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Who’s Is Snubbing Who? Esports, the IOC, and International Federations Need to Listen to Each Other Closely

While the rest of the world focused on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) recent decision to add five esports to a pre-Olympic Tokyo Summer Games stage, some in the esports space may have wondered why the premier Esports Federations were left out of the conversation.

The five Olympic Virtual Series (OVS) games added are auto racing, baseball, cycling, rowing, and sailing. Each respected OVS game, like “eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020”, will be matched up with its respected IF, in this case, the World Baseball Softball Confederation. Other IFs include the International Cycling Union, World Rowing Federation, International Automobile Federation, and World Sailing, which will oversee the respected games in their sport.

According to Insidethegames, the IOC informed the two leading esports organizations, the Global Esports Federation (GEF) and the International eSports Federation (IeSF), prior to the announcement, they were not going to be selected as the recognized International Federation at this time.

Melvin Kuek, GEF Senor Advisor was “not surprised or troubled” by the IOC’s decision. “Becoming the International Federation is one of many goals for us”. In fact, Kuek added, “the IeSF has been around a lot longer than us and there is more than enough room for everyone to co-exist.” Kuek is correct. The IeSF, a South Korean-based entity, was set up in 2008, while the GEF, a relatively new Singapore-based organization, was established in 2019. Both federations have a similar mission, to have esports recognized as a legitimate sport.

Where they begin to differ, according to Boban Totovski, General Secretary of the IeSF, is “we are truly the only organization that meets the statutory requirements by having over 50 countries, conducting a world championship, and being a non-profit.” While Totovski believes “it makes sense what the IOC did,” he does think eventually an IF for esports will need to be selected. The entity that oversees the IF application process is the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), and not the IOC.

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However, not all esports companies believe an IF is eventually necessary or welcomed. Rupert Svendon-Cook, founder of Voloce, an organization that operates gaming and racing, was happy to see a lack of IF recognition. “Since gaming is a counter-culture, I don’t think we need a federation that will try to regulate us.” Svendon-Cook is worried that having “too much structure could be counter-productive to the growth and engagement of the community.”

Lance Mudd, the Sport Director of the U.S. eSports Federation believes just the opposite. An IF needs to be selected to “make sure a safe eco-system exists”. Mudd should know because he pitched the esports concept as a non-Olympic official event back in 2015. “While I am glad to see movement on this concept, I do worry about the gamers. Just like the current NIL issue with the NCAA players not getting paid for their images, the gamers will need to have a voice and the game publishers are worried about this shift.”

Just who would glean more from a relationship between the IOC and esports remains unanswered at this time. With the five OVS coming soon, it is clear that esports are gaining legitimacy worldwide, but only time will tell whether the relationship, or lack thereof, between the IOC and esports IF’s, will unify and strengthen, or hinder, this trajectory of growth.

Research by Jason Re, George Washington Law School student

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