The Asian Games closed on Sunday, with China leading the medal table for the tenth consecutive time. However there was one new element, which might surprise many parents: the inclusion of esports.
Yes, video gaming has now officially become a real sport, something which will horrify those of us who are constantly trying to chase our children away from screens and out into the fresh air. Six games were selected, including League of Legends and Pro-Evolution Soccer, though no medals were awarded, esports currently having the status of “demonstration events”.
Watching a game of League of Legends (LoL) unfold is utterly bewildering for the uninitiated: a screen full of colorful explosions, scurrying figures and rapidly changing numbers. However for its many devotees it’s a fascinating competition, requiring strategic planning, teamwork, skill, and speed of reflexes. Top players are superstars: China’s LoL hero, a pudgy young man from Hubei known as “Uzi”, has three million followers on Weibo. There’s money in it too, with a million dollar prize for the world champions.
The inclusion was not without controversy. Alibaba, which partnered with the games’ organizers to arrange the events, says that in the future they will concentrate on sports simulations like Pro-Evolution Soccer rather than battle games like LoL. The ultimate goal is of course getting into the Olympics, and violent games are considered unlikely to impress the International Olympic Committee. Some from the esports camp too questioned whether their thriving community needed to be involved with behemoths like the Asian Games, with Indian players complaining they were being asked to sign away their valuable image rights.
As parents we might regret the excuse this offers our kids for spending more time video gaming. However, even if it can offer a lucrative career, as with “real” sports only the very best hit the big time, and disappointment awaits the majority of hopefuls, without the health benefits that physical exercise brings. It’s certainly worth being aware though of this booming subculture, and not being left behind as previous generations were by developments in music and the arts.