James Diamond

With the New Year just three days away, I think it is fair to say 2018 has been an eventful year for the Olympic Movement.

Russia’s ban was ended, although it could soon be reapplied if the Russian Anti-Doping Agency is declared non-compliant again,, North and South Korea competed together in an Olympics for the first time in Pyeongchang and now say they will do so again at Tokyo 2020.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah temporarily stepped down as President of the Association of National Olympic Committee’s and, tragically, International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Patrick Baumann passed away unexpectedly in Buenos Aires.

Then, on top of all of that, the IOC started a formal relationship with the esports community with the thinking being that it could, one day, join the Olympic programme.

To the relief of many, admittedly including me, the IOC released a statement earlier this month saying talk of it becoming a medal event was "premature".

The IOC declared talk of esports joining the Olympics as
The IOC declared talk of esports joining the Olympics as "premature" following their Olympic Summit in Lausanne ©IOC

I have argued before that despite the name, esports are not actually sport at all, and in their statement, the IOC revealed that at the moment at least, they seem to agree.

"It was agreed that competitive gaming entails physical activity which can be compared to that required in more traditional sports," they said.

"This, on the other hand, cannot necessarily be said to apply to leisure electronic gaming.

"For this reason, the use of the term ‘sport’ with regard to esports/egames needs further dialogue and study."

With that, any likelihood of esports joining the Olympics in time for Los Angeles 2028, as many seemed to think it might, evaporated.

However, you can be sure there will come a time when the debate reignites, and when it does, if given enough time, by that point esports could well deserve its place in the Games.

Now bear with me on this…

Fully immersive virtual reality as shown in the Hollywood blockbuster
Fully immersive virtual reality as shown in the Hollywood blockbuster "Ready Player One" could be available soon ©Getty Images

So the primary argument against esports inclusion now is the lack of any active element to the games.

As New Zealand’s BMX rider and IOC Athletes’ Commission member Sarah Walker told me at the Esports Forum in Lausanne in July, the first step for anyone wanting to get into competitive gaming at the moment, "is to go home and sit on the couch".

Some professional esports players themselves might be fit, but they didn’t gain their fitness playing League of Legends and that’s a big problem for the IOC.

But what if you really did have to be fit to have any chance in competitive esports?

What if esports games really did become sport in their own right?

Recently while out for a curry I was discussing the movie Ready Player One with my dad, which if you haven’t seen it, depicts a near future where everyone is bored of the real world and so they live out their lives in a virtual reality (VR) universe instead.

In the movie, practically everyone on Earth owns a VR headset and omni treadmills allow them run and sprint in all directions without the risk of ever running into a wall in the real world.

Omni directional treadmills are already available, at a price ©Getty Images
Omni directional treadmills are already available, at a price ©Getty Images

Now in fairness that on its own, the idea of widely used VR headsets and omni treadmills is not particularly far-fetched, seeing as both already exist.

On top of that, the headsets in the movie are so advanced they beam their output directly into the users retina so there’s no chance of ever feeling sick from staring at a screen for too long, and special "haptic suits" allow the user to really feel whatever is happening in the VR world as if it was taking place in reality.

The premise and the technologies featured seemed to me to be decades, perhaps even centuries down the road, if indeed they were possible at all.

But a quick google search after the curry taught me that all the technologies featured in Ready Player One are not only possible, not only likely in the near future, in every case they already exist today. 

As well as the treadmills, various companies including Tesla are already making haptic suits and an early version of visual output being beamed directly into the eye is already being tested in smart glasses such as those made by Google.

At the moment such products are all very rare and hugely expensive.

Yet they could become available on a mass-produced scale even sooner than the movie - which is based in 2045 - suggested.

In May the American business magazine Forbes published an interview with the general manager of VR firm Vive Studios, in which this exact topic was discussed.

In the piece, Joel Bretton says he thinks the technologies shown in Ready Player One will all be available in just "seven to 10 years".

"By then we will certainly have full haptic feedback, 64K resolution displaying at 120 FPS (frames per second), and 8G bandwidth at consumer friendly price-points," he told Forbes.

"With that kind of firepower, we will be very close to launching worlds as expansive and immersive as the Oasis [the name of the film’s virtual world] in Ready Player One."

Today's Overwatch League is already popular enough to fill vast arenas ©Getty Images
Today's Overwatch League is already popular enough to fill vast arenas ©Getty Images

So, in other words, in less than a decade the VR industry is likely to grow on a phenomenal scale, and the industry is already massive.

To put it into context, by 2020 the esports industry is expected to be worth $905 million (£692 million/€778 million).

VR in contrast, is expected to be worth $150 billion (£118 billion/€131 billion).

That’s 165 times as big.

Now, purely for the sake of argument, if we set the benchmark at 2045 because that’s when Ready Player One is set, then it seems almost certain that  in 27 years time fully immersive VR games, where you have to run, sprint, jump, perhaps even fight, to win, will exist.

To be victorious, you wouldn’t just have to be good on a keyboard or quick with a mouse as is the case at the moment. In these new games, all round physical fitness would be essential.

Speed, agility and strength would be fundamental.

The big esports franchises like the Overwatch League already attract audiences of thousands to watch live matches and millions more follow the action on online streams.

Imagine how many people would watch some sort of real life Hunger Games without the violence?

Literally any scenario you could possibly think of would suddenly be possible and none of them would just involve sitting on a sofa.

The best players would have to be faster, higher, stronger than anyone else.

Now where have we heard that before?