SEA Games: E-sports levels up with mainstream counterparts with long-awaited debut

Malaysia and Vietnam battle it out during the E-sports (electronic sports) Mobile Legends Bang Bang matches at the 30th SEA Games in Manila on Dec 5, 2019.
Malaysia and Vietnam battle it out during the E-sports (electronic sports) Mobile Legends Bang Bang matches at the 30th SEA Games in Manila on Dec 5, 2019.PHOTO: AP

MANILA (AFP) - E-sports took a step into the sporting mainstream on Thursday (Dec 5) as it made its debut at the 30th SEA Games, becoming a medal event for the first time at an Olympic-recognised multi-sport competition.

As the typhoon-hit Games, spread across dozens of venues in the northern Philippines, neared the halfway stage, e-sports made its grand entrance at a darkened arena in Manila.

It represents progress for video gaming, which was a demonstration sport at last year's Asian Games but has been left off the programme for the next edition in 2022.

Players from nine countries are competing over six days for medals in Mobile Legends, Arena of Valour, Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7 and Hearthstone.

"This is a very, very historic day because for the first time e-sports will be played in the South-east Asian Games," local mayor Francis Zamora said at an opening ceremony at the 5,500-capacity San Juan Arena.

The 11-country Games, featuring a record 56 sports, were rocked by deadly Typhoon Kammuri which forced about half of Tuesday's events to be rescheduled.

It was the second time a major sporting event has suffered typhoon disruption in Asia in recent months, after Typhoon Hagibis forced the cancellation of matches during the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Despite 13 deaths in Typhoon Kammuri, none of the 8,750 athletes and team officials or 12,000 volunteers was reported hurt and a full Games programme resumed on Wednesday.

Among Thursday's highlights, Olympic champion Joseph Schooling missed out on his first individual gold of the Games when he upset by Singapore teammate Teong Tzen Wei in the 50 metres butterfly final.

 
 
 

The 24-year-old Singaporean, who won the 100m butterfly gold at Rio 2016, opened his medal account on Wednesday with a win in the 4x200m freestyle relay in a Games record time of 7min 17.88sec.

Places in the women's football final will also be decided, as Myanmar take on Thailand and Vietnam face the Philippines in semi-final clashes.

The Philippines remained in firm control of the medals table on Thursday with 60 golds - compared with the total of just 24 in 2017.

Seven of the last 11 host nations have finished top of the medals table at the Games, where the flexible sporting programme is traditionally weighted towards the home team.