Pop quiz: If you were putting together some kind of Olympic esports event, what games would you feature? Perhaps Dota 2? League of Legends? Counter-Strike? Hell, you could throw Quake 3 Arena in there and really put on a show worth seeing.
You probably wouldn’t feature such legendary titles as Tic Tac Bow (opens in new tab), a free-to-play mobile game that released last month and currently enjoys a rating of 1.9 out of 5 on the Google Play Store. Nor would you choose Tennis Clash (opens in new tab), whose most recent reviews criticise it for “malicious and predatory” loot box mechanics. And only the most determined racing enthusiasts would try to crowbar in Gran Turismo, which—although it has a more recognisable title than the other two—has yet to acquire its own Liquipedia (opens in new tab) hub page.
But that’s where mere mortals like you and me differ from Olympic organisers, who have chosen to feature all these games as part of the upcoming Olympic Esports Week (opens in new tab), taking place in Singapore from June 22 to 25 this year. They’re not the only games that’ll put in an appearance, either. Audiences around the world will thrill as challengers compete in Just Dance, Chess (via Chess.com), and Zwift, a Peloton-like indoor-cycling enthusiast app. Rounding things out, participants will also compete in Virtual Taekwondo, Virtual Regatta, and WBSC eBaseball: Power Pros (opens in new tab) (which only costs 99 cents on Switch and PS4, so congrats to the organisers for nabbing a bargain).
It’s worth noting these games aren’t being added to the Olympic Games themselves—Olympic Esports Week is just an event being put on by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—but it’s still a pretty baffling selection of games if you know even the slightest bit about actual esports.
I mean, sure, you probably can’t expect the literal Olympics to suddenly begin staging full-on matches of League of Legends, as funny as that would be. Both audiences and organisers need to be introduced to the idea that virtual sports can still be sports, and using virtual recreations of already existing events is a good way to bridge that gap. But you can surely do better than some microtransaction-riddled mobile games, a cycling app, and Just Dance.
I’ve reached out to the organisers for comment on this story, and I’ll update this piece if I hear back.
It all feels like it was pulled out of a hat, producing something that will mystify traditional sports fans and disappoint esports devotees, but perhaps it’s a clumsy sign of things to come. Interest in the Olympics has cratered (opens in new tab) in recent years, and it’s likely that organisers are desperately scrabbling around for something to recapture people’s interest. It probably won’t be Tic Tac Bow, but perhaps these strange mobile games are just the first step on a road that eventually sees esports that people actually care about at Olympic-affiliated events, or even the Olympics themselves.