As global attention turns to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou in China’s Zhejiang Province, we are seeing esports making its debut as a medal event.
China’s General Administration of Sport nominated esports as the 99th official sport on November 18, 2003, and later changed it to the 78th in 2008. At the 39th Olympic Council of Asia General Assembly held on December 16, 2020, esports was approved as the official medal sport at the Asian Games Hangzhou 2022. Seven events will take place at the Games.
It is remarkable progress for a section of the sport whose qualification for this stature has been long debated.
Esports had a difficult time getting to where it is today. Skepticism about it always existed and people from various generations hold different opinions. People have openly questioned that it lacks a sense of physicality that’s required in other sports. And at a certain stage, even the word “esports” was met with reluctance. “Virtual sports” was the term used to describe it.
Esports does not mean kids locking themselves in their bedrooms and playing games simply for the sake of playing the game. Esports, in essence, is just like any other sport. It involves strategy, teamwork, dedication, and fitness – not just physical fitness, but mental fitness as well, especially for elite athletes who go into professional competitive events representing their countries.
It is a sport that requires great dexterity in its contestants. Players have to have incredibly fast and smooth hands-and-mind coordination. They are required to have fast and sharp finger moments and control over the mouse and keyboard. And just like any other sport, it requires the contestants to be in their top shape with exceptional mind, body, eyesight etc. if they seek to stand out and reach the top in this category.
China is the largest esports market in the world. It has an enormous player base as well as a fan base. This helped create a very robust ecosystem. And the investments from the public and private sectors have fuelled the growth of the esports industry.
Based on various reports, more than one-fifth of male gaming earners, people who play esports for a living, reside in China. Esports’ revenue reached 144.5 billion yuan (nearly $20 billion) in 2022, an increase of 70 billion yuan from 2017. China’s domestic esports industry generated 75.9 billion yuan ($10.6 billion) in the first six months of 2023.
And it is a huge market in Asia. Esports market is projected to exceed $1 billion in 2023, with an annual growth rate of 8 percent.
Esports is a field that will keep growing. During my four years as the President of the Global Esports Federation, I’ve seen the industry grow despite difficulties. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as other traditional sports stayed relatively the same, esports kept its momentum forward. It grows because it’s linked with technology and technology is always evolving. So, as long as the technology is there, esports will go forward with it and get more exciting.
The game’s including as a medal event in the Asian Games in Hangzhou is indeed a milestone in the industry. It is by itself an acknowledgment of the importance of esports and a stamped approval of its legitimacy as a sporting event. But, this is only the first step. I hope that as this event gets more attraction and attention, we can see esports gain the same stature in all events as other sports have.
This article was first published on CGTN