Last week, Finland became yet another country to officially recognize esports as, well, a sport. While the Finnish Sports Confederation had previously recognized esports as being legitimate, the bigger obstacle has been getting acknowledgement by the Finnish Olympic Committee. Now, the Finnish Esports Federation has been accepted as an associate member of that committee, meaning that the world of esports officially has a seat at the Olympic table in Finland.
So what does this mean for the Finnish Esports Federation? Alex Lim, the secretary general for the IeSF, gave a glimpse of what the organization’s next steps might be, now that their main task of getting recognized has been accomplished: “Receiving recognition from the government as a true sport does not only mean the authority is given. It also implies a responsibility to develop infrastructures, host national competitions, and select and manage national athletes within the country.”
After this development, Finland will find itself in ample company. On the IeSF’s list of member nations, Finland joins 45 other countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. One name that is conspicuously missing from that list, however, is our very own US of A.
One of the big reasons organizations like the IeSF are pushing for legitimization from governments across the world is the difficulty many players encounter obtaining visas to compete in international events. After a back and forth with Riot back in 2013, the official policy of the US government is that esports players should be considered athletes for purposes of travel. There’s been anything but cohesion from governmental agencies regarding that policy, though, and players continue to encounter difficulties. Most recently, Filipino Dota 2 squad Execration couldn’t attend the Boston Major due to three of their five players’ visas not processing in time.
But there are forces stateside pushing for a more unified embrace of esports, including the Los Angeles Olympic Committee, who seem positively enamored with the world of esports: “We view esports’ immense global popularity and continued advances in digital technologies as tremendous tools for reconnecting Millennials with the Olympic Movement,” said Casey Wasserman, chair of the committee. The LA Olympic Committee intends to join KeSPA, the Korean Esports Association, in asking the International Olympics Committee to include esports in the 2024 games.
Until then, we’re likely to see more and more countries go the way of Finland in a slow but steady domino effect. Maybe by 2024, the Olympics won’t be able to blame esports for low viewership any longer.