Singapore kicks off the world’s first Olympic Esports Week

An athlete warms up before the cycling finals on the second day of Olympic Esports Week in Singapore.

Yong Teck Lim | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore is hosting the inaugural Olympic Esports Week where over 100 athletes from around the world are competing across 10 virtual sports.

This is not the first time the International Olympic Committee is partnering with Singapore to “test bed and launch novel … events,” said Alvin Tan, Singapore’s minister of state for culture, community and youth.

It previously tapped Singapore to host the first Summer Youth Olympic Games in 2010, which has since become a “premier elite sporting event,” said Tan, who is also minister of state for trade and industry.

Singapore is taking 'baby steps' with new events like Olympic Esports, says minister of state

The event started Thursday with an opening ceremony at a convention center in Suntec City Mall, where athletes will be sparring on two competition stages and attendees can try out multiple video game zones. Singapore’s president Halimah Yacob appeared via hologram to deliver the opening speech, the Straits Times reported.

Some of the competitions include a mobile archery game based on tic-tac-toe, a Taekwondo match via a motion-tracking avatar on a screen, and virtual cycling, where players race across the Scottish countryside using interactive platform Zwift.

There will also be virtual sports like baseball, chess, motorsport, sailing, shooting, tennis and dance.

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This is the first live, in-person edition of the virtual sports series created by the International Olympic Committee, the organization said. It builds on the success of the Olympic Virtual Series staged before the Tokyo Summer Games in 2021, which attracted 250,000 participants, the IOC added.

Esports in Asia

Southeast Asia is among the world’s fastest-growing esports markets and gamers make up 82% of the region’s urban online population, gaming research firm Newzoo found.

The global esports market was valued at over $1.38 billion in 2022 and reached an audience of 532 million, according to Statista.

Singapore is no stranger to esports competitions, launching the Singapore Games Association to develop the country’s esports ecosystem. The Singapore Tourism Board said the country has the potential to become a “top-of-mind destination for esports fans globally,” CNA reported.

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In 2022, the city-state hosted the finals of The International — one of the largest esports tournaments in the world. The first independent Mobile Legends: Bang Bang professional league was held in 2021.

The local gaming industry is “small but has much growth potential,” said the International Trade Administration, highlighting that the sector employed nearly 2,000 people in 2021.

In October, over 3,000 games industry professionals will gather in Singapore for Gamescom Asia, among the largest expos on tech and video games.

The government will continue to look into ways to support growth in the “dynamic space” of the games sector, said its Ministry of Communication and Information in a parliamentary answer.

Singapore is bullish about virtual sports and the Olympic Esports Week is a chance to “experiment with new ideas,” Tan told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” Friday.

The city-state is “taking baby steps to this just as we did with F1,” he said, citing the first night race in Formula 1 history that Singapore hosted in 2008.

However, some in the gaming community are not happy about the competition lineup at Olympic Esports Week, reported local media.

Critics say it includes many simulations of physical sports but not popular video games like Dota or Valorant.

While video game Fortnite is featured in the sport shooting competition, players compete to hit targets in a specially designed environment that lacks the battle royale aspect of the original game, they said. This refers to the gameplay mode where players battle each other concurrently to become the last one standing.