League of Legends was showcased at a major sporting event, the 2018 Asian Games, for the first time on Aug. 27. And it was a massive success. There were over one million League viewers on Twitch during the finals. So what exactly do the results of this experiment mean for the future of esports on a global scale?
For starters, it shows that esports are growing up. The Asian Games is a showdown between athletes from a number of Asian countries, essentially a smaller-scale, regional Olympics. The inclusion of League at the Asian Games may pave the way for similar competitions to incorporate esports into the lineup of events.
“[We] were honored with wearing the national uniform,” Shi “Ming” Sen-Ming said in an interview with Inven Global yesterday. Ming is the support player for Chinese team RNG and an Asian Games participant. “Esports did not receive this type of treatment before. All of us are honored that we got to be a part of the national team at a time like this.”
Instead of simply fighting to be the best team in a specific game, Asian Games participants played to uphold the reputations of their respective countries.
“I think the wins we had and the gold medal we won is nothing like anything else,” Ming’s teammate, Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao told Inven. “When it comes to other tournaments, we only have two opportunities to win in a year. But this, it will be a while till we have the next Asian Games. This is why I believe this is something that cannot be forgotten.”
Esports players can represent their country just as well as other athletes, an idea that had been tested with Overwatch‘s World Cup—but never during a traditional sporting event. It was also unknown how well esports and sports would mesh during such a large-scale tournament, and the high viewership of the League showcase from the Asian Games indicate the two complement each other well.
The Asian Games gave us a taste of what the integration of esports and traditional sports could look like, and if more sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, incorporate esports, it could help the industry gain more prominence. Esports going mainstream could boost traditional sports viewership by bringing the eyes of a demographic that typically lives online.