Entertainment

Why G4, the Canceled Video Game Channel, Coming Back Is a Big Deal

With a boom in e-sports and casual gaming, the erstwhile TV network couldn't have been announced to come back at a better time.

g4 olivia munn
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

At the end of last week during the virtual Comic-Con@Home, the long-dead Twitter account @G4TV came back to life with a promo video of an endless PONG game and a cryptic note: "We never stopped playing." The retro-looking video gave more insight at the end: G4, the erstwhile TV network that covered video games and general geek-dom, will return in 2021. 

Past viewers cheered online, and former G4 personality Olivia Munn -- yes, Hollywood actor Olivia Munn! -- tweeted a throwback GIF of her wearing Sailor Moon cosplay on the network. People are clearly excited for the revamp, even though the details are currently scarce, and for good reason. The return of G4 could be a milestone for gamers and nerds of all stripes. Here's exactly why you should think of this as a big, exciting thing to come next year. 

What is G4 anyway?

G4 was a TV network that debuted on basic cable in 2002 and shuttered in 2014. Known for its pop-culture series Attack of the Show! and video game review roundtable X-Play, G4 and its personalities were equivalent to the heyday of MTV and its VJs for nerds. (Most notably, though, it launched the career of Olivia Munn as one of the hosts of AofS!

In retrospect, it existed during a very strange time for its type of coverage: At launch, we relied on MapQuest to print out directions, searched for things using Lycos, and had active Friendster and MySpace accounts, which is to say widespread internet usage was still latent. Fandom communities were largely still offline, aside from forums (Tumblr didn't come around until 2007), and competitive gaming just barely registered as a thing after the release of the first Halo on XBox in 2001. (Even nerd-ass gaming tournaments for League of Legends didn't come around until the second half of the '00s.)

But even in this time, G4 did at least a few things that feel now-prescient: It aired Comic-Con panels in 2009, and put out four Marvel anime with Madhouse (which has put out a bunch of important series, like Masaaki Yuasa's Tatami Galaxy and Death Note). But, simply put, "nerd culture" was not considered cool or mainstream yet -- but it provided a sort of secret, validating space for young adults and teens like me to obsess over the things my friends could not give less of a shit about. 

Why was it canceled?

Poor G4 had a rough go of it over its 12 years. It was constantly changing hands as if no TV exec knew exactly what to do with it: G4 launched on its own as a Comcast brand; was shortly after merged with TechTV (remember TechTV???) and did pretty well through about 2010, when DirecTV stopped carrying the network citing not great Nielsen ratings and uninterested subscribers. 2012 is when things got especially messy: Comcast and NBC merged and canceled G4's cornerstone shows, essentially turning the channel into a dumping ground of reruns and episodes of America Ninja Warrior. Perhaps the move most telling of the whole era, in 2014 G4 was officially put to rest, and taking its spot would be the Esquire Network.

"There is a vastly underserved audience in cable TV – today’s modern man – and by joining forces with Esquire, we will deliver a multiplatform experience to this upscale, engaged, passionate audience, one that widens the aperture beyond G4’s technology and gaming base," Adam Stotsky, then-general manager of NBCUniversal, told to The Hollywood Reporter in a statement that did not at all age well. At least Knife Fight was kind of cool.  

But now it's coming back…?

I know what you're thinking: linear cable is more or less a dying medium, and it's especially tough to incentivize people to shell out more money when there are already hundreds of channels and tens of streaming services around to eat up our attention -- plus, video games themselves! But it's not entirely clear in what form G4 will take just yet, and that uncertainty is actually the exciting part of this proposition. Streaming, most obviously, has exploded since it went off-air, and it could easily latch itself onto one of the many services out there, like the FX on Hulu partnership. Twitch and YouTube, with its massive engaged user base, will more than likely be crucial hubs for the reboot. Maybe it'll get a Quibi. Anything is possible!

Seems cool maybe. What will it air?

It is, and right now, who really knows! According to Deadline, more information will be rolling out over the next few weeks and months about what the new G4 will look like. Pulling in its favor is the fact that both casual and professional gaming has exploded over the past five years. Since Overwatch came out in 2015, it's become a multi-billion dollar competitive worldwide enterprise that sells out basketball arenas for its championship events and existing sports franchises -- like the Kraft Group, which also owns the New England Patriots -- and major companies -- *cough* Comcast -- have realized the money-making potential of e-sports and invested in top talent and infrastructure. And with Fortnite in 2017, a new crossover realm opened up; just earlier this year, the first trailer of Christopher Nolan's Tenet premiered on Fortnite. Alternatively, Animal Crossing has sucked up everyone's time over quarantine, and anime is cool now. Altogether, the general acceptance of these once-niche interests has positioned the return of G4 to be potentially… wait for it... game changing. 

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Leanne Butkovic is an entertainment editor at Thrillist, on Twitter @leanbutk.