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The Olympic Virtual Series 2021


COVID-19 is popular for cancelling the life subscription of many, but it’s also famous for boosting the growth in digitalization. Most offline events like Apple's WWDC, Google's I/O and especially the Olympics which decided to go virtual this year. The Olympics, in partnership with five international sports federations and game publishers, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hosted a first of its kind, Olympic Virtual Series (OVS) from 13th May 2021 to 23rd June 2021. The OVS hosted five official sports events which are motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing and rowing events.

While IOC does not particularly include esports in the Olympics but considering the 5.6 percent CAGR growth in gamers by 2023 according to Newzoo, the IOC decided to encourage esports players, physical athletics gamers and gaming enthusiasts globally to embrace the concept of virtual sports. By doing so, the IOC body aims to pool in more virtual gamers and even enable participants to compete in the games from the comfort of their homes or training facilities.

Therefore, it hosted five official sports which are motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing and rowing for its first attempt at conducting OVS. These events were hosted on a platform of world’s popular driving game simulator, Gran Turismo in collaboration with FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile or International Automobile Federation).

Additionally, the collaboration also included World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) through eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020 on Konami Digital Entertainment's platform, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) on Zwift Inc., World Rowing in an open format, and World Sailing through Virtual Regatta SAS. For the same, the platform will be used to host Japan’s upcoming Olympics named 'Olympic Games Tokyo 2020' set for July 23rd, 2021, which hit the brakes last year due to COVID-19. With that said, here are the highlights from each event.

Motorsport: Italy's Valerio Gallo
The event took off on May 13th, and consisted of an 11-day global qualifier in which players competed for a chance to represent their country in the World Finals by setting the fastest lap in a time trial. Italy’s Valerio Gallo triumphed in victory after a tough competition from German rival Mikail Hizal. Although Hizal took the first lead for the finals, Gallo achieved the fastest time lap which qualified for the event. Gallo drove Toyota 86 GT Gr.4 scoring a 2:07.7 lap, the 2019 world champion qualified first for the race at Tokyo Expressway. Followed by France's Baptiste Beauvois just 0.07s behind him world champions Takuma Miyazono (2020) and Igor Fraga (2018) barely a tenth behind him.

“The Olympic Virtual Series is a novel, one-of-a-kind Olympic digital experience that aspires to increase direct connection with new audiences in the field of virtual sports”, according to Thomas Bach, President, International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Baseball: Registration of Over 125,000 Games
Commencing on June 23rd, over 125,000 games were played in the OVS baseball tournament. On the special occasion of Olympic Day, the grand finale of the Olympic Virtual Series baseball contest was aired worldwide. It was broadcast on, Facebook, YouTube, and NBC's dedicated Twitch channel, among other places. Konami Digital Entertainment declared winners for the tournament and Home Run Derby. Ryuhei Osaka (Player name: Pome) won the Home Run Derby. As for the Baseball Tournament, Shoma Mori (Player Name: Shora / Team: Cuba) and Yoshinori Kato (Player Name: Taku / Team: Australia) went head-on-head to the finals. After scoring extra innings of 9-3, Mori became the first ever OVS champion.

Sailing: Three Action Packed Events
The Inshore Series, which was hosted by Virtual Regatta in collaboration with World Sailing, included three action-packed events, each of which had a winner. The Offshore Event, which began on May 28th, focused on tactics, strategy, and judgement. Players took part in the 'Rio to Tokyo Race' with Erik Danielsson emerging as the winner here, which lasted 25 to 30 days and ended on June 23. As for the Finals of the Inshore series, Joan Cardona emerged as the second runner up, Bart Lambriex as the first runner up and Arthur Farley became the winner of the series. To complete the event, all eSailers had the option of choosing one of four sailing routes.

Rowing: Rowing for a Cause
Participants in the Rio to Tokyo Rowing Event began on May 31st while also supporting three Olympic Refuge Foundation programs, which helped promote the Foundation's initiative that supports young people affected by displacement through sport. Colombia's winning charity was dedicated to protecting young refugees and providing their access to safe sport through structured sports activities.

Cycling: 24 Hour Group Cycling
The Chase Race was a peculiar bike race. The riders were divided into groups based on their riding skill, and they started at various intervals, with the strongest riders starting last. Their goal was to catch up to everyone before the finish line. Chris Hoy, Alberto Contador, Fabian Cancellara, Kristin Armstrong, Sarah Storey, and Mel C were among those who took part (Sporty Spice). UCI President David Lappartient, Michael Rogers, Georgia Simmerling, Anna van der Breggen, Alberto Contador, Shanaze Reade, Chris Hoy, Fabian Cancellara, and Kristin Armstrong were among the riders who led the last Group Ride over a 24-hour period. Participants from all around the world were able to participate in the OVS Cycling Event thanks to Zwift and the guidance of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

How are the Winners Awarded?
An Olympic Virtual Series Plaque will be awarded to the champions of the Olympic Virtual Series Baseball, Motor Sport, and Sailing Events (winner, 1st runner-up, 2nd runner-up). The winner of each of the competitive events (first place only) will be given the opportunity to wield the Olympic Virtual Series Trophy at a special awarding ceremony later in 2021, pending travel restrictions during the global pandemic.

IOC to Encourage and Support Esports Participants
The IOC now aims to develop ways to support esports participants in the same manner that it does with physical sports athletes. The mass-participation series will allow athletes from all over the world to participate from the comfort of their own homes or training facilities, with the purpose of creating a good atmosphere leading up to the Games.

“The Olympic Virtual Series is a novel, one-of-a-kind Olympic digital experience that aspires to increase direct connection with new audiences in the field of virtual sports”, according to Thomas Bach, President, International Olympic Committee (IOC). Bach stated that, “its design is in line with the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and the International Olympic Committee's Digital Strategy. It promotes Olympic principles and encourages sports participation, with a special focus on youth”.

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