JAKARTA : He is known as Lee Sang-hyeok to his family and friends. To the online community, he is known as ‘Faker’. Faker’s moniker is legendary. “Michael Jordan of eSports.” What does Faker, a professional League of Legends player, have to do with the Asian Games? On Monday, Faker and his band of brothers from South Korea will represent the country at the Asiad in Jakarta.
Most of Asia’s eyes were trained on thousands of athletes as they marched into the Gelora Bung Karno Athletics Stadium during the Opening Ceremony last Saturday. A lesser-known fact: there was another opening ceremony for a different bunch of athletes who specialise in playing a completely different sport. Nothing to do with balls or racquets or hockey sticks... none of that conventional stuff. These people play with gaming consoles and mobile phones and they were introduced before a select crowd at the BritAma Arena on Sunday as eSports made its worldwide debut at a multi-discipline event. The opening match pitted Thailand against China in ‘Arena of Valor’, a ‘multiplayer online battle arena’ according to the official website.
The setup even extended to a pre-match show and analysis of the team’s best players, including their kill ratio. As the identity of the players — Snow, Best, Mr Shun, Super Mc (all virtual names ) — were revealed on the big screen, one couldn’t escape the feeling that this was the future, a sentiment echoed by Indonesia Asian Games Organising Committee (INASGOC) president Erick Thohir. “This is going to be the future of many multi-discipline games,” he said.
While that talk may be bullish in the extreme, Asian Electronic Sports Federation president, Kenneth Fok, sang from the same hymn sheet. “I think it can be sustainable in the long run,” he told Express. “This is the trend. It has viewership and industry support. There is a huge drive behind eSports.” That also, potentially, puts the sport at risk from unscrupulous elements, a fact Fok is aware of. “I think what’s important is to see whoever is pushing you... whether they are pushing you in the right direction. ” One of the biggest challenges for Fok’s team right now is education.
About the sport and the opportunity it provides to millions of youngsters if they channelise their casual gaming in the right way. “Our main thing is to help all Asian members grow. For example, a few are recognised by the National Olympic Committee (NOC) while a few are starting from zero. To have a healthy eSports ecosystem, we need all the member countries in Asia to come together.”
It’s easier said than done. eSports, like most other newer avenues, face unconventional threats. “E-doping,” informs Fok. “I think we have to take it one step further. There has to be fair play and anti-doping becomes a central part of it. Moving one step beyond, there is something we call e-doping. In the electronic world, it is not just about what substances you take to enhance your abilities as stuff like hardware and software enter the picture.”
Considering this is just a demo event — medals won will not be counted — Fok’s immediate ambitions are moderate. “I am hoping the people who pass through these doors to watch the action on the big screen come with an open mind.”
What happens over the course of the next four days will not decide the fate of eSports. It has and will continue to survive without being under the aegis of federations who organise and conduct multi-discipline events. However, one thing will be decided. How Faker and his ilk approach their week in front of television — all the six titles will be broadcast to numerous homes across Asia and the world — could potentially change the perception of eSports.