Video games in the Olympics? Here’s how it might work

AP
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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) The future of the Olympics may just be in a basement in Turkmenistan.

With leading Olympic figures considering a possible role for competitive computer games – known as esports – at the 2024 Games in Paris, a pan-Asian competition in the ex-Soviet state offers a possible vision of the future.

Including esports could give the Olympics a younger audience and a huge revenue boost from a rapidly growing market, but would be deeply controversial.

The Olympic Council of Asia included esports as an official demonstration event at its Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games this week, with teams from China and nine other nations battling in four games ranging from space combat in “StarCraft II” to card-game strategy in “Hearthstone.”

Supporters of esports in the Olympics say their event is a real sporting contest, one which prizes strategy and lightning reactions over physical agility.

“It needs different skillsets from different people,” competitor Jess Joaustine Tamboboy from the Philippines told The Associated Press. “It doesn’t really have a physical requirement because you can see around us the players are short and tall, maybe a little bit thin, maybe a little bit fat. But all they have in order to qualify to play for these types of titles are just their cognitive or mind skills.”

Esports aren’t a natural fit for Turkmenistan, one of the poorer ex-Soviet nations, though one where internet access is growing rapidly.

The rules weren’t explained in the local language, but that didn’t turn off the crowd of up to 200 in the windowless basement of a sports arena from cheering and whooping at a particularly spectacular kill or skillful strategy.

Still, the attendance was tiny compared to big pro esports events, which can pack thousands into traditional sports arenas, and it didn’t make much of a splash online. Fewer than 50 viewers at a time watched some opening-round matches Monday on Twitch, a leading game streaming service that regularly attracts tens of thousands of concurrent viewers to its more popular streams.

If esports make it to the Paris Olympics, it would redefine what Olympic sport is meant to be.

The International Olympic Committee has previously resisted calls to add “mind sports” like chess that don’t involve physical exertion, or events where machines are key, like auto racing.

Deciding which games to pick is fraught, too. The IOC has a sponsorship deal with Chinese company Alibaba, which has major esports interests, but rival firms have their own popular brands.

The IOC also fears violent games would hurt the Olympics’ image.

IOC president Thomas Bach told the South China Morning Post, an Alibaba-owned newspaper, earlier this month that he’d prefer sports simulations.

“We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line,” he said.

All four of the games on the program this week in Turkmenistan featured some form of combat, though in fantasy settings with cartoon-style animation techniques. There weren’t any realistic military-themed shooting games on the program.

Bach also said esports needs a firmer structure. The IOC is used to dealing with a single governing body for each sport, like FIFA for soccer or the International Gymnastics Federation. Esports has its own international federation, but with limited influence over a web of private interests including games publishers, competition organizers and players’ teams.

The event in Turkmenistan showed how that system doesn’t yet fit smoothly with the Olympic movement.

IOC sponsor Alibaba’s Alisports division was in charge of the event, and used an open online qualifying system. That prompted federations from Australia and South Korea to boycott, saying athletes should have been picked by their national Olympic committees in the manner of a traditional sport.

If esports make it to the Olympics, other potential problems for the IOC include criticism it’s moving away from promoting a healthy lifestyle, and that it’s ignoring poorer countries where fast computers and brand-new games are unaffordable.

Esports would also mean the IOC allowing private companies to set the rules of its competitions.

Most traditional sports treat the rules with reverence, only occasionally tinkering around the edges. Not so for games publishers, who routinely mix things up to attract new players and keep things fresh.

Adding just one new character can reshape the whole “meta” – the game’s constantly evolving web of tactics and counter-tactics.

Senior figures in the IOC and the esports world have publicly doubted esports will be ready for an Olympic debut in seven years’ time.

“We are still some way away from our vision and we need to start on the right foot,” Asian Esports Federation president Kenneth Fok said last week. “For esports to develop in a positive banner, we need the full support of each and every NOC, their government, and more importantly the general public to have a positive perception of electronic sports.”

Ellingworth reported from Moscow.

