Esports marks milestone at Asian games in Hangzhou

October 19, 2023 - 14:58
The eyes of players from across Asia are firmly focused on the Games, with many of them viewing this inclusion as the latest boost to esports development.

Inclusion as official medal event draws widespread attention

A milestone is being marked with the inclusion of esports as an official medal event at the Asian Games, currently underway in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province.

The eyes of players from across Asia are firmly focused on the Games, with many of them viewing this inclusion as the latest boost to esports development.

Speaking in July at the 2023 Global Esports Summit in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, president of the Asian Electronic Sports Federation, said: "The Asian esports industry is booming, and has already unleashed its huge potential. It has the power to connect people from different backgrounds, cultures, countries and regions."

Esports was included in the Asian Games for the first time as a demonstration sport at the 2018 edition in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, with China winning two gold medals and a silver.

As an official medal sport this year in Hangzhou, esports features seven competitions: Arena of Valor Asian Games Version, Dota 2, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, League of Legends, PUBG Mobile Asian Games Version, Street Fighter V, and EA SPORTS' FIFA-branded soccer game.

Team China is taking part in six of the seven events, the exception being Street Fighter V. The 31 players on the Chinese team were selected from 125 candidates, while the five national team coaches for the six squads were selected from 27 contenders.

Zhu Kai, head coach of the Chinese League of Legends squad, said: "Since 2012, I have worked with League of Legends for 11 years, and I have coached many professional clubs that have won competitions. However, coaching the League of Legends national team at the Asian Games is a special honor and responsibility for me.

"All I need to do is ensure that our players have the best possible conditions for the Asian Games. We made careful plans before the start of our program, based on our experience in 2018 at the Asian Games in Jakarta and in the professional leagues."

Zhu said his players train for an average of 10 hours a day, and they have to abide by an extremely strict program and take adequate rest.

"During our training camp, we made many preparations for the players, including psychological counseling, training for major sports events, and even character tests," Zhu added.

Such experiences are new to the young players, most of whom have joined the national team for the first time.

This generation of players has experienced the dramatic growth of esports during the past decade. A mature professional league system, enthusiastic support for the national team, and a fast-growing industry were unimaginable for many of these players when they first took up esports.

Ji Xing, head coach of the Chinese League of Legends squad, which won the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, told Xinhua News Agency: "Ten years ago, when I joined my first esports club, I felt as though I had walked into an internet cafe hidden away in an old neighborhood. But look at what we have now. The industry is developing so fast that some clubs even have their buildings."

Since joining the sector in 2012, Ji has taken on many roles, including tactical analyst, coach, team leader and club manager. His most memorable career memory to date is the 2018 Asian Games, when he steered the Chinese team to gold in the demonstration event.

"I had seen sports champions win honors for our nation, but never thought that one day I would do the same. It's a great honor to make a contribution to the sector," Ji said.

A key reason for the popularity of esports is the fast-growing games industry.

A development report released for the 2023 Global Esports Summit and Tencent Esports Annual Conference in July said global esports audiences are expected to reach 574 million by the end of this year, and in 2025, the figure will likely grow to 641 million. By the end of this year, global esports revenue is forecast to reach $1.8 billion, the report said.

In February, a report released by the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association's electronics sports committee said Chinese esports audiences and players totaled 488 million last year.

Mars Hou, vice-president of Tencent Games and general manager of Tencent Esports, said, "Esports is a booming new industry in the digital era, and we have millions of esports players and spectators.

"We expect to have further communication and cooperation with more partners in sectors such as international communication, talent selection and nurturing, digital sports studies, and industry standardization."

Dream come true

The inclusion of esports at a major event is a dream come true for many people who work in the sector, including Ji, former head coach of the Chinese League of Legends squad, who believes it will further boost the industry's global growth.

"The inclusion of esports at the Asian Games will allow more people in Asia and the world to familiarize themselves with esports, and more of them will probably decide to join this big family," Ji said.

In addition to the Asian Games, esports has attracted attention elsewhere. For example, the Olympic Esports Series, which was staged in March, is a global virtual and simulated sports competition created by the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, in collaboration with international federations and games publishers.

In June, the first-ever Olympic Esports Week was staged in Singapore. The four-day festival showcased a number of quality virtual sports and the latest simulated sports technologies and innovations. This event is designed to support the development of esports within the Olympic Movement and to engage with the competitive games community.

Different from the esports events at the Asian Games, the 10 games at the Olympic Esports Week were chosen by international federations to represent their sports, which are mostly simulations of traditional sports such as baseball, cycling and tennis.

IOC President Thomas Bach said in May, "Our approach to esports is to prioritize virtual sports — meaning reality sports — where there is physical activity, such as cycling and rowing. In the meantime, there is even an electronic form of taekwondo, along with a number of other sports.

"The physical activity of these athletes is on the same level as those engaged in traditional sports. Whether you're doing a leg of the Tour de France on your cycle at home, or doing the real leg, the physical activity and the challenges are the same."

In 2021, the IOC unanimously approved the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, which includes encouraging the development of virtual sports and engaging further with video games communities. But there are some "red lines".

Bach said, "When it comes to e-games, there is a very clear red line. Games that are contradictory to Olympic values, such as killer games or those that are discriminatory, are absolutely taboo to the Olympic Movement."

More than players

While many young esports enthusiasts can only dream of becoming top players, the industry is not solely about those who shine on the stage, as it comprises a variety of talent, including games designers, team managers and broadcasters.

Ji said: "Esports is an industry that can cooperate with many other sectors. In the future, it will be connected to more industries, which will create increased opportunities.

"For example, there is a need for experts to transform coaches' tactics and decisions into data and visual information so that we can better analyze our tactics. We need more talent."

Ji added that there are extremely high standards for professional players, but not all those who love esports will make it to the top.

"Truly talented professional players are not addicted to games. They have to be highly efficient and complete their tasks quickly. Moreover, becoming a successful professional player requires a lot more than merely having good skills. A player needs to have a strong mentality and know how to cooperate well with the team," Ji added.

One such example is commentator Guan Zeyuan, who has done well in esports, but not as a player.

"I wanted to become a professional player, but it was obvious that I'm not talented enough," said Guan, whose passionate style of commentary has attracted more than 7.5 million followers on social media.

"I want to continue being involved with esports. I remember the first time that I went to Brazil to work as a commentator in 2017. I was deeply impressed by the passion of the spectators. It was the first time I felt that the level of passion for esports could be as high as that for a soccer match.

"Esports has taught me a lot, including the need to be persistent, which is key to being successful. In this industry, I have met many great people, who have taught me a lot." — CHINA DAILY