Asian Games esports
AP

Esports into Asian Games; Olympics next?

Leave a comment

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Esports is debuting as an exhibition sport at the Asian Games and is targeted for full inclusion in four years at the games in Hangzhou, China.

Kenneth Fok, president of the Asian Electronic Sports Federation, said the long-term aim is getting esports into the Olympics.

This seems a possibility, given that the International Olympic Committee held a forum on esports just last month at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“Our agenda is to push for the Olympic agenda,” Fok said at the opening of esports at the Asian Games. “This is our work. And this is our passion, this is what drives us. When? I don’t know. When, I do not want to predict.”

Fok described the inclusion of esports as an exhibition in the Asian Games as “a very good first step” and said the goal is to “take down obstacles, step by step.”

Fok has strong Olympic connections. His father, Timothy, was an IOC member from Hong Kong from 2001 until 2016 and he remains an honorary member.

Gamers don’t argue they are athletes, but say they share the same drive to compete. But this could also be said about bridge players — a game also being contested at the Asian Games — or chess, or competitive dancing.

But these pastimes can’t generate much income — not like esports.

“I think esports shares the same spirit with traditional sports,” said Wang Tianlong of China, speaking through a translator, after taking gold in Arena of Valor. “No matter if we are esports players or athletes, we all fight to win for our country.”

Khien Vuong Trung, a bronze medalist from Vietnam in Arena of Valor, said he met initial skepticism.

“At the beginning, my parents didn’t want me to be a professional esports athlete,” he said. “But it is growing in my country. And my parents also saw my love for it. So they began to be supportive.”

In addition to Arena of Valor, five other games are being played: Clash Royale, League of Legends, StarCraft II, Hearthstone, and PES 2018.

Eighteen countries are competing led by South Korea, where the gaming craze took off first. Also included are: Indonesia, Laos, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand, India, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, and Iran.

IOC President Thomas Bach, speaking last month at an IOC-sponsored forum, said there is a growing connection between the Olympics and esports. He stopped short of saying when — of even if — esports might make the Olympics. But he was enthusiastic about the dialogue.

“We feel the same passion for your activity as you feel the passion for our activity,” Bach told professional gamer Jake Lyon. Bach said at the forum that the Olympics and esports shared at least two values — “passion and excellence.”

Bach promised to explore ways the two communities can work together.

“On this solid ground we can build a partnership,” he said.

Esports offers a natural appeal for the IOC, which is looking for a younger audience and revenue.

Mike Morhaime, the CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, an American video games developer, told Bach at the forum that esports has 2 billion people worldwide playing electronic games, with 380 million watching esports. He said the viewer numbers could grow to about 600 million in two years, touching potential sponsors, gamers, professional leagues, and game developers.

The IOC has already included skateboarding, surfing and sports climbing into the schedule for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, hoping to draw a younger fan base.

“Anybody who enjoys watching traditional sports probably knows that the things that you grow up with are things that you are interested in throughout your whole life,” Morhaime said.

Nicolo Laurent, the CEO of Riot Games, said esports had 14 leagues and some elite players were making millions of dollars.

Morhaime said the demographic of esports was “20 to 40 years younger than traditional sports.”

“We are at an inflection point in esports,” Morhaime said. “Folks who hadn’t really been paying attention to the esports phenomenon are starting to really be interested.”

Count the Asian Games and the Olympics among them.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Magnus Carlsen: Chess deserves Olympic priority over esports

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!