Digital Olympics – The Olympic Virtual Series (OVS)

5 July 2021

What’s the point of virtual sports? 

The OVS gives everybody a chance to take part in the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) hopes the OVS will promote inclusivity and global participation.

Your fitness level doesn’t matter, nor does your skill, physical location or even your knowledge of the sport. You can push yourself to new athletic heights or try new sports from the comfort of your own home.

The OVS has five disciplines: baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and motorsport. Now that the events have concluded, you can watch the replays and view the results on the Olympic Channel. 

Virtual Baseball 

Virtual baseball competitors compete in eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball, developed by Konami. The only prerequesite for joining was a Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4.

Despite the game's popularity in Japan, it's unheard of in Europe and North America. The players look similar to the Wii Sports baseball characters - short and goofy with enlarged heads and floating limbs.

Although the game lacks any real similarity to classic baseball, the game is a lot of fun.

There were two separate tournaments run through the event: the Home Run Derby and the Baseball Tournament.

The eleven best PlayStation players and the eight best Nintendo players were invited to Japan to play the finals live.  

Virtual Cycling 

The virtual cycling event used Zwift, an online multiplayer cycling training program. The app has exploded in popularity since by alleviating the boredom of cycling at home.

The app works by tracking your speed and movement on an indoor bike and adjusting your avatar on the screen. All you need to get going is a bike, a tracker, and a smartphone.

You can compete in solo races or battle against thousands of other riders. Unlike real world cycling events, you don't need to worry about crashing into other cyclists or going over the edge of a cliff.

The Olympic virtual cycling race had five separate stages, culminating in a final 24-hour chase event with live coverage.

Several celebrity cyclists like Sir Chris Hoy and Nino Schurter helped design the stages and promote the event.

Virtual Rowing

The OVS Rowing event was the only event in the series that was non-competitive. Rowers from around the world team up to row from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo.

When participants row, they earn tokens which they can use to support one of three programs from the Olympic Refugee Foundation.   Participants log their distance using rowing machines at home or at the gym through the OVS app. There’s also a leader board to encourage some competitiveness.

On the 23rd of June, all rowing participants were invited for a final push to close the distance between Rio and Tokyo.

Virtual Sailing 

The virtual sailing event took place using a game called Virtual Regatta. The Olympics organised the event with help from Word Sailing.

The virtual sailing event was quite similar to real-world sailing races, albeit without the gale force winds and soggy clothes.

Like the other virtual sports, there’s no need for any sailing knowledge or equipment to compete in this event. There are two different races: offshore and onshore. The offshore race started in Rio and ends in Tokyo, like the rowing event. The inshore race was shorter and features smaller boats racing around buoys.

When the offshore race started on 28th May there were more than 40,000 competitors.

CEO of World Sailing, David Graham, said, "We are delighted that sailing will be amongst the first virtual sports taking part in the Olympic Virtual Series, something which has never been done before.”  

Virtual Motor Sport 

Virtual motorsport was the most followed event leading up to the start of the OVS. Competitors from around the world can compete through the popular driving game Grand Turismo. Like the other virtual events, there was no formal entry requirement.

As Grand Turismo is already a popular esport, it took little time to reorganise the game’s existing competitive features for the Olympics.

Qualifying time trials took place between the 13th and 23rd of May, and the top 16 drivers battled it a dramatic final on June 23rd.   

Will the OVS feature in every Olympics from now on?

The Japanese government wants to see the Olympics take place this year. But public opinion was mixed toward the event’s directors due to safety concerns around COVID-19. Various public opinion polls estimate that 80% of the Japanese public wanted the games postponed or cancelled.

Organisers hoped that the OVS would reverse public opinion and unite gaming and sports fans under the Olympic banner. Virtual sports have the additional benefit of being as safe for competitors as possible during a pandemic. Athletes can compete from home, the office, or the gym.

It’s not yet clear whether the OVS will become a regular staple of the Olympics. With only five events this year, organisers seem to be testing the water. Should viewer and competitor feedback come back positive, we will likely see more virtual events at the Paris 2024 Olympic games.

Although many people predicted the events wouldn’t be interesting to watch, organisers argue this is missing the point. The OVS was about inviting people from around the world to compete in virtual versions of the sports they love.

Although the OVS was deemed a success, there were a few gaffs. The virtual sailing results table makes for particularly fun viewing. The silver medallist for the ‘Race to Tokyo’ event adopted the imaginative username Your Mum SA.

Whether the OVS or esports will become a regular fixture of the Olympics isn’t yet clear, but the first instalment was a huge success.  

Register for the prototype

The next step on our roadmap is to ask for your help. We want to hear from you what works and what does not, which features are more important to you and which ones are lacking. In short, we need your guidance.

To facilitate this, we are creating a beta of our platform and are looking for a thousand pioneers to put it through its paces. We will expect a lot of feedback and suggestions from these pioneers over the next two to three months. However, these pioneers are not volunteers, when we launch each pioneer will have bestowed upon them 10,000 edifyqs.

If you see yourself as a pioneer, register for the prototype and explore the future.

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