So, how did esports’ Olympic debut go?
The 2022 Asian Games was a landmark moment for esports as it marked the first time it was recognized as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) medal event. However, it also posed a challenge for the Asian Games and the IOC, as esports is a completely different beast.
Esports has an established scene that brings with it expectations from both fans and players. Now that the event’s done and the medals have been awarded, how did esports in the Asian Games stack up?
On the whole, esports was treated seriously in the Asian Games. The athletes and delegates were treated with respect and the venue used had more than esports in mind.
Made especially for the 2022 Asian Games, the China Hangzhou Esports Centre is state-of-the-art. Using modern design techniques, it was made to be a symbol of the harmonious union of nature and technology. That‘s a very lofty ideal for an event that initially wasn’t going to be part of the Asian Games.
Still, this treatment is important for esports as it shows that it is equal among the Asian Games events. There’s still a stigma that surrounds esports despite the industry it has grown into. Many esports athletes put as much time and effort into their work as any traditional athlete and the Asian Games made sure to show them that same level of respect.
What Needs Work
Last July, the IOC held the Olympic Esports Series (OES) as a way to introduce Olympic-level esports. That event turned some heads because of the IOC’s rulings and those problems showed themselves again in the Asian Games.
The IOC remains steadfast in its policy of not featuring any overt violence in any of its sports, thus affecting the games presented. While Dota 2 and League of Legends only had certain words and phrases censored, PUBG: Mobile was completely altered. Similar to what happened to Fortnite in the OES, PUBG was renamed to Peace Elite and turned into a sort of shooting triathlon. Instead of intense battle royal gameplay, players had to compete in parachuting, cross-country shooting, and racing.
Bracket organization was also a pain point, with many mismatched matches taking place. The biggest victim of this was the League of Legends tournament, with Korea and China, the two strongest regions, facing each other in the semifinals. It’s a problem born from a lack of formal seeding for any esport. The Asian Games tried to fix this with their Road to Asian Games series but more needs to be done to ensure a more balanced tournament experience for the competitors.
The biggest blemish, however, has to be how difficult it was to watch esports in the Asian Games. The IOC has always had the viewing of their events tied to broadcasting rights and these same restrictions carried over to esports. This resulted in generally pitiful viewer numbers across streaming platforms for the Asian Games.
This is unheard of in esports as making it easily accessible and watchable by anyone is one of the industry’s foundations. An event as monumental as the esports appearing in the Asian Games needed to have as many eyes on it. Instead, it was stifled and the IOC is not doing itself any favors by preventing esports fans from across the world from watching their favorite athletes play.
In the end, the Asian Games was a big step forward for esports, though it was not without its few stumbles — understandable for a first-time event. Still, the gravity of esports being played at an Olympic level cannot be understated but these are still its first steps. There’s still a lot of work to be done by the IOC and Asian Games but the future is promising.
Banner photo from AESF.