Asian e-Sports boss aims high

Source:AFP Published: 2017/9/22 5:03:40

New AESF leader seeks Olympic promised land


Newly elected Asian Electronic Sports Federation President Kenneth Fok gives a press conference on the sidelines of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on Tuesday. Photo: VCG

Newly elected Asian e-Sports federation President Kenneth Fok is determined to prove to the world that e-Sports - chiefly consisting of multiplayer computer games - deserve to be granted Olympic status.

But the 38-year-old Oxford graduate from Hong Kong, who spoke to AFP after his election to the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF) post on ­Monday, stressed he was under no illusions about the enormity of the challenge.

"Our vision is to put e-Sports on the map and ultimately be on the Olympic agenda but a lot of sports are competing for the same seat in the arena," Fok said in his first interview since being elected as AESF chief.

"There are lots of skills and attributes that point to it being a sport," he said Tuesday.

"You're talking about endurance, you're talking about teamwork, between four, five, six people, you talk about reaction time. Yes you're not actually sweating, you're not outdoors but it has plenty of other attributes that make it a sport."

Electronic sports is a booming industry worth billions of dollars and played by hundreds of millions of people around the world. It will also be a full medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China.

However, many traditional sporting leaders - including the membership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - have been cool on its claims to be a genuine sport.

Once confined to the bedroom, top players in e-Sports make millions of dollars in prize money.

They compete at tournaments worth up to $20 million, and play at packed stadiums in front of up to 50,000 spectators.

'Long way away'



Fok was elected as federation chief unopposed after Kazakhstan's veteran sports administrator Natalya Sipovich stepped down after a decade in the role during the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games currently taking place in Turkmenistan.

"We needed a younger person to take the sport to the next level and Kenneth is the right person," she told AFP.

While Fok admitted they are "still a long way away" from their goal of taking gamers all the way to the Olympic podium, he has some powerful backers, including China's Alibaba.

The e-commerce giant has invested heavily in several sports and is now one of the IOC's official sponsors.

Fok is also extremely well connected, coming from a wealthy and influential family in Hong Kong.

His father, Timothy, is a former IOC member and the current president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee. Kenneth is one of his vice presidents and holds a long list of positions in sports and business.

Electronic sports have been ­contested at the Asian Indoor Games organized by the Olympic Council of Asia for a decade and will debut as a full medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

But while the commercial future of e-Sports looks assured, Fok faces a sizeable task bringing it into line with other disciplines already part of the Olympic family. "We need to lay some ground rules to develop this and we have to have Olympic values," he said.



Doping and bingeing


One problem the e-Sports must do its utmost to address is very familiar to the taskmasters at the IOC - doping.

As the stakes have soared, gamers have taken to performance-enhancing substances, just like their counterparts in weightlifting and cycling.

"At the top level you need to have ­reaction times in milliseconds to have the edge against another team," Fok said.

With many gamers motivated to use performance-enhancers, Fok acknowledged e-Sports faces a particular battle to gain legitimacy with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"When you want e-Sports to be viewed as a sport you have to play by sport's rules," he said.

Some of the games popular at e-Sports tournaments have a reputation for being violent, prompting fears they might damage the Olympic brand.

Gaming addiction is another serious problem, with both professional and amateur gamers prone to bingeing.

But Fok believes e-Sports could branch out from gaming in a number of different directions, just as water­sports have over time.

"Aside from the traditional sense of gaming, we could look at new technologies being involved, for example robotics," he said.

"Another thing that has really picked up is drone racing - they have huge stadiums set up - which is not too different from Formula One, so this could be under electronic sports too."

For the moment, however, Fok and the AESF are keeping their feet on the ground.

"I believe we are on the right path," he said.



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