- For the first time, Esports, also known as professional video gaming, was officially recognized as a sport at the Asian Games.
- Games like League of Legends, DOTA 2, and EA Sports FC Online were played by the competitors.
- An Esports event accredited by the Olympics took place in Singapore in June.
This year’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, saw the debut of Esports, or competitive video gaming, as an official event. Professional esports leagues and tournaments are already marshalling huge audiences online and filling arenas.
Hyper-competitive esports battles unfolded on large screens in a purpose-built 4,500-seat stadium, where Asia’s top gamers competed in titles including League of Legends (LoL), DOTA 2, and EA Sports FC Online.
A gold medal was awarded for each of the seven games that were included in the event. The host nation China won four, South Korea claimed two, and Thailand one.
Due to the event’s immense popularity, esports tickets were allocated via lottery with over five million people entering the draw, as per data from the Hangzhou Asian Games.
A spectator from Wuxi, China, Chris Liu said he found watching the esports categories quite “tense and exciting.” He added that while younger generations are excited about esports, the older demographic is less interested, even outright opposed to it.
Esports is growing globally, especially gaining traction when the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to many mainstream sporting events.
As per data from analytical firm Newzoo, the gamer population is expected to reach nearly 3.4 billion this year, a 6.3% increase from last year. More than half of these gamers, however, are in the Asia-Pacific region, the report said.
The Asian Games’ inclusion of esports holds promise of a broader global audience appeal, given Asia’s early adoption of this digitally immersive sport.
“The inclusion of esports proof that there’s a big opportunity outside of the existing league structures. We’re excited to see the landscape of esports events around the world expand,” said John Robinson, president of US esport organization 100 Thieves.
But this rise of esports has sparked debate over its qualification as a sporting event.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) too, is considering integrating esports, said
However, the selection of games for the global virtual competition that they called the Olympic Esports Series has received criticism.
Matt Woods, CEO of esports marketing and talent agency AFK, questioned IOC’s decision to sideline existing game publishers and well-known tournaments and instead, market new, unlicensed mobile games.
Yet another complication about including esports in the Olympics is the ownership of all esports is with someone, a stark contrast to traditional sports, said Grant Rousseau of gaming organization Team Falcons.
While critics argue that esports can’t measure up to the physicality of traditional sports, supporters like Rousseau believe they’re on par in terms of disciplined training and mental focus.
Esports, however, didn’t feature in the list of new events that will be included in the 2028 Games scheduled to be held in Los Angeles.