The concept of sports has been changing and expanding for a long time now. Even when chess and checkers were declared sports, it became obvious that strong muscles were not the only decisive factor in sports competitions. So when exactly did chess become a sport? The International Olympic Committee recognized FIDE, and chess as a non-Olympic sport, in 1999, but national level recognitions had occurred much earlier. For example, the Soviet Union introduced the Master of Sports title in chess in 1935. Bridge was recognized by the International Olympic Committee even four years earlier than chess.
Now the concept of sport is expanding further, influenced by two most important factors — the rapidly developing information technology and biotech. The videogame industry has spawned eSports, which, incidentally, was included in Russia’s register of sports by a Ministry of Sport order in 2016.
The potential diversity of PC games and virtual reality is practically limitless. We can’t even imagine the scale eSports competitions can reach in the future, or how many different championships in different games will be held.
Along with that, it immediately crosses one’s mind that any area where VR technologies are used today will see the advent of AR — augmented reality technology — tomorrow.
Perhaps the main disadvantage of eSports is the player’s limited physical experience. Whatever is happening in their virtual reality, the player must always stay at the computer. This is where augmented reality technology can help. Essentially, it can provide a synthesis of the videogame capabilities and tactical games such as paintball and airsoft. Incidentally, these games can also claim a role in the world of sports and Olympic games, but they, too, can achieve much greater success if reinforced with AR.
Sports and games with augmented reality may become highly popular and spectacular types of sports soon. No longer stuck with their computers as in eSports, the players will run, shoot and navigate obstacle courses. Their experience — and, most importantly, viewers’ experience — will be enhanced by special effects, and as vivid as videogames or action films such as Goalkeeper of the Galaxy or Ready Player One. A gym can be easily transformed into outer space or a mountain gorge where players will have to jump over chasms; a child electric car can become an aircraft capable of moving in three dimensions. This kind of games will certainly require immense computing power; they won’t be cheap.
New sports may not even need human involvement. Robot Battles are one example. This competition is not only for operators of self-moving devices but also for teams of their creators. Robot engineering being a rapidly developing industry, robot battles and other related sports will be growing increasingly versatile.
We may soon witness races between air drones, amphibian robots, robot manipulator precision contests, performance races and robot obstacle courses. There might even be industrial and storage robot emulation.
Finally, science fiction will inspire mixed-team competitions involving humans and robots.
Now, let’s see what the deal is with biotech. Big sports have long been divided by participants’ physical status into conventional sports and competitions for para-athletes. However, disability is exactly the area for applying advanced technology thus giving start to cyberathletics, or competitions for people with hi-tech prosthetic limbs.
Biotechnology promises a variety of improvements for a human body. Sci-fi authors’ fantasies about cyborgs created through synthesis of technology and biological organisms, are gradually becoming reality. Just like athletes are classified by weight in many sports, and just like sports in general are divided into those played by athletes with and without disability, in the future we may see a new type of competition for people with various enhancements such as computerized limbs.
Modern big sports try to reject biotechnological enhancements — and prohibit doping. It is obvious that athletes with hi-tech prosthetic limbs will similarly be denied high-jump, diving or running competitions. Perhaps one solution is to create a special category for athletes with “enhanced” bodies. We are still to find out what kind of improvements — not only technical, but also chemical, biological and even genetic — biotechnology can offer to athletes.
Moreover, cyborgization is possible not only through an irreversible addition of mechanical devices, but also by using wearable devices such as powered exoskeletons and cybernetic suits. A separate kind of sport that we may soon witness will be contests between people wearing exoskeletons, which is again a synthesis between conventional sports and Robot Battles. Like in other motorized sports such as car racing, the victory in such competitions will depend on the athlete’s skills, their engineering team, developers and manufacturers of the technical assistance systems.
Sports will remain a contest between people and even in a sense a contest of human bodies but those extended to the virtual reality, augmented reality, the reality of robots that imitate people, and high-tech body support systems.
As for traditional sports, they will never be abandoned but definitely become less popular as new kinds of sports entertainment will grow more interesting with each decade.
By Konstantin Frumkin, Editor-in-Chief, Invest Foresight business magazine