Who will be bidding to host the first-ever Olympic Esports Games in 2026? Hard to know as it’s still early days yet but one country has spoken up.
Organizing esports has been on the IOC's agenda for the past year, and the possibility of Japan hosting it is gaining momentum after the collapse of its bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.
According to Inside The Games, there can be no doubt that esports are marketable in the IOC sphere, ever since “the first Olympic Esports Week held in Singapore in June 2023. Around 500,000 unique participants and more than six million views on live channels were recorded during the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore. There were 130 participants in 10 different events.”
With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that the IOC announced last fall that it was studying the prospect of an event, tentatively known as the Olympic Esports Games.
The IOC had long dragged its feet on making any kind of decision on esports. Enthusiasts of gaming believed the IOC had simply ignored the issue until it became too big (and, in all likelihood too lucrative) to ignore. Additionally, the organization has long expressed a desire to grow its youthful fanbase, and esports could provide the bridge that brings in new viewers.
In years past, Bach has noted that if and when the IOC decides to endorse esports, it will be with the understanding that games included would be based on actual sports and would not include games based on violence.
In other words, Fortnite, Dota 2, League of Legends, Call of Duty and so on would be programa not grata. (And unfortunately, those are among the most popular titles in the gaming industry.
But Olympic Esports Week used a variety of titles that covered various sports, and not all gamers were happy about them, with Finn Partners noting, “Instead of widely watched games like League of Legends, Valorant or Fortnite, the selection consisted of simulations and analogues of real-world sports and activities, such as Virtual Regatta, Tic Tac Bow, and Virtual Taekwondo. Gamers were confronted by some familiar titles such as Gran Turismo and Just Dance, but the majority of games included in Olympic Esports Week left many gamers puzzled. Perhaps gamers would have been more accepting if this was called “Olympic Virtual Sports Week” instead of using the term of esports.”
Fast forward to today (and looking into the crystal ball for 2026) and it is unlikely that Japan will be the sole bidder. After all, the USA has been a strong supporter of esports, with multiple championships scheduled to be hosted here, including in Boston, Miami and Charlotte, as well as in Toronto, Canada. And with more purpose-built esports arenas being available – and the technology to host in major stadium facilities (the way the 2019 Fortnite World Cup took place at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center), there is no shortage of venues. Additionally, an esports event, Frosty Faustings in DuPage County, Illinois, was honored in SDM's awards program, Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism. And with more colleges offering esports scholarships and teams, it is likely the USA will continue to grow its bench of potential athletes.
However, the appeal of esports (and their potential economic impact) has not escaped the notice of other destinations, who might also bid to host. For example, the Esports World Cup will be held this summer in Saudi Arabia.
Reuters noted that the World Cup is expected to include the most popular games in the world and have the largest prize pool in esports history. Clubs will compete across games from various genres to become the ultimate Esports World Cup champion.
A question that comes up, of course, will be whether the Esports World Cup will overshadow the Olympic Esports Games, since the World Cup could include the most popular games, including those based on violence.
There has never been a better time to host esports in terms of the economic impact events can offer cities. Fortune Business noted that the global esports market was expected to be $6.75 billion by 2030, exhibiting a compound annual growth rate of 21.5 percent