Esports at the Commonwealth Games: Fad, Fiction or Fandom?

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Gaming’s arrival at multi-sport events has drawn criticism, but there is method in the madness.

Esports has been mooted to arrive at multi-sport events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games for a number of years now, and this summer in Birmingham, the gap between sports and esports is narrowed. 

The first ever Commonwealth Esports Championshipswill take place during the Commonwealth Games, and despite the event having separate branding, medals and organisation – it is a significant step for esports’ recognition alongside traditional sports. 

It was never going to happen overnight, but esports' Olympic is now a question of when, not if.

How we got here

The credit for bringing esports into multi-sport events must go the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), who run the Asian Games. 

Over 6 million hours were watched in League of Legends at the Asian Games in 2018, showing the appetite the community had for the event. 

The event in Indonesia looked to be the perfect launchpad to bring esports into the Olympics for Tokyo 2020. 

Coupled with the global pandemic, the delayed Olympics made perfect sense to include esports. 

Instead of being included in the Games, the esports offering was showcased in the Intel World Open which took place before the Tokyo Olympics commences. 

The event was meant to be held in-person, but the pandemic meant that the World Open would take place entirely online. 

Only two game titles were used – Rocket League and Street Fighter V – and server issues meant there were multiple champions as players could only face others in the same region. What should have been the significant launchpad for esports at the pinnacle of traditional esports fell a touch flat. 

A fresh start

After those issues at the Olympics, you would have forgiven the Commonwealth Games Federation for not including esports in Birmingham 2022, but together with the Global Esports Federation, they have persevered and there is a fascination about this summer’s esports offering. 

Over three days, we will see the first ever Commonwealth Esports Forum, followed by competition on Dota 2, eFootball and Rocket League

Tickets for a session are £35, whereas the forum – targeted at industry professionals, will feature panels on the role and future of esports and technology, and promote education, collaboration and networking in the esports space – costs £295. 

Katie Sadleir, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming the best esports athletes in the Commonwealth to Birmingham. I have no doubt the Commonwealth Esports Championships will present a thrilling sporting spectacle and point the way towards the future of esports.”   

Over 100 athletes will take part in the competition, across both open and women categories. On Day 1, we will see the finals of Rocket League and eFootball in the open category, as well as the Dota 2 women’s finals. Day 2 starts with women’s Rocket League and eFootball, before concluding with the Dota 2 open finals. 

Teams from England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, India, Canada, Kenya, Jamaica, Ghana and Brunei will be on show at the ICC at Birmingham, which is a massive step forward for esports. 

The future

We will see esports feature for a second time this year at a multi-sport event, with the Asian Games including esports again in Hangzhou, China – and becoming a medal event for the first time. 

The range of titles on offer in September is the best seen in any event to date. 

PUBG Mobile, Dota 2, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, FIFA, Street Fighter V and Arena of Valor will be medal events, with two demonstration events in AESF Robot Masters and AESF VR Sports both powered by Migu, which may give us a taste of the future. 

If the Asian Games offering goes down as a hit, the relationship between esports and traditional sports could change dramatically, as esports looks to build momentum ahead of push to join the Olympics from 2028. 

The IOC said 2024 is “premature” to include esports, but the door is open for 2028, when the games will be hosted in Los Angeles. Casey Wasserman, the head of LA’s Olympic committee, is an esports supporter, having pushed for its involvement in LA’s initial Olympic bid

"Harnessing the power of new technologies like virtual and augmented reality to promote healthy lifestyles will be a key objective as we seek to create a new Games for a new era."

Casey Wasserman, LA28 Chairman

For esports fans, that may seem like too long a wait, but that does give the likes of the Asian and Commonwealth Games – as well as other potential multi-sport events such as the Pan American or African Games – to fine-tune processes and ensure the best possible chance of success in the future. 

Given the IOC launched its Esports and Gaming Liason Group in 2018 shows there is commitment to the space. 

The British Esports Federation is already looking as to what the future holds, which involves launching their own performance centre. 

With this landscape changing with technology, especially with eyes on the metaverse, it is unclear, but exciting, how esports could be presented and evolve moving forward. 

Perhaps a virtual esports games inside the metaverse is possible, or the launch of an “Elympics” to sit alongside the Olympics and Paralympics could be something we see in the years ahead. 

Whether you are onboard with esports involvement in such events – it does seem inevitable it will have a role to play in one way or another. 

You can watch the Commonwealth Esports Championships on the Global Esports Federation’s Twitch and YouTube channels. 

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

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