E-sports has been confirmed as event program for the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]
Hangzhou 2022 ratifies e-sports as medal event as Games go digital
The official ratification of e-sports as a medal event for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou on Wednesday has been hailed as a milestone in both gaming and sporting history.
The inclusion completes a process to add e-sports to the lineup that began in 2017. The street-dance discipline of breaking will also debut on the Asiad's official event program after a proposal by Hangzhou's local organizing committee was approved by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) at its General Assembly, held in Muscat, Oman, and online on Wednesday.
The additions bring Hangzhou 2022's total number of medal events to 61, across 40 sports. According to the organizing committee, e-sports joins the Asiad as a so-called "mind game" while breaking is classified as a "dance sport".
The committee also briefed the OCA on preparations for Hangzhou 2022, specifically regarding venue construction, marketing, the opening and closing ceremonies, and staging a technologically "smart" event.
E-sports joined the Asian Games for the first time as a demonstration sport at the 2018 edition in Jakarta, Indonesia. China won two gold medals and a silver in three of the six events: League of Legends, Clash Royale and Arena of Valor, an international version of China's homegrown hit Honor of Kings.
E-sports' inclusion is a win-win for both sides. The addition forms part of a wider strategy to make the Asian Games more appealing to young people, while conversely earning e-sports more recognition from the traditional sports world as it continues to target an Olympic spot.
Yan Junze, a retired Team China gamer who won League of Legends gold at the 2018 Asian Games and was known by the handle 'Letme', welcomed the historic news.
"This is great. If there's a tiny chance, I'd still love to return to the game and make my own contribution. I hope Chinese e-sports teams can have even better results than we did at the Asian Games on home soil," said Yan, who starred for renowned Chinese club Royal Never Give Up (RNG).
"I won many different championships throughout my career. But none of the titles could compare with my Asian Games gold in 2018. That was the most important honor of my life."
It's not yet clear which game titles will be included for Hangzhou 2022. However, the title selection is expected to follow the same principles as the 2018 Asiad: no violent games, making sports titles a priority and guaranteeing fairness.
Three of the six titles in 2018 were single-player games: the real-time strategy classic StarCraft 2,Clash Royale and Hearthstone. The remaining three were team games: Pro Evolution Soccer, League of Legends and Honor of Kings.
Another player from that 2018 gold-winning Chinese team, Liu Shiyu, aka 'MLXG', told China Daily that the Asiad inclusion is a major step forward for e-sports.
"Winning the Asian Games gold was a special honor for me. It was an unforgettable memory for me to fight for the honor of my country," said Liu, who like Yan has since retired as a pro gamer.
"I'm so glad to witness e-sports making great progress step by step thanks to everyone's contributions in the sector."
E-sports looks certain to be a huge money-spinner for the Asian Games.
According to the 2019 Global E-sports Development Report, published by Tencent E-sports and Penguin Intelligence, the number of Chinese gamers and e-sports fans reached 350 million in 2019, with that number projected to reach 400 million by the end of 2020.
The Chinese e-sports market was valued at 13.8 billion yuan ($2 billion) in 2019. In 2018, there were only about 71,000 people working in China's e-sports sector, but last year employers could not fill all of the 331,000 vacancies due to a talent vacuum.
Moreover, the gaming industry has shown strong resilience in 2020, when most sports leagues and tournaments were postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. November's League of Legends World Championship in Shanghai, for example, was the first international sports event held in China after the country's containment of the coronavirus.
According to the event organizer, the final of that championship boasted an average online audience of 23 million viewers per minute, and at one time peaked at over 45 million viewers. The final's combined viewing time online totaled 1 billion hours by early December.
"The fast-growing e-sports industry is a result of the joint efforts of everyone in the sector, including players, clubs and support staff," Yan said. "E-sports' inclusion has proved that all our hard work has paid off."