Every four years, one of the biggest global sporting events pops off and dominates television. In 2020, the Summer Olympics will be taking place in Tokyo. Some weird stuff has already happened, such as Super Mario himself making the original announcement. Japan’s history is laden with entertainment media, with video games being a huge slice of that pie. While the Olympics have been a worldwide cultural staple for pretty much forever, video games as a sport has seen explosive growth in only a few years. Many people, not only in fandoms but in business as well, have been wondering if (and when) the two will ever intersect. While there have been several roadblocks over the years, they could merge sooner than you might think.
Unfortunately, at least if you’re in the pro-esports camp, that doesn’t mean you’ll be seeing Mario and Sonic promoting officiated FIFA matches in Tokyo. While the chatter is getting louder, the barrier hasn’t quite been broken. That said, there will be an event leading up to the 2020 Olympics that is vaguely connected. Intel is holding a massive tournament, featuring both Street Fighter V and Rocket League, with a $500,000 prize pot. The event will run right up until the Olympics, with the finals taking place in Tokyo. This is, so far, the closest video games will get to the Olympics, although it isn’t the first time the two have flirted.
The 2018 Asian Games, which were held in Indonesia, included several video game competitions. The titles featured included League of Legends and multiple Blizzard games. Medals were even awarded, although they weren’t technically official in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee. While the Asian Games are region-specific and not widely known as an Olympic event, the IOC does run the show and officiate the medals. 2018’s event was largely a test, and the 2022 Asian Games in China will include video games as an official medal event. That’s cool and all, but what about the main show?
Even within the IOC itself, including video games in the Summer Olympics has been a hot topic of debate. Some within the organization are fine with it and see esports as a way to keep younger generations interested in the Olympics (and the more traditional events, presumably by osmosis). Others have gone on public record shunning video games altogether, citing challenges like graphic content. While there are obviously plenty of games that are competitive and nonviolent, games like Call of Duty or Counter Strike will probably never make the cut due to things like content regulations.
While the road has been a bit bumpy and bloody (literally), it seems like things will be coming to a head in the next few years. Specifically, by the time the 2024 Olympics happens. While nothing has been confirmed yet, recent buzz has been suggesting Paris will be the first Olympic venue to host video games. There are no details about which games could be in the running, but games based on actual sports like FIFA and already proven joints like Rocket League are likely shoe-ins. Street Fighter is another possibility, since its violence isn’t gratuitous. Either way, anything at this point is all speculation.
Ultimately, like most other long-running entertainment ventures, the Olympics have seen viewership drops. While the culprit is more likely economic distress or cable-cutting than the content, the numbers have dropped in recent years. Video game esports appears could very well spark some outside interests. Will esports suddenly become the marquee event or driving force behind the Summer Olympics? That would probably be a ridiculous assumption to make. But in the next four to eight years, we could very well see what Olympic gold looks like hanging from the neck of a professional gamer. Man, what a weird sentence.