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MORE: North Korea qualifies for PyeongChang Winter Olympics

After an Olympic medal, Ryan Cochran-Siegle sets new goal going into Beaver Creek

Ryan Cochran-Siegle
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For all Ryan Cochran-Siegle accomplished in one special super-G last season — coming back from breaking his neck the year before in the world’s most daunting race to winning the U.S.’ lone Olympic Alpine skiing medal — he prefers to view that winter as a whole.

“It was kind of, I think, still a learning year,” he said in a recent interview. “I realize there was some definitely shortcomings as well [as success] with my races. I think I have a lot more to prove going forward.”

Notably, Cochran-Siegle said his downhill form wasn’t where he wanted it to be. After notching the U.S. men’s first World Cup downhill podium in nearly four years in the 2020-21 season, his best finish in the discipline last season before his Olympic super-G silver medal was sixth at Beaver Creek, Colorado, last December.

“I’d like to get my downhill skiing back to where it was the year prior,” he said. “I ended up doing well by the end of the year, but I think still missing the podium and all that, I’m trying to get more consistent.”

Cochran-Siegle returns to Beaver Creek for the annual Birds of Prey World Cup stop — airing on NBC Sports and Peacock this weekend — as the top hope to extend one American streak and to end one American drought.

The U.S. men’s Alpine team notched at least one World Cup podium every calendar year from 1999 through 2021. It was a regularity in the 2000s and early 2010s between Bode Miller and Ted Ligety. It hasn’t happened often recently, and not at all in 2022 with one month left. But there are plenty of opportunities, starting with a super-G on Friday and downhills Saturday and Sunday on home snow.

Americans often post their best results at Beaver Creek. Last year in a super-G, Travis Ganong picked up his first World Cup podium in nearly five years. In 2019, Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup victory in a giant slalom.

But it has been eight years (five races, more specifically) since an American made a downhill podium at Beaver Creek, the nation’s longest drought since it became an annual World Cup stop in 2004.

Cochran-Siegle opened the speed season last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, by posting the best American finish of ninth in a downhill. It was his best result ever at Lake Louise, but it wasn’t satisfying.

“As a team we recognize today was a little bit of a letdown all said and done,” he said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I think we’re definitely more capable than that.”

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Figure skating TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 season

Ilia Malinin
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NBC Sports, USA Network, E! and Peacock combine to air live coverage throughout the figure skating season, starting with Skate America in two weeks.

From October to April, the platforms will combine to air more than 200 hours of coverage, including the Grand Prix Series (October to December), the U.S. Championships in January and the world championships in March.

Peacock will live stream coverage of every event at those major competitions throughout the season.

All NBC, USA and E! coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

Figure skating experienced more change this year than any other in recent history.

Russian skaters are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. None of the reigning Olympic gold medalists are entered in the fall Grand Prix Series. Yuzuru HanyuAlysa Liu and the ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue retired.

Enter American Ilia Malinin, the 17-year-old world junior champion who last month became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quadruple Axel in competition. Malinin and Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan duel at Skate America, the first top-level event of the season.

The U.S. also has the top returning ice dance couple of Madison Chock and Evan Bates, reigning world pairs’ champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and Isabeau Levito (15) and Lindsay Thorngren (16), who took gold and bronze at last season’s junior worlds.

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2022-23 Figure Skating Season Broadcast Schedule

