Olympic Council of Asia says WESG shape of things to come

E-sports have become more popular than ever before. (AFP pic)

HAIKOU: Olympic Council of Asia honorary life vice-president Wei Jizhong believes it is only a matter of time before e-sports are fully embraced by the Olympic family and all other more traditional multi-sport events.

“Change is happening,” said Wei, speaking on the sidelines of this week’s World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) Grand Final.

The OCA tested the waters with e-sports at last year’s 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and the experiment was apparently a resounding success with close to 100 million views of the action recorded across live streams and social media, according to Wei.

E-sports will be among the demonstration sports at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August this year before making its debut as a medal sport at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games.

“The decision to include e-sports was very easy,” said Wei. “We looked at the participation and how many people were competing for pleasure. Now we are working to learn and to regulate. Step by step.”

The Olympics are on the horizon, Wei said, but certain matters needed to be addressed first, including the formation of an internationally-recognised and accepted ruling body for e-sports, as well as decisions on exactly which e-sports are chosen.

Preference, he said, would be going to games that are based on traditional sports such as football and basketball – which would lead to e-sports events more readily accepted by the sports already featured at the Olympics.

“If eSports are successful at the Asian Games, of course the IOC (International Olympic Council) will notice, and already I hear that e-sports are being considered as an exhibition sport at the Paris Olympics in 2024,” said Wei.

The six-day WESG, held on the tropical southern Chinese island of Hainan, is helping to chart the course towards that acceptance for e-sports.

WESG organisers Alisports, the sports unit of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, have included Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 as an exhibition event here. Alipsorts are the OCA’s official e-sports partners for the next two editions of the Asian Games and are an official sponsor of the IOC.

Globally e-sports have an estimated audience of around 380 million people. It is expected the international e-sports economy will be worth over US$905 million (RM3.542 billion) in 2018 for a year-on-year growth of 38%.

China has been working its way to the forefront of e-sports and its push for more mainstream acceptance, and there are an estimated 560 million people who count themselves as regular online gamers across the nation.

Wei said the growth of eSports across China had helped push its acceptance into the Asian Games and showed how modern events were quickly “combining old views and new views” of what constitutes a sport.

“What you might call mind games are as important now as physical games,” said Wei. “I’m in favour of including mind games – before we have included chess. But the problem with chess was proportion. How many people play chess? Not that many. But there is no problem with that when it comes to e-sports. Everyone plays these days.”