2020 feels like a watershed moment for video games. For a long time, esports fans have been calling for gaming to be formalised as part of the Olympic Games.
In 2020, we're going to see the first meaningful steps towards gaming being part of the Olympics, and two of this generation's most notable games have been chosen to represent our industry to the wider world: Street Fighter V and Rocket League.
In the run-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Intel announced earlier this year it would be sponsoring a massive, Olympic-endorsed event with a prize pool of $250k for each game.
The upcoming event is called the Intel World Open, and it takes place from July 22-24 (leading up to the exact day the Olympics kick off).
This is an esports event unlike any other, too – it's open to anyone. Literally anyone can apply and get selected if they're good enough – you don't need sponsorship, you don't need to be a name in the esports scene, you don't need to be an established figure.
"As a Capcom rep, our hopes and goals in teaming up with the Olympic Association with this kind of tournament, on this kind of scale, is that people will know about esports and Street Fighter more, sure, but we want to reduce the barrier to entry for people," Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono tells Daily Star via interpreter.
"The way we’ve been doing esports events until now – it’s all quite demanding.
"You need sponsors to cover your travel, you need the time to actually be able to attend the event, you need backup players, you need people to be signing contracts and doing all this work… Surely there are lots of players whose skills are great, but they don’t have the opportunity or resources to take part in competitions like this."
Ono points out that Tokyo Games Show 2018, a Capcom tournament saw relatively unknown Street Fighter players enter – and progress quite far. It energised the scene, and demonstrated to the world at large that you don't need to be a pro to be in with a chance of winning.
"One guy in particular – he’d never been seen before," Ono explained.
"People were like ‘wow, who is this guy?’ He got to the top 8 of the tournament. He didn’t win – I think his nerves got to him, he wasn’t used to the real-world spectatorship of several thousand people – but a year later, he’s back with sponsors in place and he’s ready to break into the professional world."
Ono argues that introducing new people into the fighting game community in this way is healthy for the scene, opposing the argument that it 'dilutes' the player pool (an argument you often hear in Pro message boards and Discord channels).
"I think the community will only get stronger by using an open structure for this tournament. Personally, I’m excited to see the huge pool of undiscovered talent that will come up this event. The open structure allows players that don’t necessarily have the resources – time, money and so on – to take part in the Capcom Pro Tour type tournaments.
"Some people get the impression that by saying ‘anyone can play’, there’s going to be this pool of unskilled players joining in with the pros, but actually I see it as us saying ‘let’s find who has pro level skills, who hasn’t had chance to show them off yet’.
"The kind of people we’re going to uncover in the process… that’s the most exciting thing for me."
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In true Olympics fashion, the Intel World Open is open to anybody around the world to enter. A lot of esports events focus on select regions, and – generally – are pretty Western-focused.
Capcom and Intel are ensuring this isn't the case with the Intel World Open. The partners want to ensure that the competition lives up to the spirit of the Olympics, celebrating international talent and good sportsmanship, connecting players without borders.
"The way we’re grouping the regions means that anyone, from pretty much anywhere in the world, will get a chance to join in and compete," Ono says proudly.
"Even Europe being broken into two groups to accommodate all the various regions – that shows how serious we are about making this truly international.
"There are incredibly talented players hidden away all around the world, and we want to offer them the chance to get their time in the limelight."
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Ono is clearly proud of what Capcom is doing with this event. A partnership with the Olympic Association, in his mind at least, legitimises Street Fighter as a brand to the mainstream audience, and proves that gaming (and esports, in particular) are on the cusp of capturing public imagination.
"If you told me back when I joined Capcom in the 90s that I’d be here talking to international press, ultimately under the Olympic banner… I wouldn't have believed you," laughs Ono.
"It makes me incredibly proud. The Olympics is not just legacy – it’s history. And to be able to lift Street Fighter to those terms is incredible."
Ono smiles and laughs and continues: "For the first time in a long time, I feel this is the sort of thing my parents can be proud of me for achieving in my work."
The Intel World Open is taking place from July 22-24, and you can learn everything you need to know about taking part here .
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