[Opinion] Esports in Sports Events, Is It Still Relevant?

Short answer? It depends.

Many people may not know this but it's been 15 years since esports featured in the first international sports event. 2007 Asian Indoor Games was the first notable sports event where esports was included. There were 3 games contested at that time, FIFA 07, NBA Live 07, and Need For Speed Most Wanted.

Jumping forward to 2018, 2018 Asian Games featured esports as demonstration sport. This time, there were 6 games: Arena of Valor, Clash Royale, Hearthstone, StarCraft 2, Pro Evolution Soccer, and League of Legends.

A year later, esports was included as medal events in 2019 South East Asian Games. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB), Arena of Valor, Tekken 7, StarCraft 2, Hearthstone, and Dota 2 are the chosen games for the event.

This year, there are two international sports events that will feature esports, 2021 SEA Games (delayed because of the pandemic) and 2022 Asian Games. These are the medals contested in esports, in both events:

SEA Games 2021:

  • League of Legends
  • FIFA Online 4
  • Crossfire
  • League of Legends: Wild Rift (men)
  • League of Legends: Wild Rift (women)
  • Arena of Valor
  • PUBG Mobile (solo)
  • PUBG Mobile (team)
  • Garena Free Fire
  • Mobile Legends: Bang Bang

ASIAN Games 2022:

  • PUBG Mobile (Asian games version)
  • Dota 2
  • Hearthstone
  • League of Legends
  • EA's FIFA
  • Street Fighter V
  • Arena of Valor (Asian games version)
  • Dream of the Three Kingdoms 2

Nonstandard Contested Games

This is my biggest gripe with esports in the sports event. The chosen games are not standardized. There isn't a single game featured in all events. Granted, the 2007 event is too old to be included. But still, there is only one game included in 4 events, Arena of Valor. It's just 1 in 6 games that's constantly featured.

Some people would say that it's too early for esports to be standardized in sports events. I'm too lazy to check on the early days of the Olympics but I am pretty sure that most of the contested sports are already standardized. Sure, there are new sports added over the years. But again, I think most of them are the same from time to time.

It's worth noting that the 5 events I mentioned above are also for practically the same region. The included games could be totally different if the competition was held in other continents, Pan American Games or European Games, because of the big differences in the gaming market between regions.

So, why the differences? Could it be standardized? I'm really not sure about this. Because, esports and games are privatized -- unlike sports.

MPL Indonesia. Photo by: Akbar Priono for Hybrid

Games and Esports are Privatized

Privatization is the biggest difference between esports and sports. Everyone could play football (or soccer for the US) in every part of the world. Every person could hold a basketball competition regardless of location, as long as they have the court. But esports is different. A game belongs to the publisher and every game publisher has a different influence in different regions.

Moonton, for example, who owns MLBB may have a big influence in Southeast Asia. Yet, they don't have the same power in Europe or China.

Privatization matters a lot. First, how could you play the game if you have no access to the game server? Unlike football, you could not play MLBB regardless of your country -- at least not easily.

How could you play the game if you don't even know the game exists? I'm pretty sure people in India don't know what CrossFire is since there is no record of the game being released there. I don't think it's that popular too in Europe or US, even if it's released in EU and NA. It's not even the most popular first-person shooter in Indonesia.

It's also the same case with FIFA Online 4, which is featured in SEA Games 2021. I don't think most gamers from the western market know this game. It's different from the FIFA series published by EA. FIFA Online series is published by Garena.

Also, what the hell is Dream of the Three Kingdoms 2?

Being privatized also means fewer people have an interest in pushing the game to be included in international sports events. Dota 2, for example, is only featured in 2 of the 5 events even though it's one of the most popular esports in the western market. Why? One of the reasons, I think, is because Valve doesn't have a strong presence in the (Southeast) Asian market -- or at least not as strong as in the US or EU.

Esports Has its Own Legitimacy

Who cares about the winners of the football gold medal in the Olympics? It's because the legitimacy of football is in the World Cup. It's also the same case with esports. Every esports game has its own world championship. Dota 2 has The International. MLBB has M# World Championship. The best LoL teams are the ones who win the LoL World Championship, not the ones who won in Asian Games.

Sure, gamers will be proud if they could win a gold medal in sports events but still, the highest achievement for a pro gamer will come from its own official esports championship.

Why is this the case?

Because each esports championship has a better tournament system and more popularity, compared to the ones included in sports events. The selection or qualification process in determining the esports players to represent a country in a multi-sports event, for example, is arguably worse than its own esports championship.

Let's say, Free Fire is included in the SEA Games 2021. However, Garena also has its own league for the Free Fire pro teams. The schedule doesn't work well for those two tournaments. So, players have to choose between participating in the league or joining the national team for the SEA Games. Sometimes, the players can't even choose -- since leaving the league could null the contract between them and their esports team, or the game publisher. Choosing SEA Games for a Free Fire pro player has more cons than choosing the league.

It means the players for the Free Fire events in SEA Games will be most likely amateurs -- at least the ones who don't have a contract with a pro team or the game publisher. I am pretty sure if you want to be called the best, you have to beat the best -- not amateurs or random people. Speaking of random, may I interest you in reading "RNG in Real Life: Does Luck Determine Success? Or is It All Hard Work?"? Yes, it's a shameless promotion.

Image credit: ESL

Popularity and Acknowledgement

Sports need popularity among young people. Meanwhile, esports still needs acknowledgement from the old people. It's the only good thing about esports included in sports events -- at least in general.

However, similar to the less popular sports, a multi-sports event could be a way for less popular games to gain popularity and become the 'legitimate' event. There are popular sports and less popular sports. The less popular sports could use multi-sports events to gain popularity and make it the highest level of legitimate competition.

This could be used for less popular esports as well. FIFA Online 4, CrossFire, and that Dream of the Three Kingdoms 2 (I'm still confused what the hell is this game) are indeed good choices to be included. Because, I don't know whether those games have their own international competitions -- or at least, popular enough to stand alone -- or not. StarCraft 2 is also a good choice I think since there is no popular international tournament for this game anymore.

However, for popular games that have their own esports competition, it's hard for me to see the benefit of being included in multi-sports events -- other than the acknowledgement from the old people that I mentioned earlier.

Featured image credit: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images