Competitive gaming is stepping up to the next level as it joins the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, as an official medal sport. The Chinese event is a serious date in the sporting calendar. It is the second largest sporting event (with a multitude of sports) after the Olympics. The last event, in South Korea, saw more than 10,000 athletes from 45 countries take part.
This decision was the result of the fast development of interest in eSports and its high level of popularity and participation by young people, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said. The global eSports provided around $493m in revenue in 2016, said a report from one market research firm. The OCA President explained that the Olympic Council’s partnership with Alisports, part of China’s corporate giant Alibaba, means they could commit to developing esports opportunities further.
It is obvious that this might be a growth opportunity for the investing company; over 323 million people watched eSports in 2016. Half of those were from Asia.
Zhang Dazhong from Alisports added that his company would be looking at more opportunities with the OCA. Alibaba has also signed up as a sponsor for the summer and winter Olympics for the next 11 years, at a cost of more than $1bn. Alisports was created in 2015 and has become a player in the eSports arena thanks to a $150m investment with the International eSports Federation (IESF). This kickstarted a campaign to include competitive gaming in the Olympics, and helped launch the World Electronic Sports Games in Changzhou province.
The event, held in January, saw more than 60,000 people compete for winnings of $5.5m. Alongside this growth in interest comes rising revenues. It is expected that the industry will make $696m in 2017. China is among the largest markets, accounting for 15% of that.
The 2022 Games is not the first time competitive eSports will have taken to the international sporting stage. The Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) in Turkmenistan will have eSports contenders standing on the medal podium. It will also be a demonstration sport in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
In the context of these two events, there will be battles in either FIFA 2017, RTA (Real Time Attack) games and Moba (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas). These are likely to be titles such as Dota 2 and League of Legends.
This move towards high-level competition means that traditional athlete training paths are also evolving. Colleges in the US have move to offer scholarships to players that qualify to varsity eSports teams. Bookmakers are also interested in the market. One large market player has opened its first sports book for competitive game playing. There are also plans by MGM to convert its Luxor nightclub in Las Vegas to a high-spec gaming emporium.
The move to competitive gaming as a spectator sport has seen millions of people give their time and money to watch. More than 40,000 people turned up to the League of Legends World Championship finals in Seoul in 2014. By 2016, the same event had 43 million people watching their favourite players compete for a $2.7m prize.
Even this huge bounty pales into insignificance against the International, a competitive tournament of the game Dota 2. It had a massive prize fund for winners of over $20m. Overall champions, the Wings Gaming team, took home more than $9.1m.
Famous venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden and the Staples Centre in Los Angeles have also hosted successful events. Premium opportunities for gamers are emerging in Asia but, make no mistake, eSports is growing worldwide.