Esports in the Asian Games: Turning gamers into athletes
The Games were initially supposed to be held in 2022 but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the event back to this year. This edition sees the Games return to China for the first time since 2010.
The inclusion of esports in an event this major can have grand effects to the industry as a whole, spearheading growth in Asia, and helping other regions see the impact the inclusion of esports might have on popularising grand sporting events.
Asia has historically been an esports heavyweight, and the region was one of the first to make great investments into the industry. StarCraft and Warcraft were already broadcasted on TV game channels in the early 2000’s in South Korea, while Jens Hilgers of the ESL (now BITKRAFT) was still in the early days of promoting his LAN events live at Gamescom as a niche event.
Local distributor for StarCraft in South Korea, HanbitSoft, shared that 50% of all 9m globally sold copies of the original StarCraft game were purchased in South Korea, a country of then barely 50M population.
Star-studded rosters and gold medals
The Asian Games first featured esports as demonstration sports in 2018, at the Jakarta-Palembang 2018 Games. Demonstration sports are played during medal competitions to promote the sport and create awareness for its competitions.
The medals awarded for demonstration sports, however, are not included in the official medal count of the event. Six games were featured during the 2018 Games: Clash Royale, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, Arena of Valor and League of Legends.
There are several changes in the lineup of games that will be played at this year’s edition of the Games. PUBG Mobile, Dota 2, Street Fighter and FIFA Online were added, and Clash Royale, Hearthstone, StarCraft II and Pro Evolution Soccer were left out. Together with the return of League of Legends and Arena of Valor, as well as Dream Three Kingdoms 2, the lineup consists of a total of seven games.
This is just the fourth time that esports is a part of a large-scale multi-sport event, after three appearances in the Southeast Asian Games. The Olympic Council of Asia has already announced that esports are here to stay for at least one more edition of the Games. The 2026 Asian Games, which will take place in Aichi and Nagoya, will also feature several esports tournaments.
The Asian Games, contrary to other tournaments that field national rosters, will also feature some pretty intense competition in esports. For example, South Korea’s team is led by arguably the best League of Legends player of all time, Faker. He is joined by his teammate, T1’s top laner Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, as well as Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk. China, another favorite, will field the likes of 2021 World Champion Tian “Meiko” Ye and current Mid-Season Invitational winner Zhuo ‘knight’ Ding.
If football is a “real” sport, then so is esports
For industry insiders, there is no doubt that esports is as real a sport as football or basketball.
Still, its inclusion in an event of this scale is a needed and necessary acknowledgement outside of the industry itself, helping the industry immensely by attracting more mainstream audiences. Without exaggeration, the fact that esports is in the Asian Games is the biggest step towards the Olympics we have seen.
In order for a sport to be included in the Olympic Games, it needs a federation recognised by the International Olympic Committee. The organising committee of an individual edition of the Games can then propose its inclusion in the Games.
The sports which comply with the Olympic Charter, the World Anti-Doping Code and the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competition are eligible. The IOC has worked closely with the Global Esports Federation throughout 2023, making it possible that the GEF might become the needed federation in the future.
Olympics aside, esports has been as professional and legitimate as other, traditional sports, for a long time now. The level of organisation and regulation in the industry is there, from the grassroots, high school, and collegiate levels to world championships, just like in any other sport.
Due to the high-tech nature of esports and the fact that competitions are entirely digital, traditional sports leagues have started adapting to esports and following esports trends, not the other way around. Just ask Manchester City or PSG, NFL, NHL, the Premier League and other professional leagues that have adapted esports as their own, organising competitions and using the lessons learned to improve the real-world sport.
We now have digital versions of Europe’s top football leagues like the Premier League and La Liga, competing in football esports. The NBA has created a full-fledged esports league, and its franchises have created dedicated esports rosters to compete in it.
On the partnership front, 2023 saw strong movement from the IOC on popularising esports, with the first-ever Olympic Esports Week taking place in Singapore. In September, the IOC created an Esports Commission with the sole task to advise the IOC President and the IOC Executive Board. The Commission includes G2 Esports CEO Alban Dechelotte and Ubisoft’s Senior Director of Global Competitive Gaming Zeynep Gencaga.
