— Published 13 January 2023

“eSport at the Olympic Games? We are ready”

Will the future of sport be electronic? Within the Olympic movement, opinions differ. But the IOC has made no secret of it: eSport cannot be ignored. And with it, its authorities and its large community of practitioners.

Will the door to the Games be open to them soon? When will this happen? In what form? FrancsJeux interviewed one of the major players in the debate, the American Vlad Marinescu, who was re-elected at the end of last year for a new term as president of the International e-Sports Federation (IESF).

FrancsJeux: How do you see the short-term future of e-sports in the Olympic movement?

Vlad Marinescu: Thomas Bach has encouraged the international federations to get involved in eSports, especially in its simulation version. This desire is even included in the IOC’s 2020+5 agenda. It was given concrete form in 2021 with the first edition of the Olympic Virtual Series, which was more about simulation than about pure eSports. It is now quite clear that the integration of eSport, in one form or another, is part of the IOC’s plans. But it is up to the IOC to decide how to do it and what direction to take. For our part, we of course support this approach. But above all, as the international eSports federation, we want to promote the Olympic values to our community, and more broadly to young people around the world.

Is it possible for eSport to be included in the Olympic programme?

We are ready. Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, later… The IESF is ready to work with the IOC to organise the presence of eSports in the Olympic Games. The day the IOC decides, we will be ready to set up a qualification process. I don’t know where the IOC is in its willingness to move forward on this issue, but we are open to any form of collaboration, to further increase the number of viewers around the Olympic Games, but also to educate young people about traditional sports, physical activity and health.

Will you be present, in one way or another, at the Paris 2024 Games?

Personally, I will be present via my favourite sport, judo, as I have been working for the international federation (IJF) since 2007. As far as e-sports are concerned, nothing has been decided yet, the discussion is open. But we have to be honest, there is no indication today that there is a majority within the e-sports community in favour of participating in the Games. The majority of e-sports enthusiasts know little about the Games and the Olympic rings. There is a lot of education to be done together, hand in hand, in the interest of the youth.

Doesn’t the road to the Olympic Games pass through the intermediate stages of the continental games?

We are present at the Asian Games, where the IESF has collaborated on several occasions with the Association of Asian Olympic Committees (OCA). We made our debut in Incheon in 2014, where eSport was featured as a demonstration sport. Four years later, in Jakarta, a dedicated eSports event was held as part of the Asian Games. We will take the next step forward at the next edition, in China in 2023, where eSport will be fully integrated into the programme, with medal events like all other disciplines. But the process of integrating continental, European or Pan-American games, for example, is not ours. It is the responsibility of our continental bodies. They have the experience, the network and the community to make it happen.

Could the Youth Olympic Games be used as a laboratory, before a possible entry into the Olympic programme?

Once again, the decision is not ours, it is the IOC’s. I don’t pretend to influence them in any way on what they want to show at the Youth Games or at any other event. All I can say is that, as an international federation, we are ready to support any initiative, to work with the IOC and other stakeholders in the Olympic movement.

Are you in regular contact with David Lappartient, the President of the International Cycling Union, who is in charge of overseeing the eSports issue for the IOC?

We worked with David Lappartient in the framework of the Liaison Group on eSport formed at the initiative of the IOC. The IESF was a member. We will continue to support him. Davis Lappartient did a fantastic job with the UCI to develop, in collaboration with Zwift, an electronic version of cycling. But it turns out that an electronic version of an existing sport does not usually attract a new audience. Nor does it encourage young people to take up a sport. The people who take part in online, Zwift or connected cycling are the same people who take part in the traditional form of the sport. To attract young people to sport, we need to work closely with the eSport community and stakeholders to familiarise young people with the values of sport and then motivate them to try it, using the influencers in the field. At the last World eSports Championships in Bali in December 2022, we offered a daily physical activity every morning – yoga, running, stretching… – to the 600 athletes from over 105 countries. This allowed them to start their day with some form of physical preparation.

At the end of the year you were re-elected as President of the IESF. What are the priorities of your new mandate?

First of all, the unity of the entire eSports community, with a national federation in each country, a continental confederation and an international body. This unity must be accompanied by close cooperation with the game publishers. We have been working with them for 14 years, when we organised the first world championship. We will continue to do so, because it is essential that all the players in the ecosystem move in the same direction. I want to help them lead a healthier life, play sport, eat better and find their place in society. Finally, we must increase exchanges, collaborations and joint initiatives with the international sports movement outside the eSport sphere. The IOC, first and foremost, but also NGOs, the United Nations… If we manage to achieve all these objectives in the next three years, we will have taken the right direction to strengthen a young, dynamic and intelligent eSports community.