Tokyo Olympics and esports – a never-ending debate

For years now, esports fans (and many Olympics fans) have been calling for esports to become part of the Olympics. The IOC or Olympic Committee has always been staunchly against including video games in the Summer Games, citing concerns like depicting violence, or breaking the Olympic spirit, among other things.

Then the planning phase for the Tokyo Olympics rolled around, and Japan expressed a very definitive interest in including esports in the events… and were turned down. This is despite the fact that esports have already been featured in multiple minor Olympic events such as the Asian Games – just not ever in the main Olympic Summer/Winter Games.

Still though, Japan couldn’t be discouraged from including video games at least a bit – during the opening ceremony of the Summer Games, a pretty recognizable soundtrack played. Songs from Final Fantasy and even Sonic the Hedgehog were included. Even before the opening ceremony though, there was something for gaming fans – the Olympic Virtual Series allowed players to compete in five sports simulations games. They weren’t medal competitions, but they were quite a bit closer to it than what we’ve seen so far.

The debate

Esports fit most of the criteria that the Olympics lays out for its disciplines. They are popular, have international leagues, a plethora of fans, and so on. The main point of contention, other than the concern over violence that some games carry, is the question of whether or not gaming is ‘physical’ enough to be called a sport.

Of course, anyone familiar with the rigid training schedule that esports athletes experience can answer this ‘question’ pretty easily. Nevertheless, critics of esports and video games continue to maintain that esports aren’t sports – usually without expressing their opinion on the long-since-acknowledged sport of chess.

There is another fairly important angle to consider as well – the fact that the Olympics needs esports more than esports needs the Olympics. There is an undeniable trend when it comes to viewership numbers and audience shares – esports audiences are increasing steadily, and have been for the last several decades… and Olympics viewer numbers are going down instead. The Olympics’ audiences are getting older, and younger people aren’t as interested – the exact age groups that are esports fans.

The solution…?

The solution here seems obvious – combining the two! At least in theory. In practice, the IOC has always resisted the idea, even though it almost certainly would benefit the Olympics as well as the esports scene. Still, since the initial conflict, and the first few vehement rejections (during one of which an IOC official compared esports to knitting!) the IOC has come a long way, easing up significantly on their refusal of esports.

Though, still, there is no official esports event in either the Summer or Winter Olympics, esports fans that are hoping to see this can take heart – it may still be a while, but progress is definitely happening!

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Mel Hawthorne

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