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Gaming's winter wonderland

By Sun Xiaochen and Shi Futian | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-03 07:48

Gaming's winter wonderland

A gamer celebrates victory during the Cross Fire Professional League Season 9 final last year-the e-sports industry hopes that the thrill of online battle can be experienced on the Olympic stage. [Photo/Xinhua]

With e-sports jostling for Olympic admission, competitive gaming is poised to align itself closer than ever to the Games.

As part of Intel's role in "The Olympic Partner" (TOP) sponsorship program, the IT giant will stage the Intel Extreme Masters Pyeongchang tournament, featuring the world's best players of hit real-time strategy title StarCraft II, in the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

A global search for 16 finalists for the showcase has been taking place across six continents, with two hopefuls set to battle it out in a Beijing qualifying event later this month for the right to represent China in Pyeongchang.

Running in conjunction with the IEM showcase will be an exhibition of Ubisoft's extreme-sports game Steep: Road to the Olympics, the official licensed video game of Pyeongchang 2018.

Debate continues to rage over e-sports' claims to athleticism, so the International Olympic Committee and Intel are touting the pre-Games promotion as something of a topical treat.

"We are proud to have our worldwide TOP partner Intel bring this competition to Pyeongchang in the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics," said Timo Lumme, managing director of the IOC's television and marketing services.

"The IOC will now explore e-sports' relationship with the Olympic Movement further. This is just the start of an exciting future and we're interested to see how this experience will play out."

As part of the Ubisoft promotion, Intel will bring videogame kiosks featuring Steep: Road to the Olympics to sites around Pyeongchang, including the Olympic Village, to give fans and athletes a taste of winter-sports gaming.

John Bonini, vice-president and general manager of e-sports and gaming at Intel, said connecting e-sports and the Olympics will help attract new fans to the electronic competition.

"They (the IOC) recognize its growth, acknowledging e-sports as a sporting activity," Bonini said in an interview on live-streaming website Twitch in November.

StarCraft II experts are understandably excited by the development.

"I think it's a good idea," said world No 8 player Juan Carlos "SpeCIal" Tena, from Mexico.

"The potential of e-sports going to the Olympics is big. It is something I believe eventually will happen at some point."

American commentator Geoff Robinson agreed, saying: "Being associated with the Olympics will support the process of e-sports breaching into the mainstream.

"It will make people, who didn't buy it before, less hostile and less insecure (about e-sports breaching the sporting mainstream) and it will improve everyone's vibe about this thing."

The IOC is certainly warming to the idea of e-sports' Olympic inclusion.

In October, an IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne concluded that e-sports "could be considered a sporting activity".

"The players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports," an IOC statement read.

And, in April, the Olympic Council of Asia announced that it will include e-sports as an official medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

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