Singapore gears up for first ever Olympics Esports Week

Siti Zhywee is far from the stereotypical image of a gamer: unhealthy and isolated, wiling away hours glued to a screen.

The 38-year-old mother of two is a dance fitness instructor who will soon be competing in “Just Dance” during the first-ever Olympic Esports Week, kicking off in Singapore on Thursday (June 22). Players of the Ubisoft motion-based game must match the choreography of an electronic dancer on screen, earning extra credits from the judges for expression and style.

Zhywee plays the game on a Nintendo Switch given to her for her birthday by her husband. She said the training required had been intensive.

“It definitely takes a whole lot of energy,” she told Reuters at the venue during rehearsals and setup. “But I’m embracing the challenge, I’m embracing the whole training on a daily basis, and also my kids are enjoying me training at home as well.”

Elite Virtual Taekwondo players, as well as archers, sharpshooters, racecar drivers, cyclists and sailors are also all gathering in Singapore for the event, which will feature three huge screens at Suntec City Convention and Exhibition Centre and kick off with an opening ceremony, in keeping with Olympic tradition.

Although it is run by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the winners in each of the 10 games will win trophies, but not medals.

Building on the Olympic Virtual Series, the Olympic Esports Week is part of an IOC global strategy under President Thomas Bach to remain relevant to young people and to embrace technological advances.

“Its really part of our global strategy,” said Vincent Pereira, who was appointed IOC’s first Head Of Virtual Sports And Gaming 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.”

Pereira added that the inclusion of gaming in the Olympics was not necessarily the end goal.

“They’re two different worlds. They have their own codes,” he said. “But they’re also sharing a lot of similar values, and the Olympic values, like friendship, respect and excellence are all part of both worlds.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognised Esports as a “sports activity” in 2017 and said it will be a medal event at a major multi-sports Games for the first time at the Asian Games in Hangzhou later this year.

To get into the Olympics proper, however, the Global Esport Federation (GEF) would have to be signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code and have a drug-testing regime in place.

The anti-doping element of this week’s inaugural Olympic event in Singapore will mainly be focused on education, although some events, such as cycling game Zwift, are already run by the international federation and therefore subject to doping rules.

Pereira said the feedback from the players so far was that they were “super happy” to be involved in the education sessions. “I believe it is necessary because just like any other sports in the Olympics, Esports is a legit sport,” said Zhywee.

While all the games at the Olympic event are based on sports and several involve exercise, that is not the case for much of the world of Esports.

Gaming is a billion-dollar industry and Esports tournaments offer hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money, so some players use performance-enhancing substances, such as stimulants, to stay alert during long hours at the keyboard.

By Reuters

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