Date Competition Time (ET) Platform
Oct. 21 Skate America 7:20-8:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 21 Skate America 7:30-10:30 p.m. USA Network
Oct. 21 Skate America 8:45-10:30 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 2:40-4:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 3-6 p.m. NBC
Oct. 22 Skate America 4:15-6 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 7:15-8:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 8-11 p.m. USA Network
Oct. 22 Skate America 9-11 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 23 Skate America 1-2:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 23 Skate America 3-5 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 23 Skate America 2-5 p.m. E!
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 2-3:30 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 3:45-5:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 6:45-8 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 8-9:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 1:15-3:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 3:25-5 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 6-7:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 7:30-9:30 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 30 Skate Canada Noon-1:30 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 8-9:30 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 10-11:20 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 1:45-3 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France 8-10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France 10:10-11:45 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France Noon-2 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France 2:10-3 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 6 Internationaux de France 10 a.m.-Noon E!*
Nov. 12 Internationaux de France 2:30-4 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 11 Grand Prix: England 1-2:05 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 11 Grand Prix: England 2:25-4 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 8:45-10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 10:20 a.m.-Noon Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 1:30-2:50 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 3-5 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 13 Grand Prix: England 6:15-8:05 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 13 Grand Prix: England 8:20-10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 13 Grand Prix: England 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 17 NHK Trophy 10:30-11:40 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 12:15-1:50 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 2:15-3:35 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 5-6:35 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 10-11:20 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 19 NHK Trophy 11:50 p.m.-1:40 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 19 NHK Trophy 2:50-4:25 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 19 NHK Trophy 5:30-7:20 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 20 NHK Trophy 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 25 Grand Prix: Finland 6-7:05 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 25 Grand Prix: Finland 7:50-9:20 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 25 Grand Prix: Finland 10:45 a.m.-12:20 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 26 Grand Prix: Finland 12:40-2 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 26 Grand Prix: Finland 5:45-7:05 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 26 Grand Prix: Finland 7:20-9:10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 27 Grand Prix: Finland 11:15 a.m.-1:05 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 27 Grand Prix: Finland 1:25-3 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 27 Grand Prix: Finland 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Dec. 8 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 1:15-2:15 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 8 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 2:30-3:30 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 1:45-2:45 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 3-4 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 7:30-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 6:30-7:30 a.m. E!*
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 7:30-8:30 a.m. E!
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 8:30-9:30 a.m. E!*
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 1:40-2:40 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 3-4 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 11 Grand Prix: Final (Torino) 3:30-6 p.m. NBC*
Jan. 26 U.S. Championships 7-9 p.m. USA Network
Jan. 26 U.S. Championships 9:30 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Jan. 26 U.S. Championships 10 p.m.-Midnight USA Network
Jan. 27 U.S. Championships 4:30-7 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 U.S. Championships 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Jan. 27 U.S. Championships 8-11 p.m. NBC
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 5-7 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 7-8 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Jan. 29 U.S. Championships 2:15-6 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 29 U.S. Championships 3-6 p.m. NBC
Feb. 5 U.S. Championships 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Jan. 25 European Championships 5:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 25 European Championships 10:20 a.m.-4 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 25 European Championships 2-4 p.m. E!
Jan. 26 European Championships 5-11 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 26 European Championships 9-11 a.m. E!
Jan. 26 European Championships Noon-3 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 European Championships 5-10 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 European Championships 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 European Championships 1-3 p.m. E!
Jan. 28 European Championships 6-10 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 28 European Championships 8-10 a.m. E!
Jan. 28 European Championships 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 5 European Championships 2-4 p.m. NBC*
Feb. 9 Four Continents Championships 2-6 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 9 Four Continents Championships 8 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 8 a.m.-Noon USA Network*
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 1:15-3:30 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 4:25-7 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 8 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Feb. 11 Four Continents Championships Noon-2 p.m. E!*
Feb. 11 Four Continents Championships 4:25-7 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 11 Four Continents Championships 8 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Feb. 12 Four Continents Championships 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. E!*
Feb. 12 Four Continents Championships 3-6 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 19 Four Continents Championships Noon-2 p.m. NBC*
Mar. 21 World Championships 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 22 World Championships 1:45-8 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 22 World Championships 6-8 a.m. USA Network
Mar. 22 World Championships 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 23 World Championships 1:45-8 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 23 World Championships 6-8 a.m. USA Network
Mar. 23 World Championships 8-10 a.m. USA Network*
Mar. 23 World Championships 9:45 p.m.-3:15 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 24 World Championships 4:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 24 World Championships 6:30-8:30 a.m. USA Network
Mar. 24 World Championships 11:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 25 World Championships 4:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 25 World Championships 6:30-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 25 World Championships 8-10 p.m. NBC*
Apr. 9 World Championships 3-6 p.m. NBC*
Apr. 4 World Synchronized Skating Championships Noon-2 p.m. USA Network*
*taped coverage