Gamers Are Now Athletes
The next time your parents chide you for gaming late into the night, just tell them that you’re training for the Olympics.
In a bold move by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), the organisation recently announced a partnership with Alisports to officially include eSports as part of its sporting programme at the 2022 Asian Games.
The multi-sport spectacle, affiliated to the International Olympic Council (IOC), is recognised as the world’s second-largest sporting event after the Olympics. At least 10,000 athletes from over 45 countries are expected to participate in the 2022 edition held in Hangzhou, China.
The lineup of games proposed include popular titles like Starcraft II, League of Legends (LoL), and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Last year, the sporting arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba invested $150 million in the International eSports Federation (IESF), a South Korea-based federation that has been clamouring for video gaming to be recognised as an official sport at the Olympics.
Just a few months ago, the organisation also spent over US$14.5 million to organise the World Electronic Sports Games in China’s Changzhou province, an event which saw over 60,000 gamers from 120 countries compete for a massive US$5.5 million prize pool.
While some have raised concerns over the validity and legitimacy of classifying video games as a sport, a trial of the gaming events have already been scheduled as part of the 2018 Asian Games held in Jakarta.
Alibaba themselves are sponsoring the summer and winter Olympics to a tune of over US$1 billion, according to a report from The Guardian.
Could this provide them with greater leverage to campaign for the inclusion of eSports at the 2024 Olympics?
With competitive gaming gradually making inroads into mainstream consciousness, the industry has experienced a mind-numbing growth in recent years.
In South Korea, seen as the epicentre of eSports, stadiums are built for gaming tournaments, with professional teams being showered with countless sponsorship deals and adulation from their dedicated fans.
In China, some gamers are quitting their cushy jobs in finance and pursuing careers in gaming. World champions from the Mainland like Li Peng have won over US$1.9 million in the span of three short years.
And it’s not just the Asians who are at the forefront of the eSports revolution — our Western counterparts have also taken notice of its immense potential.
On top of dedicated streaming sites like Major League Gaming (MLG) and major sports network ESPN broadcasting the pinnacle of gaming events, the University of Utah recently announced that it will be awarding full scholarships to its students who qualify for its eSports team, while bookmakers like William Hill are starting to offer betting services for tournaments.
The British government-backed International eGames Committee (IEGC) has also expressed interest in campaigning for the inclusion of eSports at the Olympics.
Heck, we don’t even have to look that far to witness the industry’s growing influence.
Across the Causeway, our neighbors have launched several initiatives to raise the standard of gaming in the country. In 2015, the extravagant Malaysia Cyber Games debuted with an attractive victory purse, and the Malaysian government has openly encouraged gamers to form eSports clubs in universities.
According to research firm Superdata, the eSports industry was worth over US$900 million in 2016 and is set to continue its monumental growth in the coming years. It is estimated that viewership figures will increase by nearly 100 million in the next three years to over 300 million, a safe indicator that the popularity of video games will not be cooling down anytime soon.
Singapore’s Success Stories
Believe it or not, our little island also boasts several professional gamers that have made their mark on the world stage.
in 2013, Ho Kun Xian sent shockwaves through the fighting games community when he beat 1,600 other competitors to be crowned champion at Evolution (EVO) — billed as the World Cup of fighting games. Having to survive on US$10,000 a year while he trained, his relentless effort proved to be worth it in the end as he still remains the only Singaporean gamer to ever win a major global contest.
Just a few months ago, Singapore managed to qualify for the Overwatch World Cup in Anaheim. Overwatch, a first-person shooter developed by gaming studio Blizzard that notched dozens of gaming awards despite barely launching for half a year, has since seen its player base expand to over 25 million.
Other notable mentions include Wilson “Tetra” Chia, credited with putting Singapore eSports on the world map in 2005, Jeng “NutZ” Yih Wong, a household name in the Dota (Departure of the Ancients) 2 scene, and Royston Chee “LoveQuinny” Jin Sheng, one of the eSports pioneers in Singapore as part of the legendary Scythe.SG team.
The biggest success story, however, belongs to Daryl Koh, more affectionately known as “iceiceice”. He is reportedly the 23rd-highest paid gamer in the world, amassing nearly US$1 million in prize money from various prestigious tournaments in the past three years alone.
Obstacle To Success
Given Singapore’s access to the latest gaming hardware and infrastructure, and eSports slowly becoming more of a viable career path, our young ones could be forgiven for harbouring dreams of making it big one day on the international stage.
With YouTube Gaming and game streaming site Twitch.tv, casual gamers who might not necessarily be highly skilled, but possess a desirable personality or the knack to make their audiences laugh, can earn a steady stream of income from ads, donations from fans, or/and sponsorships from gaming peripheral companies like Razer or Kingston.
While the fame, fortune, glitz and glamour of being a professional gamer seems especially alluring, the sad reality is that national service remains the biggest obstacle for many hoping to make a name for themselves.
Back in 2014, a Singapore Dota team qualified for a major tournament in Los Angeles, but their chances of competing for the US$311,000 prize pool were cruelly dashed after the Singapore Armed Forces refused to grant their captain additional leave.
Recently, Liang Qing “Swoop” Lo received an opportunity to go on trial with an eSports team competing in the second tier LoL league in Taiwan. Despite performing better than the team’s current players, he was denied a spot on their team as he was deemed too old.
Mr Liang was only 24 years old.
Aspiring pro gamers would usually require anywhere between half a year to two years to tune themselves into shape and gel with their teammates, and considering the young age that players from other countries are making their debuts, recruiting someone at the relatively young age of 24 proved to be a great risk.
Lisabel Ting describes the predicament succinctly in a Straits Times article:
Many promising players have had their careers cut short by national service. By the time they are free to play again, they are no longer as skilful and the drive to excel is sometimes no longer there.
This is a case of striking while the iron is hot. Just as with professional athletes, there is a peak age for eSports and this tends to be between the teens and mid-20s, after which the reflexes begin to slow.
What if top swimmer and SEA Games medallist Joseph Schooling were not allowed to dip his toes in a pool for two years? By the time he completes his national service, his body would have weakened and the strokes would feel unfamiliar.
Gunning For Gold
In many ways, eSports athletes train like your sportsmen and sportswomen — they hire coaches and team manages, study footage of their games and those of their opponents, practice relentlessly for over 12 hours per day, and even take note of their nutrition lest it affects their performances.
Singaporean gamers have proven countless times that they can hold their own against fiercer opponents from other parts of the world, even with less money, resources and support being afforded to them in the pursuit of glory.
In recent years, even gamers have flocked to Singapore to take advantage of our blazing Internet connection speeds and train on our island.
It is high time the authorities could look into developing eSports further like our bold neighbours, rather than treat it as an afterthought, a casual hobby, or a social ill detrimental to the country’s almost-flawless education rankings.
With more support and gamer-friendly policies introduced by the government, we are positive that our fellow countrymen would be able to make big splashes on the grandest stages.
Featured image from businessinsider.in