Despite debuting as a demonstration event in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang, Indonesia, to great fanfare, esports will be missing in action at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
Its absence is glaring, given the hype and earlier reports that there would be esport medals to be won in the upcoming Asian Games for the first time. However, with the schedule and events of the 2022 Asian Games being officially revealed by the Hangzhou Games Committee, esports appears to be a no-go at this time.
Back in 2017, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) had announced a partnership with Alisports, the sports arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba, to have esports featured first as a demonstration event in the 2018 Games, then as a full medal event in the 2022 Games.
The 2018 Games demonstration event featured League of Legends (LoL), Starcraft II, Hearthstone, Arena of Valor, Clash Royale, and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 2018.
However, the inclusion of esports as a medal event in the 2022 Games were put on hold in August last year, when the OCA said that esports needed a single international federation before it can be included as a medal sport.
“There needs to be one international federation. Now there are so many international federations for esports,” OCA director general Husain Al Musallam told Agence France-Presse.
“They have to get together to decide one governing body. To be ‘official’ in the program and not ‘demonstration’ it has to be one international sport.”
There was also a movement aimed at shifting focus away from violent content and toward sports-focused titles for the 2022 Games. Instead of the “battle games” like LoL and Dota 2 that have come to define esports, it was preferable for the industry to be represented by sports-related titles like FIFA, PES, or NBA 2K instead.
“Esports should be about sports, not entertainment and about the honor of representing your country,” Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong told Reuters.
Having esports in the 2022 Games would have been a significant boost for the scene in China, one of the biggest esports and gaming markets in the world. There’s even a US$280 million “e-sports town” in Hangzhou, where the next Asian Games is set to be held. The exclusion may very well be a missed opportunity for the thriving esports industry in the country.
Many also previously expected that esports will be making an appearance in the Olympics — even as soon as the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France — but its exclusion from the 2022 Asian Games may be a sign that an Olympic appearance won’t be happening any time soon.
Even so, esports will be debuting as a medal sport in a different event this year: the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, to be held from November to December 8n the Philippines. Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7, Arena of Valor, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and another to-be-determined game are to be featured in the upcoming SEA Games.
While esports has been thriving by itself, many see an inclusion in the Olympics to be the next step that the industry needs to take towards global legitimacy and recognition. Considering recent developments however, it seems that esports will continue to largely be independent of the world of traditional sports that many want it to enter.