eSports crosses to the mainstream at Ashgabat 2017
Ten years ago, eSports was restricted to small tournaments with minimal prize money, unable to detach the ‘recreational’ narrative from it. In fact, Olympic athletes shunned the very notion of having video games as a sport. But boy, a lot has changed since then!
The DOTA 2 International now has prize money of $18 million but the landmark achievement for the sport came at the ongoing 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, where eSports has been included as a ‘demonstration sport’.
Ashgabat is an eSports friendly city: Jordan Olympic Committee
The Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC) is one of the many to have embraced eSports as the future by investing in the setting up of a new eSports Committee that will steer the early development of the sport there.
JOC Secretary General Nasser Majali said, “I cannot put into words how good Ashgabat is. Not only are the facilities world class, but the people here are amazing. Normally when we enter events such as this, especially at this level, we don’t expect many facilities. But honestly, Ashgabat is an eSports friendly city."
“For us, Jordan has a lot of top-level players in the international scene and it only made sense for us to be a first mover. And we got a lot of support from corporates such as IT companies and local brands. It also gives our players a chance to participate against world-class talent and gives them a salary, a motivation to do better." he said.
He added, "I mean the entire world is accepting it, then why shouldn’t we? It only helps our massive player base garner recognition.”
Being a demonstration sport, there will be no eSports medals awarded in Ashgabat but it is providing an opportunity for the Olympic Council of Asia to test the sport out ahead of its full introduction to the 2022 Asian Games.
"It's a dream come true for us"
DOTA 2 (Defense of the Ancients), Hearthstone, Starcraft 2 and King of Fighters XIV are the games showcased at the Indoor Athletics Centre in the Ashgabat Olympic Complex.
For Turkmenistan players such as Serdar Nurmuradov, it’s a dream come true. He said, “Our federation was set up around a year ago, keeping this event in mind. We trained with European players for the past year and gave our best. I play Hearthstone, which has around 12 players in the country."
"But, ever since eSports was announced in Ashgabat, everything has changed for us." he added. "We are full salaried professionals working towards making Turkmenistan an eSports powerhouse. The facilities here are world class and now the onus is on us to work hard.”
Sixteen countries have sent teams across various games and the most recent Federations include the likes of Pakistan and Mongolia. The Local Organising Committee assigned the event management of this particular event to Starladder from Russia.
Sergii Perun, the Chief Editor of the organization explained, “We were a bit skeptical heading into Ashgabat, but we never really expected how good this event is going to be. The minute we walked into the venue, we were like ‘wow this is huge’, and we just couldn’t wait to get started with the setup. The facilities here are right up there with the best.”
Countries such as China and The Philippines highlighted the importance of its inclusion by sending their primary teams. In fact, China sent two teams in DOTA 2 -- China A and China B.
Philippines' Head of Delegation, Jobe Sherwin said, “This is what it’s all about, this is the start of something huge. You look at eSports right now -- it’s organization driven but this is country-driven. It will take some time, but the future is to have events such as this, where you have nationalistic pride and that’s why we are here.”
The tournament runs from 25-28 September in a round robin format. Regardless of the stereotypes attached to the sport, the Olympic Council of Asia has recognized its importance and could the Olympics be next?