was a celebration of excellence in any competitive field. Not sure that a televised knitting competition will gain traction though.
I'd be happier with a return of Gamesmaster on the telly, and games specific competitions, and then a push to get skateboarding in the olympics. (Can't board myself, have no balance, but it's far more exciting than some current events.)
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D8 years ago
This old chestnut, eh? It'll never happen.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters8 years ago
It's very difficult to appreciate the skill required to play a video game well unless you've played it yourself beforehand. Unless you're intimately familiar with the rules it's hard to relate what's happening on screen to what the player had to do to make that happen. Watch someone play a racing game and it's not always obvious whether it's a pure realistic sim or an arcade racer with very heavy driving assists. For all the average joe knows, it could be the game making them look good.
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Scott Davis Product Analyst, Jagex Games Studio8 years ago
The thing is with games in the Olympics is they are easy to watch - if you don't know the sport, it doesn't take very long whilst watching it before you start picking up on the rules. All Olympic sports are watchable and enjoyable by all those in the know and not.

Computer games can't do that, watching some Koreans blitz through a game of starcraft at an insane speed of actions per second will not be enjoyable to someone who doesn't have the slightest clue about starcraft - no one will know what will be going on.

There is a long queue of games trying to get in the Olympics - Chess, Bowling, Darts, Snooker/Pool, Bowls, Checkers.....if none of these can successfully fight a case to get in the games, neither can video games.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
I don't think it will ever happen and I don't think it should.

There's no reason why a separate gaming competition can't be devised. Putting games into a packed schedule of largely physical sports would be silly. Make a virtual olympics don't change the existing ones.

@Tim on comment #2

Each to their own I guess. I feel the experience is too different to compare directly and there are a wide range of sports, some which certain people are interested in some that certain people are not. I personally wouldn't enjoy watching anyone play Starcraft.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 17th August 2012 12:54pm

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Emily Knox Associate Designer, CCP Games8 years ago
There are two debates here, on spectating: This has nothing to do with how easy or entertaining it is to watch, that's personal. Some people enjoy watching some Olympic sports, some people enjoy watching e-sports. Some people don't. (I love watching athletics, but can't keep up with the sailing). That's entirely subjective, spectator popularity is not a legitimate cause for anything to be added or removed from the Olympics.
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Hi Emily,
I am afraid I I think you don't understand the issue.

In order for a sport to work as a spectator sport and generate the money necessary to sustain a league, it must have a mass audiance.

Its not "would I enjoy watching some one play a videogame." You are right, that is personal but its also irrelevant. The question is "is there a mass audience that would enjoy watching someone play a video game." The answer is probably not because videogames aren't made to be enjoyed by spectators. The failure of many attempts to do just this already, including failure by powerhouse media companies such as DirectTV who should have had every advantage to make it a success, adds credence to that point of view.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 17th August 2012 2:49pm

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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers8 years ago
I think e-sports being part of the Olympics would have nothing to do with appeal and everything to do with the fact that the IOC is run by some very old-fashioned individuals that would never consider something like video games as true sport. That said, there's plenty of success to be had in the purely online streaming realm and I expect the fandom for things like League of Legends and StarCraft II to only increase.
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Stephen Richards Game Deisgner 8 years ago
I'll try not to reiterate too much what most people have said already, but yes, olympic sports are primarily designed to test the honing of physical skills, rather than thinking ones. Hence chess is not an olympic sport and never will be. Similarly, Starcraft is primarily a strategy game even if success at the high end depends a lot on clicks per minute.

Generating a sufficiently knowledgeable and interested audience is a challenge, yes, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. If South Korea can host professional Starcraft players on six figure salaries then perhaps the mass appeal of spectating games will increase in the west as well.

There are other challenges to overcome too. For example, sports need to be as fair as possible, and game mechanics such as random spawn points in fps games may introduce too much luck into the results.

But the major issue is whether skill at pressing buttons on a controller or using a mouse and keyboard can be considered a form of physical excellence. Certainly the need for precision and fast reactions works in their favour (after all table tennis does not require a gym membership).

I'd also like to see what the future holds for Kinect. Just imagine we're on Kinect v.5, which can map a fully 3d body down to the millimetre in real-time with negligible input lag. I'm willing to bet we'd get some Olymipcs-worthy games out of that...
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The Korean StarCraft market is the largest market for a single videogame in the world. Starcraft is a true national obsession.

