Why Pokemon Go should be at the Tokyo Olympics 2020

David Purcell. Last updated: Jul 30, 2021
pokemon go bulbasaur at olympics
Niantic / Nintendo

There is an age-old argument that esports should join the Olympic Games, and there are a lot of emotions involved – but people are looking in the wrong direction. If there’s one game that has been breaking boundaries since launch, it’s Pokemon Go, and it should definitely be at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The gaming industry arguably has a number of strong contenders to be considered for the games in the future, especially those with a flourishing competitive scene.

How that would look is where the argument starts to fizzle out, though, as League of Legends, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Valorant, even FIFA, are essentially all different sports. However, due to a rule from the Olympic Programme Commission that states no purely “mind sports” can appear at the Olympics, it doesn’t just seemingly rule out all of these – but popular games like chess as well.

And in the face of all of that displeasure sits a game that is built on the concept of staying active and performing in battle: Pokemon Go.

The opportunity

pokemon go in street
Pokemon Go is one of the biggest mobile games in the world.

Niantic’s popular mobile video game is a trailblazer, using augmented reality in handheld devices and their challenges to catch Pokemon in the real world, as a way to keep people fit. Literally no other game in the industry offers the same experience and similarly sized player base.

With an estimated player base of over 700,000 people worldwide, and a huge following in Japan where the series all started, it’s incredible really that the game’s developers didn’t fight tooth and nail to be at the Tokyo Olympics. We’re not talking about appearing as a sport, though, but rather as a secondary experience for players to enjoy.

Pokemon Go Fest and the title’s 5th Anniversary Collection event are in the rearview mirror now – they’re gone.

With the official calendar of the delayed Olympics meaning it takes place between July 23 and August 8, 2021, Niantic were presented with what could have been a monumental commercial opportunity to partner for an event. But, they didn’t deliver.

Pokemon Go Olympics event: How it could work

tokyo olympics 2020
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games could have been a big event in Pokemon Go.

Think about it. That could have been a 16-day period of new bonuses and Raids with an athletic twist. With no fans allowed back in stadiums in time for these Olympics, a lot of the hype will have been sucked out of it for fans and for the athletes themselves, and this is where a game like PoGo could have bridged those audiences.

There could have been a crossover event with Pokemon Snap, asking the community to send in images catching Pokemon while watching the games on TV. There could have been a bunch of Spotlight Hours set up for fighting-type Pokemon during Judo events, or water-types during the swimming – coinciding with live broadcasts. Or an in-game global competitive event for a Pokemon Go Olympic medal, where players are divided into countries, and the more Gyms Battles/Raids they win, the more medals their countries earn with a reward for Gold, Silver, and Bronze when the Olympics conclude.

It’s not like it would be impossible, either. They’ve done similar global challenges before, like Team GO Rocket and one for fairy-types. Each of these gave players a global challenge they had to work towards, allowing them to track progress, and earn a load of free rewards. This should have looked like that, with in-game collectible medals.

If you really wanted to go a step further, too, thematic cosmetic hats and outfits for your Pokemon buddies could come as part of the package. Imagine loading up the app to see your Pikachu with gold dangling from its neck.

The verdict

pokemon go image
Having specific Pokemon spawn more frequently during Olympic events is one way to do it.

With such a large commercial opportunity there, it’s a real shame that Niantic didn’t pull the trigger. At a time where the August bonuses are leaving the game, which started up at the start of the global health crisis, the community only has the Ultra Unlock event to look forward to. Whether or not that is enough remains to be seen.

Now, you may have ended up on this page thinking Pokemon Go at the Tokyo Olympics was a stupid idea – “what’s this guy got to say for himself?”

Hopefully, that changed, because there are so many fun ways this could have benefitted both Niantic and the community.