Esports could be included in Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games, after inaugural pilot event in Birmingham – Michmutters

Esports could be included in Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games, after inaugural pilot event in Birmingham

Athletes like Emma McKeon, Georgia Godwin and Oliver Hoare have captured Australians’ attention at the Commonwealth Games, and the likes of “Rin”, “Jakino” and “Fern” could one day be up there too.

It is not as fanciful as it may sound. On the final weekend of the Games in Birmingham, the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships were held as a pilot to see whether it could be a part of the Games proper.

There are currently 16 sports already confirmed for Victoria 2026, with organizers looking to add three or four more to the final program by the end of September.

“We signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Global Esports Federation which doesn’t stop after this Games,” Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief executive Katie Sadleir said.

“It’s a long-term commitment to learning, transferring knowledge.”

Ms Sadleir said the CGF would conduct an independent review after the Birmingham event to consider what the future of esports at the Games could look like.

“We will evaluate all options and look at what is the best win-win for the partnership,” she said.

“It’s not just about whether or not we would like esports in the Games, it’s also about whether or not esports wants to be inside the Games.”

Exorcisms and dragon slaying the new sporting frontier

People sit behind character avatars at the Commonwealth Esports Championships.
Australia lost to Singapore in the Dota 2 women’s bronze-medal match.(Supplied: Global Esports Federation)

Having watched rowdy crowds pack into venues all over Birmingham to cheer on athletes from Niue to Nigeria, in sports as diverse as weightlifting to rhythmic gymnastics, it feels a little strange stepping into the esports arena.

It is being held at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre, and there is a small crowd gathered to watch Australia and Singapore face off in the women’s Dota 2 bronze-medal match.

Two teams of five are placed on an impressive-looking stage, each player with their own computer and headset, while the multi-player battle arena video game is displayed on a big screen overhead.

There is even a live commentary, albeit pretty different from the typical sports event.

“A lot of Australia’s damage is coming on the exorcism,” one of the commentators says.

Cheers and applause break out when there’s a flurry of activity on the big screen. It is hard to tell what’s going on, but maybe a dragon slaying?

This is different, but that’s the point. The CGF wants to tap into a new, younger audience, who might not traditionally engage in mainstream sport.

And the potential money on offer does not hurt either — the global esports market is currently valued at about $2 billion, dominated by Asia and North America.

There are several different bodies that govern esports. This event is being looked after by the Global Esports Federation (GEF).

The players are not involved with the politics behind the scenes, but they are excited to be on a world stage, just like any athlete representing their country.

Five women wearing green and gold tracksuits stand arm in arm.
Five players represented Australia in the women’s Dota 2 competition.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

Adelaide’s Lynley-Ann Dodd, or Rin, is a member of the Australian women’s Dota 2 team.

The 29-year-old has been playing games for most of her life and she said the growth of esports meant a lot to people who were not interested in traditional sport.

“I wish I could turn it back and look at my younger self — 13, 14 — when I first started this game and be like, ‘You could do it,’ because I never felt like there was that possibility,” she said.

“I gave up on myself multiple times because there was not that possibility.

“And I think now being able to be a role model for… women, teenagers, children who actually enjoy games, who want to be able to take it seriously, that is the best gift of all from this.”

Women wear headsets while playing competitive esports.
The Australian women’s Dota 2 team enjoyed an opportunity to compete in a big international tournament.(Supplied: Global Esports Federation)

Another member of the Australian team, Sydney’s Antonia “Jakino” Cai, 28, also sees the market value in established sporting organizations engaging with esports.

“Esports is going to be getting bigger over the years as technology gets better, and all the young people will know about it,” she said.

“There’s going to be a lot of money invested into this. We already have tournaments that are [worth] millions of dollars.

“So this is going to be getting bigger and the next step is putting it into the Commonwealth Games or Olympics.”

Can esports be a sport for all?

Women celebrate at the Commonwealth Esports Championships.
Esports are still dominated by men, although women from Asia are leading the way for greater representation.(Supplied: Global Esports Federation)

The Commonwealth Games ethos is about being the friendly and inclusive Games, with a particular focus on women and people with a disability.

And esports has its challenges when it comes to being a truly welcoming environment for women.

“There is that perception that women aren’t as good, and for me I believe it’s since we don’t have that many women in the area,” Sydney’s Kanyarat “Fern” Bupphaves said.


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