Esports in the Olympics has been a sporadic topic for years. As more people have entered the industry, the loose topic has become more of a debate: Should esports be included in the Olympics? Who needs whom the most?
According to a report from Reuters, the esports industry is projected to hit over $1 billion in revenue in 2021. Meanwhile, the time leading up to the kickoff of the Olympics in Japan has been filled with controversy. I’m pretty solid on my opinion of the addition of esports: We don’t need the Olympics. The Olympics need us.
The growth of esports in terms of spectatorship has been phenomenal. A recent study from Newzoo reported that 76% of esports viewers are choosing to watch esports events over traditional sports. It’s anticipated that the live-streaming audience total of esports will reach 920.3 million by 2024. Because of this, Newzoo also projects that the esports industry will make $833.6 million from media rights and sponsorships thanks to the increase in live-stream viewing.
The Tokyo Games have been predicted to flop in ratings.
“This is probably going to be the lowest-rated summer Olympics of all time,” Patrick Crakes, former Fox Sports executive, told CNN. “They can’t avoid the increased media fractionalization that’s enabling everyone to spend more time with all sorts of content.”
With the pandemic still overshadowing the event, as well as a slew of bad press, many people aren’t feeling festive. An article from the Japan Times reported that “there are no cheering foreign fans roaming the streets, and athletes are ferried from village to venue in a bubble meant to keep them and the Japanese public safe from coronavirus… the festive mood was limited as the Olympics comes amid a coronavirus state of emergency that took effect on July 12 in Tokyo.”
Due to rising virus cases, all public viewing events have been removed, and because of the state of emergency, all restaurants and bars must close by 8:00 pm — when the opening ceremony begins. So how can the Olympics hook in more—and younger—global viewers?
The opening ceremony this year already tapped into video game culture by including a soundtrack of music from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy. However, Japan is blanketed by gaming culture so it wasn’t too big of a surprise. What was interesting was the inclusion of the Olympic Virtual Series, where players competed in five sport simulation games. Not fully esports, no, but it is a curious step. Could we eventually see League of Legends matches beside skateboarding and javelin?
For people outside of the esports industry, it feels like a way to chase legitimacy. For endemic professionals and fans, it’s unnecessary. The statement has long circulated the field: The Olympics need esports. Esports does not need the Olympics. But how could the Olympics help propel esports more into the mainstream light?
Perhaps legitimacy is all it is. Despite the fact that esports is already reaching worldwide acceptance, there are still hiccups. The International made a sudden move from Stockholm to Bucharest this year after the Swedish Sports Federation refused to recognize esports. Because of this, players were unable to secure visas. By obtaining global support from something as large as the Olympics, there’s a chance that some of these barriers could be broken.
Though the obstacles still remain: Video games, unlike traditional sports, are intellectual property owned by developers. Because of this, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would not have full presentation and programming control. The learning barrier is also another worry, especially for casual viewers, and the subject of in-game violence is always prevalent. Esports break the mold of athletic competition, and while there could be a mutual benefit by including them in the Olympics, it could also just generate a large mess.
Some are suggesting that the IOC should create a separate ceremony specifically for gaming and esports. With technology becoming more advanced, and with gaming becoming more of a mainstream form of entertainment and competition, this could be the perfect opportunity to create an all-in-one global event. But then again…
We could just do that ourselves.