Will there ever be a Olympic medal for 'Call of Duty'? - Macleans.ca

Will there ever be a Olympic medal for ‘Call of Duty’?

Video gamers are waging a long, blistering battle to compete in future Games

Will there ever be a Olympic medal for Call of Duty?

"Little Poison" (right) is the youngest professional gamer. (Photo by Tom Henheffer)

Snowboarding made it into the Olympics just over a decade ago. Golf, which is far less physically demanding, will be in the next Summer Games. And it’s a running joke that seniors can win medals now that curling, or “chess on ice” is a medal sport. So why can’t eye-strained video gamers have shot at the gold?

“Gaming has its place in the world stage,” says Ted Owen, CEO of the Global Gaming League, an organization that ranks and provides a social network for players. “Gaming deserves to be an Olympic sport.” In 2008, Owen signed a deal with the Chinese Olympic Committee to include a gaming tournament as an official welcome event in Beijing, and says the International Olympic Committee has expressed interest in making it a permanent part of the Games.

“It’s the same skills as if you were a hockey player or a baseball player, anything like that,” says Matt Wood, a former pro gamer. “Mostly it’s mental. You don’t have a good mental game, you could be the best player, and all of a sudden you’re on stage, on live TV or with cameras in your face, and if you get nervous, you’re going to lose.” Wood used to compete for the first-ever salaried and televised video game league, the Championship Gaming Series (CGS). “They made a league kind of like the NHL or MLB, they tried to make a professional sport. They had a draft, they had general managers and franchises.”

The league seemed to come along at the perfect time. In the U.S. alone the video game industry brought in over $22 billion in 2008—an almost 25 per cent growth over the previous year. That’s more than triple the $6.5 billion made by the NFL over the same period, which was $50 million less than the league’s projected revenue.  Plus gaming’s athletic stature got a huge boost last year—it’s now China’s 99th official sport.

Garrett Bambrough used to play for CGS. He’s a pro gamer who specializes in Counterstrike, a military themed shoot ‘em up. He’s also a six-foot-three personal trainer—and has the build of a pro hockey player. “People see me, they don’t know me as a gamer,” he says. “Everyone has this idea that if you play games your some 30-year-old overweight guy who doesn’t go outside.” He says eSports—as gaming is sometimes called—aren’t physical in a traditional sense, but that they require all the strategy, mental toughness and hand-eye coordination needed to race bobsled or throw a curling stone. “When you’re watching the game you just see a guy shooting the gun. But you are thinking 24/7,” he says. “You do individual practices, you work on your aim, you watch demos of other teams to try to get new moves and to try and get smarter.” Both Wood and Bambrough would love to see gaming in the Olympics, either as a medal or demonstration sport, but acknowledge the resistance.

Ross Rebagliati is the first person to win an Olympic medal for snowboarding, taking home the gold in the 1998 winter games—plus, he was brought up on video games. Yet, he says gaming shouldn’t be considered a sport for anyone  capable of normal physical activity. “It would be like, in the Paralympics, having athletes running in the wheelchair endurance races who don’t need to be in a wheelchair.” Rebagliati started carving the hills before snowboards were even allowed on ski runs, so he knows what it’s like to fight for Olympic recognition. But, he says, the line has to be drawn somewhere. “Sport has to have some kind of physical act.”

Owen’s got plenty of hurdles ahead in gaming’s road to Olympic status. CGS folded when sponsors pulled out as the recession hit. The protests and controversy surrounding the games in Beijing led the Chinese government to cancel non-essential Olympic events, including GGLs tournament. Owen tried to pique the IOC’s interest again for the 2010 games in Vancouver—they wouldn’t bite. But he won’t give up. He says pro gamers are treated like celebrities in Asian countries such as China and Korea, and that the popularity of eSports is growing quickly in Europe. Pro gaming is still in its infancy in the rest of the world, but he says he’ll keep lobbying and that it’s only a matter of time until gamers are up on the podium.


Will there ever be a Olympic medal for ‘Call of Duty’?

  1. Doesn't the word, "sport," imply physical activity requiring a conditioned body? If not, poker should be an Olympic sport. Tea brewing should be an Olympic sport. Sleeping. Belching. Shaving. All you need is a league.

    • There's a league for shaving?

  2. Anyone who claims that golf is not a difficult sport to master, clearly has never swung a club. It may not require the physical exertion of hockey, or figure skating, but it's damn tough to do. There's more to it than meets the eye.

    I don't know much about the sport of bobsledding, but even though it doesn't look like the second and third guys in the 4-man bobsled do anything except run for 10 yards at the top of the track, I imagine there's a lot to it.

    I am, however, still pissed that snowboard half pipe is in the Olympics. I find it hard to take a sport seriously when the contestants are fiddling with their iPods just before the run so they can get the right tunes on. Also, there should be a push to have fewer judge-based sports (as opposed to results-based) in the games.

    • Your argument for golf is the exact same as that for snowboard half-pipe, bobsledding, and, yes, videogames.

      Myself, I'd argue for snowboard half-pipe, bobsledding, and against golf and videogames. To me, sport implies some level of physical exertion that most people haven't the ability to perform.

      Golf and videogames are not sports. They are certainly games of skill, and I won't argue that the level of skill required in top tier golf is anything less than outstanding, but they lack the raw physicality that I think a sport should require.

  3. This is a joke and would make a farce of the games. Just because something requires skill doesn't make it a sport.

  4. If competitive gaming is to make it to the olympics it needs to taken there by a group of dedicated people, not a company looking for cheap PR (GGL have been losing staff and money for some time now…)

    Side note: CGS didn't fold due to sponsors dropping out, it folded because its parent company (News Corp) decided it was not a feasible business.

  5. It makes you wonder what else is being submitted to include in the olympics. Maybe origami, or speed reading. Or maybe even female ski jumpers? I would think that if there aren't female ski jumpers, there aren't going to be more abstract "sports" included yet.

  6. how do you ever fight out when they have tournaments or stuff like that for cod because thats one of my favorite games of all time and im good at it..


  7. That sounds too weird to include video game in Olympic, the greatest show on earth. But if we see video game in Olympic that will make a lot of interest among the game lovers. That will be a fairly well initiative. But it will be like some funny jokes.

  8. Why would we put video games in the olympics? That’s for sports. Video games are not a sport, and there is no reason for it in the Olympics.

    However, a real event for gaming would be great. It would be even better if they didn’t exclusively include first-person shooters. However it has no place in the Olympics. It’s not a physical activity, it’s not a sport in any way, and anyone who is watching the Olympic games regularly would be very disappointed.