Japan is currently one of the lowest placing countries in Asia in terms of eSports earnings: in 2014, Japan saw a financial gain from eSports of US$278,100, which was far eclipsed by Korea’s US$19.1 million. However, as the popularity of eSports continues to rise in Japan, is it possible that competitive video gaming could be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
Olympic Status in the Future of eSports?
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is a much-anticipated event, with the official song already released and creating hype. A less well-known point of excitement, however, is that eSports are being considered for the inclusion in the line up of future Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been in discussion with the Paris Olympic bid committee, and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) already confirmed in April 2017 that eSports will be a medal sport in the event at the Asian Games to be held in China in 2022. The OCA proclaimed that this decision was an echo of “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports.”
Reportedly, eSports could even become a part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, implied by communication between the IOC and the International eSports Federation (IeSF). The primary drive towards the inclusion of eSports appears to be an attempt to attract a wider audience, particularly younger generations, to view the Olympics. Despite the fact that 3.6 billion people tuned in to watch the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, this was a decrease from previous numbers.
Recent Increase in eSports Awareness
With the growing global awareness of eSports increasing from 809 million in 2015 to a predicted 1.572 billion in 2019, the presence of eSports at the 2017 Tokyo Game Show is yet another step for the competitive video gaming phenomenon. The Tokyo Game Show, which took place at the Makuhari Messe convention centre in Chiba in September with around 250,000 visitors, is the biggest video game expo held in the country annually. This year, 609 companies took the opportunity to show off their products and ideas to the crowds. Sponsors Sony and Samsung decided to introduce the element of eSports to increase the show’s appeal.
Although the Tokyo Game Show has played host to five small-scale eSports events before, this year’s show had something greater in store for those who attended: two eSports tournaments were able to be viewed by visitors from 500 seats. The games included some of the most popular in Japan right now, such as Puzzle & Dragons by GungHo Online Entertainment Inc., Winning Eleven by Konami Digital Entertainment Co., and Call of Duty from Activision. At the convention, the deputy editor of Nikkei Technology Online, Takeyoshi Yamada, declared that “eSports is actually no different from watching real sports games.”
Japan’s eSports Players
Japan has been relatively slow to catch on to the eSports phenomenon. Nevertheless, one of the most popular eSports games globally, CS:GO (released in 2012 by Valve), is also one of the biggest games on the Japanese eSports scene, gaining top players such as Maruoka “Crow” Tomoaki, Ryo “Barce” Takebayashi and Koji “Laz” Ushida. With the Blast Pro series for CS:GO on the horizon, eSports bookmaker Betway‘s odds are on SK to prove victorious; notably, though, there are no Japanese eSports teams in the line up. This, however, would be likely to change if eSports were to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as it would raise awareness of the games, thereby increasing participation.
Interestingly, it is not only video games themselves that we may see at the future Olympic Games, but also the materials used to make the implementation of these games possible. The very components of computers, phones and other devices used to facilitate the playing of video games are set to be used to create the medals with which to award the triumphing athletes. Forget running circuits, the newest circuits will be used to crown the champions. Although not in direct relation to eSports, this is yet another way in which video games are becoming integrated into wider society and culture.
While it’s unlikely that eSports will actually make it into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, they are a distinct possibility for the following Paris Games. It will likely be in the time period surrounding the Tokyo Games that the decision of whether to include eSports is announced, so keep your ears and eyes open for news.