CHENNAI: The participation of India's athletes in two of the eight esports titles — PUBG (Asian Games version) and Arena of Valor (Asian Games version) — at the upcoming Asiad in Hangzhou will be decided by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and sports ministry.
While the preliminary qualifiers of the other six medal titles (see box) is scheduled to begin on or before March 15, the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) cannot progress with the qualifiers of the two above-mentioned titles till they get clarity from the government.
MeitY will have to rubberstamp this as both of these games were banned in India in 2020 under Section A of the IT Act. At the time, the government said apps like PUBG was a threat to India's 'sovereignty and integrity'. "(...) mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures," the statement, put out by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), had said in 2020.
The PUBG version that participants will play, though, isn't going to be the original game. The technical handbook of the Asian Games says Peacekeeper Elite, the rebranded Chinese version.
India isn't the only Asian country to have banned the original game. Even China banned PUBG in 2020. Other countries to have put in place similar regulations were Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal but most of these countries have removed the new regulations. Peacekeeper Elite is a watered-down version of the original game in that the violence is toned down.
Qualifiers to be held soon
Moving on to the other six titles, ESFI hopes to start the preliminary qualifiers within the next seven days. They wanted to start by March 10 but have now pushed that back to March 15. The qualifiers, as of this point in time, will work in two phases. The first phase will be completely online with players/teams logging in from home. The second phase could potentially see finalists in all titles coming together under one roof — could be in an INOX as part of the deal they signed with the multiplex giant — a few weeks later. Even if Covid-19 cases have gone down significantly in the country, there is still a lot of logistics involved in bringing all finalists under one roof so this plan could yet change.
It's expected that there could be anywhere between eight-sixteen finalists in all titles. The best team/individual from the finalists will be selected for the Games and there will also be a substitute as part of the contingent. A unique aspect of esport is that there's no segregation based on gender so men and women will either compete in the same team or face each other. In all, the federation expects to send roughly 20 members to Hangzhou.
This is the first time that esport will be a medal event at a big continental event. In Jakarta in 2018, where it was a demonstration event, there was significant Indian participation. Tirth Mehta, who took part in Heartstone (a card game), 'won' a bronze medal.