CHENNAI: The vast majority of the worlds population (approx 7.4 billion on March 31) can be broadly divided into two categories — ones who have played some video games and ones who are yet to play.
It’s the sort of popularity that has radicalised the e-Sports, (the umbrella name given to most video games worth their salt) movement. The official governing body for the sport, the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF), had even become WADA compliant a few years ago. The move was made with a long-term objective of getting into the Summer Games. Before you start sniggering, the wheels have already been set in motion, thanks to two significant developments on Tuesday.
An Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) press release said that e-Sports would form part of the itinerary at Hangzhou at the 2022 Asian Games. First, they will have it as a demo sport in Indonesia next year. “It’ll feature at the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang as a demonstration sport,” the release said. “By the time of the 19th Asian Games in 2022, however, e-Sports will become an official medal event.”
Needless to say, gamers in India are rejoicing at the prospect. “This is the best thing that has happened to the gaming community,” Prashant Varadarajan, a 24-year-old who has spent most of his bedtime playing DOTA with strangers, told Express. “We can finally become mainstream, and hours of spending our lives on the couch can actually be normalised if a few of us have the chance of representing our country.”
Organisers of multi-sport events like the Olympics (incidentally, Los Angeles, a potential host for the 2024 Summer Games, have also looked at e-Sports) have long looked towards video games to revive a flagging Olympic message. Political instability, corruption scandals and exorbitant costs have meant newer ways to try and engage a weary youth. And they have responded in a positive way.
“There are bound to be grumbles from athletes who slog 8-10 hours under the sun on a daily basis, but we also deserve some sort of recognition,” Paul George, a 30-year-old who describes himself as a FIFA nut, says.
Varadarajan concurs. “There’s some insane stuff that gamers do. A few of my friends, both abroad as well as from India, are members of Twitch (a live streaming portal). And they just stream their games there and show what they can do.”
Apart from interacting with like-minded people, this is also an opportunity to make a quick buck. “A few of the better ones have actually linked an e-wallet account to their Twitch account. So people who watch can actually donate as well.”
There are bound to be skeptics, but this is already a revolution. The industry is expected to grow to $1bn by 2019 and Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant and the company responsible for the latest move, have backed it to the hilt. They invested $150mn in IeSF last year and expect that to rise as the months go by.
Are you ready to join in?
IOA in dark
Given the number of competitive Indians who game from home together on a daily basis, the country could very well be a favourite, but there is a catch. An Indian e-Sports association has IeSF recognition, but the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is not even aware of such a federation. “I’m not aware of any such association,” was the take of a senior IOA member.