Singapore hosts inaugural Olympic Esports Week

Esports, the world of competitive video gaming, has become a global phenomenon.

Singapore hosts inaugural Olympic Esports Week
Nigel Tan of Singapore fights against compatriot Alexander Tang in their virtual taekwondo qualifying match at the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore June 23, 2023. Reuters/Edgar Su

The backstory: Esports, the world of competitive video gaming, has become a global phenomenon. Basically, It's like this whole new level of gaming where skilled players go head-to-head in popular games like League of Legends, Overwatch or Fortnite. Well, turns out, esports is not just a casual hobby anymore. It has transformed into a professional sport with intense rivalries and tournaments. In 2022, the esports market reached a value of over US$1.38 billion, attracting a huge audience of 532 million people, according to Statista.

Now, let's talk about Singapore. The country is right in the middle of this gaming frenzy. In 2020, it created the Singapore Games Association to give its esports scene a major boost and make Singapore a top destination for esports fans worldwide. Singapore has already pulled off some major tournaments, like last year's The International Finals, and even organized its very own Mobile Legends: Bang Bang professional league in 2021.

More recently: In 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board dropped a new roadmap called Olympic Agenda 2020+5. It's like its game plan for the next five years, building on its achievements with its Olympic Agenda 2020.

In March, the IOC spilled the beans about the Olympic Esports Series 2023. It's all about virtual sports competitions in nine different sports. The goal is to get the younger crowd hyped up and embrace the tech revolution, following IOC President Thomas Bach's vision.

The development: Singapore just wrapped up the very first Olympic Esports Week. This event, organized by the IOC, brought together virtual athletes from all over the world to compete in a bunch of different games. There were over 100 participants from different countries, competing in 10 virtual sports like archery, Taekwondo, cycling, baseball, chess and more. The action kicked off with a grand opening ceremony at the Suntec City Convention and Exhibition Centre, where these athletes battled it out on huge screens, playing commercial video games.

While the government is totally behind the gaming sector, some people in the gaming community raised concerns about the competition lineup, as reported by local media. They felt it focused too much on simulating physical sports and left out popular esports video games like Dota, Mobile Legends or Valorant.

Key comments:

"It's really part of our global strategy," said Vincent Pereira, who was appointed the IOC's first Head Of Virtual Sport in January last year. "We've launched the brand Olympic Esports, and Olympic Esports Week here in Singapore is the first ever – super excited about it."

"My heartfelt thanks and congratulations go to the Organising Committee, the Singapore public authorities and the National Olympic Committee of Singapore for their great support to prepare the stage in such an excellent way for the players," said Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC.

"The Olympic Movement brings people together in peaceful competition," said David Lappartient, IOC Esports Liaison Group Chair, in March. "The Olympic Esports Series 2023 is a continuation of that, with the ambition of creating more spaces to play for both players and fans of elite competition.”

“E-sports have primarily always been about gaming in the past 15 plus years,” said Marcus Tan, a two-time World Cyber Games champion in Warcraft 3, to CNA. “To say that ‘e-sports is not just gaming’ and not include actual e-sports programmes seems to be overlooking the efforts of all the people in our nation who are immensely passionate about actual e-sports.”