Canadian video game star Elliot Carroza-Oyarce won the gold medal Tuesday in the first-ever EGames contest, held amid the Olympics festivities in Rio de Janeiro.
Organizers hoped the hours-long “Super Smash Bros.” competition would show how the growing number of competitive video gamers across the world could have their own recurring celebration in the years to come. The e-sports community has been divided over whether video games should be in the Olympics, commemorated with their own global championships, or continue as is, with disparate worldwide contests and leagues.
Video game players “don't necessarily want to be boxed in with traditional athletes,” said Neil Duffy, executive vice president at the British nonprofit behind the EGames. “But the level of skill and practice and effort that this competition requires really is comparable with that of a football or basketball player.”
International EGames Group wants to piggyback on the infrastructure of the Olympics. To avoid logistical challenges with what the group hopes becomes a massive gathering, the EGames would be held in the Olympics host city after the traditional athletics spectacle wraps up. The group plans to make the setup work for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The International Olympic Committee “does a brilliant job and we don't want to be a part of that,” said EGames founder and Chief Executive Chester King. “We are not actually aiming to have gaming considered a sport, and it's not to take away from traditional sports. But there are 115 million people playing games competitively in the world, and that's a lot better than watching TV.”
He self-funded two days of gaming events, hosted at the official British House in the Parque Lage mansion.
On Tuesday, as athletes and VIPs watched Olympic cycling on a big-screen TV under the glowing Christ the Redeemer statue, eight individuals in the room next door battled in the popular virtual fighting game “Super Smash Bros.”
Carroza-Oyarce beat Larry Holland of Reseda, three games to two on a Nintendo Wii U console. Tens of thousands of people watched the action on an online stream on Twitch.
“It was no easy task,” Carroza-Oyarce said on his way back to a luxurious house overlooking Rio de Janeiro with the rest of the world’s top players. “It's been a really amazing experience.”
Mexico’s Leonardo Lopez Perez took the bronze medal. The EGames didn’t offer prize money, and to celebrate the Olympian ideal of amateurism the contest doesn’t plan to do so in the future. But Carroza-Oyarce did win nearly $17,000 in a tournament just last month.
Behind three North American medal winners were participants from Brazil, Britain, Germany, Trinidad & Tobago and Argentina. Mauro Gimenez of Buenos Aires had never left his home country before.
King said the IOC allowed use of the EGames moniker after saying no to “eLympics.”
Vincent Bevins is a special correspondent.
Times staff writer Paresh Dave reported from Los Angeles.