Can South Korea’s Asian Games Dream Team Inspire an Olympic Movement?
Whether you want to be part of it or not, the esports-Olympic conversation is moving fast. The summit between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and industry stakeholders is officially booked for July 21, which will hopefully at last answer the question: does the phrase “pentakill” have a place in the Games?
Either way, esports will still make its debut in the Asian Games: the continent’s biggest, quadrennial celebration of athleticism, organized by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). Although it has just a stamp of approval from the IOC, a successful first-run for esports at the Asia Games 2018 will showcase how (and perhaps how not) to mix video gaming with traditional sports, and how susceptible esports’ uniquely global audience will be to showing national support.
A successful first-run at the Asia Games 2018 will showcase how (and how not) to mix video gaming with sports.
One of the first, positive developments in the latter regard comes from the birthplace of modern esports: South Korea.
Yesterday, Gen.G confirmed that it would send several of its League of Legends players, who were part of the 2017 World Championship-winning Samsung Galaxy squad. Coach Choi “Edgar” Woo-beom, as well as ADC Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk and Support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in will be joined by none other than SK Telecom T1’s legendary mid-laner Lee “Faker” San-hyeok, KT’s Go “Score” Dong-bin, Kingzone Dragon X’s Han “Peanut” Wang-ho, and Afreeca Freecs’ Kim “Kiin” Gi-in.
For those less familiar with League of Legends, this is the esports equivalent of the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team. I would make the obvious joke that the OCA should just give South Korea its gold medal for League of Legends now, but esports will only be a demonstration sport, so there are no medals.
Image Credit: KeSPA
The Asian Games esports program is being co-organized by the OCA and the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF). All 45 region members of the OCA are invited, and for the first time, it’ll be up to the respective esports associations and NOCs of those countries to pick their players. Each region is allowed to do this their own way—for example, Singapore’s Cybersports and Online Gaming Association is selecting its League of Legends, Arena of Valor, and Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 candidates based on recommendations from those respective game’s publishers. A unique approach, even if it borders on a conflict of interest.
All this explains how we ended up with our Korean dream team. The Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) made sure to fill its rosters with a veritable who’s who of Korean stars. Other highlight picks include 2017 Hearthstone Summer Champion Kim “Surrender” Jung-soo, and Cho “Maru” Sung Choo—the highest earning StarCraft II player of all time.
Korea’s all-star choice demonstrates that at least some nations are ready to embrace the Asian Game’s crowd-pleasing potential. Press and promotional material from the respective teams already emphasizes the national pride at stake, and as previously announced, Riot Games itself will also be advising the National Olympic Committees (NOC) on how to assemble national teams.
Korea’s all-star choice demonstrates that some nations are ready to embrace the Asian Game’s crowd-pleasing potential.
Competition organizers are even willing to risk minor fan annoyance to put their best players on the world stage: according to Inven Global, any esports league that conflicts with the Asian Games will be rescheduled, with Riot Games to announce their LCK Summer Split dates next week.
Bringing the biggest esports stars into country-focused competitions sometimes requires odd runarounds. In the most recent World Electronic Sports Games (WESG), the rules stated that if you are a team all of one nation—such as Fnatic and SK Gaming’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive squads—then you can retain your team brand, rather than wear the flag of your country. Team Russia’s Dota 2 roster, for example, featured every player from Virtus.Pro , minus Ukrainian Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko. Ironically, WESG is run by Alisports , which actually got esports to the Asian Games in the first place through its partnership with the OCA.
An esports Olympics cannot function without the various tournament organizers and broadcasters who keep the scene moving all-year round. While Tencent has also partnered with the OCA to handle the League of Legends broadcast and tournament operation, it remains to be seen how the particular production quirks of esports will carry over into a sporting event, which also has 40 other disciplines to showcase.
The Asian Games won’t be an automatic go-ahead for esports to come to western sports events, given the broader cultural outlook on gaming in both APAC and SEA. But if this summer’s competition can bring in both a patriotic crowd and strong viewership turnout, the IOC will certainly take notice.
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