The existence of this Commission, and the fact that esports is a part of the Asian games clearly shows that the IOC has a plan to further include esports in its plans in the future. Being added to the OIympic games adds a lot to its global recognition and popularity. For those in the esports industry, esports have been a sport since day one, but being a part of the Olympics will be a testament to the hard work done by thousands over decades.
What does data have to do with It?
The inclusion of esports in the Asian games is just one move towards standardising and the professionalisation of the esports industry.
Having access to high-quality esports data is of utmost importance not just for singular tournaments, but also the large-scale growth of the industry with the ultimate goal of connecting teams with their fans as well to connect the ecosystem with corporate brands and commercial use cases.
The Asian Games, as a major mainstream sports event, can bring a lot of attention towards esports, but the industry itself needs to work a lot towards integrity and transparency.
Official and high-quality match data is used in a variety of applications, such as real-time analytics and on-screen graphics that help viewers at home make sense of what is happening. experience in the case of tournaments and events, data helps enhance the viewing for the audience, and increases overall engagement.
For example, in CS:GO, statistics such as percentage of maps won, player preferences for weapons or tactics can paint a great picture of what is happening off the screen, so viewers can better understand why things are happening the way they do.
Accurate and real-time data is vital for maintaining transparency and trustworthiness within the esports community, especially when it comes to betting and adjudication. The esports industry is currently facing a crucial challenge regarding the acquisition and distribution of said game data. There are two primary methods companies use to acquire this data:
Collaboration with game developers and tournament organisers:
Companies like Bayes Esports collaborate directly with game developers such as Riot Games for LoL Esports or with tournament organisers like ESL.This approach enables the data company to acquire match data in real-time, directly from the source, while the tournaments and leagues are being played.
The acquired data is devoid of time delays, making it the most accurate and reliable source of information, especially crucial for partners in the betting industry.
This is regarded as the most transparent and accurate way of gathering data from matches.
Data scraping from existing match broadcasts:
Too many companies still opt for gray area practices by “scraping” match data from broadcasts on platforms like Twitch or YouTube.
This is often done by using AI tools to monitor broadcasts and gather on-screen data.However, these platforms operate with an average delay of 40 seconds for offline events and up to multiple minutes for online matches.
This delay compromises the integrity of the data, particularly concerning the esports betting industry.
Scraped data is often incomplete and unreliable, as it can cut out when a replay or unrelated content is shown during the broadcast.
Compared with the data acquired directly from the source, scraped data is slower, more prone to reliability and stability issues, not to mention integrity issues.
Challenges with scraped data:
Fans at the venue or insiders within the team have an unfair information advantage over sportsbooks relying on scraped data.
Scraped data can be incomplete and faulty due to its reliance on what is shown during the broadcast.
Acquiring data the “official” way should be the only permissible method due to its accuracy and integrity. This is particularly vital for maintaining a level playing field in industries like esports betting. Sadly, the usage of unofficial data is rampant in the industry, and the companies that engage in these practices are simply taking someone else’s work and presenting it as their own, degrading the overall legitimacy of esports.
Bright future if the industry is smart
Since the next edition of the Games is set to include esports, we will definitely be seeing competition for at least one more cycle. Still, judging by the popularity of esports in Asia, we dare to say that there should be no problem in having esports as one of the staple sports in the games for years to come.
As for the future of both esports in the Asian games and esports data that helped make it happen, it seems to be bright. At Bayes Esports we firmly believe that the future of esports pivots on official live data. Therefore, we lead the charge against scraped data and gray market practices.
The industry needs to work together to make sure that it is making steps towards making esports a legitimate sport, and that the industry is viewed as transparent and professional, rather than a group of companies trying to undermine each other.
Amir Mirzaee is the CCO & managing director of Bayes Esports. Amir has 18 years of experience in the tech industry and at technology startups, with roles ranging from founder to consultant and business development professional. Notably, he led business development at Google and Waze in both Germany and the Silicon Valley. He has a knack for turning ideas into thriving tech ventures.