Japan is currently taking steps to ensure competitive professional video game tournaments can one day be legal in the country, with the ultimate goal of having them become an Olympic sport by the 2024 Paris Games, Bloomberg Technology reports.
As the outlet points out, despite the rapid growth of esports into a multibillion dollar industry across the globe, Japanese laws prohibiting illegal gambling have also "prevented paid video game tournaments in Japan." However, four esports organizations and the Japanese consumer protection agency have negotiated workarounds that exempt esports from this law.
That said, the ruling party – currently ran by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – is considering taking further steps to amend laws, making it possible for professional video game players to make a living through esports in Japan. The ultimate goal, lawmaker Takeo Kawamura said, is to one day make it possible for professional video game players to win Olympic medals.
“If we need more legal wiggle room to hold tournaments, we can use a special law or other provisions as needed,” Kawamura told Bloomberg. “Once we have a gold medalist like, say, Daichi Suzuki, then people will begin to see [video games are also a sport].”
Suzuki is a retired Japanese swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal in the 1988 summer Olympics.
Last December, Bloomberg reports, members of the eposrts industry, as well as lawmakers from Japan's Liberal Democratic Party and its opposition, announced their plans to issue licenses exempting professional video game players from Japan's gambling laws.
"Japan’s first video game tournament to make use of the new licenses will be held [between February 9th and the 11th] at the Makuhari Messe convention center near Tokyo," Bloomberg said. "Konami Holdings Corp., Mixi Inc. and three other local companies will supply the game titles. Prizes have yet to be announced."
This isn't the first time talk of esports coming to the Olympics has been brought up. Last September, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, told the South China Morning Post the committee is considering bringing video games to the Olympics – but not if they're violent.
"We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence and peace among people," Bach said at the time. "This doesn't match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line."
And while he's certainly not wrong – a lot of top esports games are first-person and third-person shooters – it's hard to deny how lucrative the industry's become in recent years. According to market research company Activate (via Bloomberg), the esports industry will bring in $5 billion annually. It's popularity with millennials is particularly notable when considering whether or not esports may come to the Olympics, which is currently looking for new sports to appeal to younger prospective viewers.
While the International Olympic Committee may still have its trepidations, Kawamura told Bloomberg "Japan’s Olympic Committee and the Tokyo city government have signed-off on holding huge tournaments in the runup to the  games."
"We want to hold an international tournament as soon as possible,” he told the outlet. “If esports becomes an Olympic medal sport, we must field a strong Japanese team.”