The Olympic Esports Games set for 2025: here's what we know about the event

The newly formed games will sit alongside the Olympic program, reported to include gaming, sport simulation, and virtual sports elements like cycling esports

Spectators watch the stage as competitors take part in a cycling event during the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore on June 23, 2023. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Contrary to recent reports, the inaugural Olympic Esports Games are set for 2025, UCI David Lappartient revealed to Cycling Weekly in a January interview in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"The Olympic Esports Games will start in 2025 and will include cycling esports," pronounced Lappartient. "The program will include gaming, sports simulation, and physical virtual activities and will be a distinct Olympic Esports Games."

Lappartient is Chairman of the IOC’s Esports and Gaming Liaison Group and is a member of the IOC’s general assembly. A source close to the situation said of Lappartient, "If anyone knows the truth about cycling esports in the Olympics, it's him."

When contacted, the IOC wouldn't go as far as to confirm or deny Lappartient's affirmation. However, it did offer the following statement.

"A primary goal of the Olympic Agenda 2020 + 5 is to support and promote the development of virtual sports throughout the Olympic Movement. This is why we have focused on virtual and simulated sports games in the competition series."

IOC President Thomas Bach did speak to Xinhua Sports on January 29, stating:  "I think we can expect the first edition of the Olympic Esports Games in 2025, or 2026 at the latest."

Since 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been testing the virtual waters with a so-called Olympic Esports Series, a week-long event meant to showcase the best of virtual sports, both the athleticism and the technologies behind them. In addition to virtual bike racing, esports disciplines included archery, Bbaseball, chess, dance, motorsport, taekwondo, tennis and sailing. While no medals were handed out, the series was considered as a promising step toward the inclusion of virtual competitions in some form at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA.

The forth-coming Olympic Esports Games inches even closer to that possibility becoming a reality, but for now, the Olympic Esports Gamest will exist as an independent global event and standalone from the traditional mainstream Olympics.

Whether actual Olympic medals will be awarded at the Olympic Esports Games  remains uncertain, however, and reports are mixed. In talking with Cycling Weekly,  Lappartient did not reveal much in the way of medals, either. 

The IOC is all in on esports

Olympic Esports Week competition

(Image credit: Olympic Esports Week)

The IOC has been dabbling with esport inclusion since  2017, when it set a dedicated agenda for nurturing virtual sports and engaging with gaming communities.

It started with the IOC Esports Liaison Group, formed in 2017 and spearheaded by Lappartient. The IOC Esports Liaison Group was established to facilitate communication and collaboration between the Olympic Movement and the esports community.

The IOC has faced challenges in staying relevant to younger audiences; embracing esports is a way to engage with this rapidly expanding demographic which IOC President Thomas Bach notes boasts hundreds of millions of participants worldwide.

An official IOC Esports Commission followed in October 2023, which specifically deals with the potential inclusion or engagement of esports within the Olympic framework.  

"Our focus in esports centers on virtual sports that involve physical activity, such as cycling, rowing, and even Taekwondo in electronic form, among other sports," Bach said in the lead up to the Olympic Esports Series.

"We are particularly intrigued by these virtual sports because the physical exertion of these athletes equals that of their counterparts in traditional sports. Whether you're conquering a leg of the Tour de France from your home bike or participating in the actual event, the physical demands remain consistent, presenting similar challenges."

The Olympic Esports Week and other trial events that have been happening since 2021 are a direct result of the aforementioned groups and are meant to explore potential inclusion of virtual sports in future Games. 

“The door is open explicitly for virtual forms. Where there is a full physical replication of the traditional sport," said IOC's Sport Director Kit McConnell in a November 2023 Mail Sport interview.

“It’s something that we’re looking to move forward with...and it’s more a question of 'how' rather than 'if'."

And it's virtual cycling that's leading the road to answering that 'how' question. 

“The best example is the road cycling partnership between the UCI and Zwift, and now that’s moved to another partnership (MyWhoosh). We are committed to developing the virtual side of sport.”

Olympic recognition would be a game changer for virtual bike racing

Team USA at the 2023 UCI Esports World Championships

Team USA at the 2023 UCI Esports World Championships 

(Image credit: Team USA - Jacqueline Godbe)

The legitimization of Olympic recognition and the publicity and resources that come with it could have a transformative impact on the sport’s evolution.

“If esports becomes an Olympic sport, it significantly increases its status in the eyes of the USAC. It will increase our efforts and be very helpful to the sport. It’s an absolute game-changer!" said USA Cycling’s Chief of Sports Performance, Jim Miller, in a interview.

The primary reason for this enthusiasm becomes apparent when examining the financial aspect. Most of USAC’s funding comes from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

“[The USOPC] are obviously interested in Olympic medals. If the sport is an Olympic discipline, we put more emphasis and fund it at a higher level," Miller explained.

What platform will host the competition?

In-play shot of MyWhoosh, the virtual racing platform

(Image credit: UCI)

In January, Lappartient visited Abu Dhabi, UAE, to ink a deal to make MyWhoosh the main virtual cycling platform partner of the UCI Road World Championships through 2026.

A growing competitor to Zwift, MyWhoosh is a virtual cycling platform backed by substantial UAE government support and funding.

MyWhoosh will host the first-ever live event UCI Cycling Esports World Championship final, in Abu Dhabi in October 2024.  Abu Dhabi will also host the non-virtual 2024 UCI Urban Cycling World Championships, the 2028 UCI Road World Championships, the 2028 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, and the 2029 UCI Track World Championships, furthering its ambitions to become a global leader for top-class cycling events and the UCI's support.

"They have a strong management structure and the expertise to organize many top-class international events in different disciplines and sports," said Lappartient. "For us, the UAE is a very strong partner."

In a recent episode of The Virtual Velo Podcast, virtual cycling platform MyWhoosh’s Race and Event Manager, Matt Smithson, confirmed, “We would love to do the Olympics. We want to be the pinnacle of esports and have ideas about how to engage the audience and the athletes.”

Though unconfirmed, every indication is that MyWhoosh will also be the host virtual platform for cycling esports in the Olympic Esports Games in 2025.

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