The 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou kicked off on Saturday and will run until October 8, with Esports included as a medal event for the first time.
Esports first appeared in the Asian Games in 2018 as a demonstration event, meaning no medals were awarded. This time it is a fully-fledged event with seven gold medals up for grabs and 31 countries and regions participating. The event is taking place in the purpose-built Hangzhou Esports Center, an 80,000-square-meter venue that boasts a 360 degree immersive viewing experience and a 4,500 audience capacity.
In the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) category, in which two teams of players compete to eliminate the other’s home base whilst defending their own, the lineup includes League of Legends, DOTA2, and Honor of Kings. At time of writing, the Chinese team has defeated Myanmar to head to the Honor of Kings semi-finals, where they will battle the Thai team for a spot in the final.
Other games on the roster include the online football simulation FIFA Online 4, the ancient China-themed strategy game Dream of Kingdoms 2, and the hand-to-hand combat simulator Street Fighter V. Two of the seven video games featured in the tournament are published by Chinese game developers – Honor of Kings and Dream of Kingdoms 2.
Blizzard Entertainment’s popular strategy card game set in the World of Warcraft universe, Hearthstone, was originally slated to feature in the tournament, but was removed from the lineup in March after the US game publisher ended its licensing agreement with China’s NetEase.
“Being allowed into the Asian Games is a milestone, which will not only help esports further integrate into large-scale sports competition but also promote its popularisation and standardisation,” said Xia Hong chief executive of the game developer Perfect World.
During the 2018 Asian Games, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, branded esports too violent to be included in the Olympics. “If you have games where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values,” Bach said.
But since then, the IOC has made a foray into the popular sector, hosting the Olympic Esports Series in March 2023, although gamers bemoaned the absence of the most popular esports games, with the lineup instead dominated by non-violent titles like Virtual Regatta, Virtual Taekwondo, Gran Turismo, and Just Dance.