Asia is taking the lead in legitimizing eSports as a competitive sport. While the Olympic Games aren’t quite ready to embrace eSports yet, the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) has announced five of six titles that will be medal events in the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Mobile Legends Bang Bang was the first title to be announced as a medal event last November while Dota 2, Tekken 7, Starcraft 2, and Arena of Valor have been included a month after. The sixth game has yet to be announced.
This isn’t the first time that eSports has been included in an international sporting event. The Asian Games included eSports as a demonstration event last year. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games – complicated by Japan’s anti-gambling policies despite its position as a market leader in the video gaming industry – has not included eSports as a medal event but has opened the possibility of having another demonstration event.
These continued efforts to legitimize eSports aren’t just attempts to garner interest from younger audiences, but are also a recognition that eSports isn’t just a niche. Promoting eSports in the 2019 SEA Games could further expand the already rapidly rising market of competitive gaming, and video games in general.
According to a report by Chinese marketing research firm Niko Partners that was commissioned by business-to-business event Esports Asia Summit, 49% of the world’s gaming and eSports revenue last 2018 came from the Asia-Pacific region. Newzoo, another market research firm, predicts that the eSports audience in the region will increase to almost 32 million by the end of 2019.
But why the hesitation? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) may not be in the wrong when declaring the discussion of including eSports in future Olympic Games as “premature.” While the notion of athleticism and skills in eSports has been debated forever, the decision to not include eSports in any upcoming Olympic Games can be rooted in the eSports scene as “commercially viable” rather than “value-based.” Meanwhile, skateboarding and surfing are just two of the five new sports that are guaranteed to be part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
While the debates continue, gamers in the Asia Pacific—all 32 million of them—anticipate watching their favorite video game in the 2019 SEA Games, which will run from November 30 to December 11 in various cities in the Philippines. Some of them will represent their country and will vie for the gold as an e-athlete.
As for those of us who have left their gamer aspirations as just a mere pipe dream, the reality that you can make your country proud by owning someone in Tekken is more than enough. Welcome to 2019.