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eSports Earns a Place on the Medal Stand – Just Not in the U.S.

20 Mar, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

eSports may not be headed for the Olympic podium any time soon, but they’re going to feature prominently in another international multi-sport event. And organizers are playing it up.

The Southeast Asian, or SEA, Games, coming to the Philippines in November of this year, recently announced eSports as a full medal pursuit. (It was previously included in the 2018 but only as a demonstration sport.)

So what facilitated the inclusion at the SEA level, and what is lacking at the IOC level? Support, for one. The IOC recently noted that any expectation of seeing it included as a medal sport were “premature” at best – and Thomas Bach has repeatedly criticized the idea of violence in any game. In fact, the only form of eSports the IOC has indicated it will tolerate is the type based on already existing sports such as soccer.

By contrast, it was with a huge flourish that SEA announced the inclusion of eSports, bringing in Foreign Affairs Secretary and Philippines South East Asian Games Organizing Committee (PhilSGOC) Chairman Emeritus Alan Peter Cayetano to make the announcement.

Further support and structure will come from its governing body; eSports in the SEA Games is accredited by the Asian Electronic Sports Federation.

There will be six gold medals awarded for three gaming platforms -- two for console, two for PC and two for mobile. Qualifying tournaments will be held for the different titles. The program will be supported by gaming company Razer.

And forget about the "no violence" philosophy. Five of six shortlisted titles for the inaugural eSports tournament at those Games announced so far include Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Tekken 7, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and Arena of Valor. - all of which include simulated warfare. (A sixth and final eSports title is undergoing evaluation and is expected to be released in the coming weeks.)

Organizers have found that awareness of the Games has shot up since the announcement, being picked up by news outlets worldwide that have been watching the development of the sport.

Razer co-founder and CEO Min-Liang Tan said, "In the three weeks since we announced eSports as a medal event at SEA Games 2019, we've seen a phenomenal level of interest from all segments of the industry, most of all game publishers. The shortlisting of six games in such a short time is evidence that the notion of eSports as a legitimate sporting event is no longer a fad. We look forward to having more partners come on board and join us in defining a new generation of sporting heroes for the youth and millennials."

It was also announced that the games are gender inclusive, and that participation will be open to both men and women – all of whom will need to successfully compete in qualifying tournaments.

eSports, like many of the other events in SEA, will be televised. A total of 56 sports will be presented:

The list of 56 approved sports for SEA (some of which may not be familiar to the American audience) are as follows:

  • Category 1: Athletics (track and field) and Aquatics;
  • Category 2: Archery, Badminton, Baseball/Softball, Basketball, Billiards, 10-pin Bowling, Boxing, Canoe/Traditional Boat Race, Chess, Cycling, Dance Sport, Fencing, Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Handball, Hockey, Ice hockey, Ice skating, Judo, Karate-do, Modern Pentathlon, Muay, Pencak Silat, Polo, Rowing, Rugby Sevens, Sailing/Windsurfing, Sepak Takraw, Skateboarding, Shooting, Soft Tennis, Squash, Surfing, Table Tennis, Triathlon, Volleyball, Weightlifting, Wrestling, and Wushu;
  • Category 3: Arnis, E sports, Floorball, Jujitsu, Kickboxing, Kurash, Lawn Bowls/Petanque, Netball, Obstacle Course, Sambo/Vovinam, Underwater Hockey, and Wakeboarding.
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