Video game lovers from across the globe might be able to go for the gold by playing e-sports in the Paris Olympics.
Earlier this week, Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee, said there will be talks with e-sports representatives about the possibility of gaming being included in the 2024 Olympic lineup.
Ryan Pallett, president of the Toronto Esports Club, said the popularity of e-sports is on the rise, with some tournament prizes reaching more than $1-million and viewership that rivals some major league sporting events.
"A lot of tournaments are held in sporting stadiums, they often sell out up to 20, 30, 40,000 live attendees, and the crowds are cheering and just as passionate as traditional sports fans," Pallett told the Calgary Eyeopener.
"I guess the only main difference is that instead of watching the athletes, mostly you're watching the action on a screen instead."
Best of the best
There are only a handful of video games in contention to become Olympic e-sports, said Pallett, including League of Legends and Counter-Strike.
Pallett said the League of Legends championships was watched by a staggering 46 million viewers online.
"The NBA finals this past year I think was 44 million at its peak. So I think that's what spurred this on in the first place is that people are starting to see how popular this is among young people," Pallett said.
Just like big names in traditional sports, Pallett said there are "rock stars" in the gaming community, including League of Legends' reigning champion Lee Sang-hyeok, better known by his user name, "Faker."
"(Faker) has sort of like a multi-million dollar contract and sponsorship deals," Pallett said. "And the same applies for dozens players around the world, including Canadian players and North American players in different games."
The next e-sports star could even be Canadian, as Pallett said colder countries tend to do better in international competitions because gamers are inside practising when the weather turns sour.
Case in point, Regina's Mathew Fiorante won a share of a $1-million prize last year in winning the world's largest tournament for the science-fiction game Halo.
From physical to digital
Pallett said e-sports athletes undergo a lot of preparation to become an e-sport professionals. But Pallett said their training includes more than just logging hours on the computer.
"These players train 12, 14 hours a day and that includes physical training as well," Pallett said. "They go to the gym every day, they take care of their diets."
A physician as well as an e-sports advocate, Pallett said "physical fitness helps mental performance" and staying healthy helps gives e-sports players an edge on their competition.
Pallett said he is hopeful e-sports will become an Olympic event for the Paris 2024 games, but added gaming would probably do better in the Winter Olympics.
E-sports have already been embraced by the Asian Games and will become a full sport in the games by 2022.
Paris will be confirmed as 2024 hosts at an International Olympic Committee gathering in Lima, Peru, next month.
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- With files from the Calgary Eyeopener