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SportingLife

If bridge, chess & arnis can be in key Games, then why not E-gaming too?

The revenge of the nerds is upon us. Think about it this way: E-gamers, a divinely dexterous tribe, are probably not too keen on 100kg bench presses, are allergic to the Wi-Fi-less outdoors, would rather compete sitting down and play football with their fingers. For all this, these stay-at-home Schoolings are about to be rewarded with an Asian Games medal. This is truly a feat.

"This game has hardly any pretensions to athleticism" was the official verdict once on an Olympic sport in 1900. They were talking about croquet but now, 117 years later, non-believers will see E-gamers as similarly unsuitable intruders in mainstream competition.

Indignant traditionalists will not understand why anyone would put on their TV screen to watch what is being played on another screen. They will see E-gamers as geeks in jock's clothing. But E-gaming modernists can rightfully chirp back that this is just idle fuming by fuddy-duddies. After all, so-called sporting purists have allowed all manner of recreations and pastimes to sneak into Games.

Chess, which stresses the elbow no doubt, has made the Asian Games and how it is athletically superior to E-games is hard to say. Artistic rollerblading has been a medal sport and whether it can fill a stadium, which I noticed E-gaming did in South Korea, is arguable.

It's too easy to mock these button pushers but we do so at our own peril. After all, we have long allowed major sports events to descend into farce. The SEA Games simply discards events because hosts can't win medals in them, reinstates them on a whim, and includes events so quaint they must be looked up. Do you know any champions at arnis and vovinam?

Why E-gamers wish to be part of the Asian Games at all is bewildering. Surely it can't be cool to be so conventional. Surely the idea of being different is not to desire legitimacy from another tribe. Surely they look at these over-swollen Games, heavy with politics and laced with cheating, and think, dude, really, this is not our scene.

Elsewhere motor boating was an Olympic sport and the modern pentathlon - whose five events remain a stern quiz question - is still part of the Games. Even worse, mixed doubles tennis players, half-court heroes who play an event held only four times a year at Grand Slams, receive the same medal as Michael Phelps. Gold has been devalued long before the E-gamers got here.

Sport has kept trying to peddle itself as entertainment and now entertainment is claiming to be a sport. How do you blame them? We have altered sports, some unrecognisably, to fit the taste of the young and now we have a game of the young that wishes to be recognised.

On holiday recently, my nephews, 11 and 13, showed me detailed plans of the game room they wish to build in their home and spoke to me in what seemed a foreign dialect. These are not even city boys, but denizens of a lonely part of the English countryside, proving only that these E-games fly past borders and seduce new audiences more easily than old sports like cricket.

E-gamers, so I am told by a young colleague, have coaches, train intensely, work as a team, are strategically sharp, ruggedly competitive and own reflexes faster than a knife-tossing juggler. Apparently some players can do 500-600 APM. It means Actions Per Minute. Feel free to be impressed.

But why E-gamers wish to be part of the Asian Games at all is bewildering. Surely it can't be cool to be so conventional. Surely the idea of being different is not to desire legitimacy from another tribe. Surely they look at these over-swollen Games, heavy with politics and laced with cheating, and think, dude, really, this is not our scene.

The last Asian Games I went to, in Incheon, South Korea, involved numerous stadia with inadequate crowds. Perhaps it's why the organisers want the E-gamers, who seem to attract small, faithful armies and compete for prize money that Trump would call "yuge". In one event, the first prize was over US$9 million (S$12.6 million), a sum bettered in the real sports world only by boxers. And here no one gets hurt. OK, maybe a wrist.

Life has been good for E-gamers, all hidden away in rooms and behind monikers. Now the Asian Games will complicate life: They will have a federation, plans will have to be presented, funds sought, training camps held. Their future is about to be decided by officials who might think Games of Thrones is the sister game of League of Legends. Welcome to the fun, fellows.

People will start asking questions of them, the first of which is the most legitimate: Is this healthy? For surely that is primary foundation of why we pursue sport. Is this vaguely athletic? Shooting isn't either, but try holding a gun steady while in that awkward posture and see what it does to your back and shoulders and sanity. Is this is where sports dollars should go? Is this what we should recommend to our kids as a valuable life experience?

So then, E-gamers, ready your answers. And get set to show up at awards dinners at sports events where you will mix with canoeists and sprinters and discus throwers. These folk are tanned and tough and bleed and vomit and might look at your slouchy self and glower in disdain.

Of course, then they will go home and relax by playing video games.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'If bridge, chess & arnis can be in key Games, then why not E-gaming too?'. Print Edition | Subscribe