If a single game ever reached that kind of involvement in the US, I grant you that there might be room for a league around that game. For as long as it lasted. Americans are also notoriously fickle about such things.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 17th August 2012 4:39pm

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Nicholas Gasse Journalist, communications expert 8 years ago
I can think of a number of people who would rather watch Call of Duty or League of Legends than Dressage.
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Have you tested this by actually sitting them down to watch a series of games or is this supposition.

Also, statistically how do they map to the mass market? A few data points either way are meaningless when you are talking about the scale of numbers necessary to support a spectator sport.

Again, all the existing test cases say they aren't there.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 17th August 2012 6:56pm

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Jeff Wayne Technical Architect 8 years ago
I enjoy watching the various tournaments in LoL. I've paid for premium stream tickets to watch them in 1080 HD with various bells and whistles. IPL and MLG host some great ones with stream viewers being typically over 100k (over 200k for IPL4). Yes there are problems with lag and even DDoS attacks but they are improving and with events like Dreamhack, the whole thing seems to have explosive growth recently. I'd pay to watch a major LoL tourny any day of the week before any other major sport competition personally. There are hundreds of thousands of people like me too (granted mostly in South Korea currently) and it's only going to grow. Whilst it does seem like a bit of an amusing fantasy leap to imagine it in the Olympics - I believe it (eSports in general) will become enormous in the next few years as general internet speeds and quality improves worldwide.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeff Wayne on 17th August 2012 11:20pm

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Emily Knox Associate Designer, CCP Games8 years ago
@Jeffrey I probably didn't word it clearly, but I was addressing the "it's boring to watch" statements people are casting here to specific sports and e-sports - a few comments on GI Biz are of course not an accurate indicator of their actual popularity, these are just opinions. Absolutely, a certain amount of popularity will be important to generate enough competitors/sponsors/spectators that can drive sports forward into a bigger spotlight. I only meant to say that stating something as 'boring' or 'exciting' shouldn't have any baring on Olympic representation, I am in agreement with you that this aspect is irreverent :)

I used to compete nationally in mountain running (alas, always a few positions away from ever representing the country, but I digress), this is not a big spectator sport at all (not in England, at least, though I gather more popular in other countries such as Italy, for example). Having a big audience isn't necessary for this particular sport to sustain itself. We can still assemble healthy competition on many levels, from local competitions to World Masters events. We can still showcase the talent and bring it to the audience that is interested. I think in my opinion I'm not sure that elevating some sports to Olympic level is a necessary movement. Incredible recognition for that sport if done, of course. It is interesting that Beck notes having enough potential to finance individuals to play full time is important... I think it is worth noting many Olympians have jobs to sustain themselves aside from their careers in sport, even though they may be the best in the world.
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Hi Emily,

To be clear in return, I was and always have been addressing the "pro-gaming" aspect of the original post, which i think has been proven many times over already to be an impossibility.

The Olympics, at least in theory, are NOT pro. So really, i have no opinion on that other then to agree with others who point out that much older non-physical competitions like Chess are not considered olympic material so gaming is unlikely to be.
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Hendrik Ruhe Project Manager, Freaks 4U Gaming8 years ago
At this point I think there are two basic aspects in this argumentation:
1. Will eSports reach a point at which it becomes interesting for a mass audience?
2. Does eSports suit Olympics?

I mean: Thats something totally different in my opinion.
eSports did indeed grow in the past years. I think League of Legends hat a huge impact. Starcraft 2 is a great game which I love to watch but League of Legends reaches masses of players and viewers.
I had a talk with the German team of and they said that they can barely manage the traffic of new streams. The viewer
numbers at twitch are increasing like hell - making it already one of the biggest gaming related portals in the world. I think this proves at least the point, that games may be developed for motivating people to play - but they surely also motivate people to watch taking the number of "Let's play" into account.
eSports is not only something interesting for players: It increases the life cycle of games. A game which does not support eSports relevant features (like a spectator mode) like Battlefield 3 decreases in player numbers already really fast. But a game like League of Legends lives on thanks to the huge amount of tournaments and the big community. This makes eSports an important marketing aspect for the game industry - a future support guaranteed.

I'm sure that with this generation, eSports starts to grow in acceptance and become of higher relevance in the next years.

Still: I'm sure that eSports is no material for Olympics and maybe also not for "mass media". The reason for this is simply the fact, that streams and the wide range of channels will increase - resulting into being available on the home television. eSports will find its own place in public awareness with an increasing number of viewers - away from things like Olympics.

... reading through my comment I think it is formulated a bit messy ^^ sorry for that.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
God no, please dont let this happen.
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