In a recent announcement, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) have began a partnership with Alisports, the sports arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba. The partnership will see esports be featured as a demonstration event at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, before becoming an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games. The Asian Games is the world’s second largest multi-sport event after the Olympics. This represents a major development in the expansion of esports and may eventually see esports featured at the Olympics.
In a statement OCA president Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah said “The OCA has always been committed to the inheritance, development, and improvement of Asian sports,” He went on to say “We look forward to the forward-thinking concepts of sports by Alisports, who will be helping us with their strength and experience in esports.”
The 2018 and 2022 Asian Games will be the testing ground for esports inclusion in major sporting events. Further to this, esports will also be introduced at this year’s Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG). Several games will be featured including, Fifa 17.
The future is here, the future is esports?
This announcement is the latest in a long line of advancements for esports in the wider world of sports. With games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive(CS:GO), League of Legends and Dota 2 attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers, it is no surprise that major companies are starting to invest in esports. Recently it was announced that German car manufacturer Audi will be sponsoring high flying CS:GO team Astralis. This was a big step for the CS:GO scene and has furthered back the opinion that it is time for esports to be considered on a similar level to traditional sports. In recent months, there has also been an uptake of professional sports teams picking up various different esports teams. For example, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired long standing Team Dignitas. Whilst Dignitas continue to operate under Dignitas branding, it still evidences a major shift in the opinion of esports.
In a major move for the validity of esports, the University of Utah have also announced that it will begin awarding scholarships to players who make the school’s varsity esports team. It is said that this will be the first scholarship program for competitive gaming for a school in one of the NCAA’s five major conferences. AJ Dimick, the school’s director of operations of esports, told the Associated Press “Esports is growing exponentially in the world and it is, too, on the college scene.” He went on to say “Part of our motivation for doing this is we wanted to help other Power 5 schools and other bigger schools, kind of, see themselves doing it. We hope that us jumping over and getting into this will encourage some of those schools to follow suit. And we think they will.”
The Next steps
As esports becomes more and more excepted by mainstream sports, it may be time to refer to each competitive game in its own merit. Whilst it makes sense when explaining it to people and when grouping together the genre. Things may become difficult as more and more esports appear in general sporting events. For example, back in 2014 Call of Duty(COD) made its first appearance at the X Games. Whilst this was important for the esports genre, it was also important for Call of Duty as a whole. It may be that esports because a category of sports event, in the same way you can have track and field events.
Esports has a long way to go to catch-up with traditional sports, not only externally but also internally. Let’s take a look at fan bases. In terms of traditional sports people generally align themselves with a local team which they will then follow. Often in the esports scene, fans will support a player rather than a team. This is something that needs to be changed as esports grows. One good example of this would be Optic Gaming, who have created a team that people have allegiances to.
Esports is still developing and it take time until it reaches the same level of validity as general sports. One thing that can be guaranteed is that esports is coming and mainstream media will need to be ready for it.
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