Esports at the Olympics? Professional online gaming is gaining momentum to be taken seriously as a sport

February 23, 2020 2:35 AM

In India, specifically, online gaming, or esports, is not new. In the past, Indian gamers have participated in huge gaming events like World Cyber Games, which ran for 10 years during the 2000s backed by major brands like Samsung and Maruti Suzuki.

Olympics, IOC, Esports, Professional online gaming, online games, 2019 Southeast Asian games, Olympic Council of Asia, World Cyber Games, ESFIDuring the last couple of years, it has been observed that esports has caught some serious eyeballs.

By Surbhi

For a long period of time now, online gaming has been stereotyped as an enormous waste of time by many. However, professional online gaming is flourishing and obtaining recognition throughout the world. In fact, it was a part of the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and is now gaining momentum to reach higher and become a part of the Olympics as well. Considering that SEA Games are governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), this isn’t impossible. All it needs is some support. If it had that, online gaming would have by now been a medal sport at the Olympics.

In India, specifically, online gaming, or esports, is not new. In the past, Indian gamers have participated in huge gaming events like World Cyber Games, which ran for 10 years during the 2000s backed by major brands like Samsung and Maruti Suzuki. At that time, teams like ATE and NSD Gaming and players like Prince Johal and Rueben Pereira earned accolades for the country. During the last couple of years, it has been observed that esports has caught some serious eyeballs.

“Esports is already a part of the Asian Games… (During the recently concluded eighth Olympic Summit in December), they received a report from the chair of the Esports and Gaming Liaison Group, UCI president David Lappartient, on recommendations to promote… Olympic values in esports and gaming. The day is not far when we will have esports in Olympics,” says Lokesh Suji, director, Esports Federation of India (ESFI), and vice-president, Asian Esports Federation. “The ESFI organises the National Esports Championship (NESC) every year, where esports athletes participate from all over the country across multiple game titles… the winners are included in Team India, which competes in various international championships, including Esports World Championship and Asian Games, and other championships organised by the Asian Esports Federation,” he adds.

The ESFI also regularly organises and partners for various esports conferences—like the Esports India Business Conference, which is scheduled for March 13 in Mumbai—to create awareness about esports and its potential. These events have been very successful in garnering massive support from the esports industry. These are also some platforms that the ESFI is creating for all the stakeholders to come together and help grow Indian esports, says Suji.

Talking about the online gaming market in India, Arnold Su, business head, consumer and gaming PC, ASUS India, says, “The online gaming market in India has seen tremendous growth over the last few years. The revenues are expected to reach Rs 118.8 billion (as per a recent KPMG report on online gaming). The proliferation of affordable smartphones, multi-featured laptops, high-speed internet and falling data prices are the primary catalysts for this rapid growth. In India, our gaming brand, Republic of Gamers, has been occupying more than 40% market share since 2019 and our efforts have always been to accelerate movement of the gaming space and make it equivalent to growth of the global markets, wherein you find developed infrastructure and avenues that produce professional gamers at a large scale. Brands in India are working to upgrade their products to meet the demand of professional gamers who participate in professional esports tournaments, making it a highly competitive industry. When it comes to offline marketing, brands in India use the channel of sponsoring or participating in events like IGX, ESL, Dreamhack, etc. ASUS sponsors a team called ROG TITANS, which represents us in DOTA 2 tournaments in India.”

So can we expect the inclusion of esports in the Olympics anytime soon? “I am big believer of the fact that the Olympics today need esports more than esports needs Olympics,” says Shobith Rai (aka TbOne), a professional gamer and ROG brand ambassador. “Given the massive player base and viewership that esports enjoys today, it would be a lost opportunity if it is not included in the Olympics roster soon. It is a sport that requires years of practise and perfection to compete at the highest level. However, having said that, while inclusion of esports in the Olympics will legitimise it immensely, it still does not meet the basic requirements or criteria set by the IOC for a sport to be included in the Olympics. Requirements such as governance of the sport by national bodies and gender equity, which are crucial for the sustenance of any sport, need to be addressed. I hope that the IOC recognises the potential of esports and actively seeks to solve these problems.”

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