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E-sports at the Asian Games: Not just about FIFA Online

It’s not just incessant rattling of the keys. In 2023, gaming seems to have left behind that age old stereotype. E-sports has been included at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, as a medal event — a first at a major multi-sporting event. A total of seven competing events feature; Arena of Valor Asian Games Version, Dota 2, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, FIFA Online 4, League of Legends, PUBG Mobile Asian Games Version and Street Fighter V: Champion Edition. India however, has only named their 15-member squad across four of the seven; League of Legends, Dota 2, FIFA and Street Fighter. The Indian Express decodes the games, their objectives, and what makes them unique:

Dota 2

MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) are the faster and much more appealing cousins of RTS (Real-Time Strategy) games such as Age of Empires, minus the hassle of collecting resources and painfully long army building. Defence of the Ancients (Dota) is one of the fabled games of the genre. Its objective? “Dota is a 5 v 5 game where you have to destroy your enemy’s home base (Ancient) while you have to defend your own. It’s a lot like chess with five pieces on each side, who have different abilities. And your main objective would be to defeat the enemy king,” says Darshan Bata, captain of India’s Dota 2 team for the Asian Games.

Before one attacks the other team’s Ancient though, there are several other places marked on the game map to explore: from the six towers and barracks – evenly split between the two teams – that need to be dealt with or the shop by your base from where you can buy utilities that help you in your main objective.

Asian Games 2023: Dota map Before one attacks the other team’s Ancient though, there are several other places marked on the game map to explore. (Screengrab: YouTube)

Is it as easy as it sounds? “In my opinion, it’s not because it takes you between 5-6 months to understand it. The game is also changing every month with the updates. You know, the meta keeps changing. It’s not always the same,” adds Darshan. Presence of over 120 playable heroes/chess pieces and some 200 in-game items at the player’s disposal call for unique matchups in every defence. While the longest recorded game in Dota 2 history played out for three hours and 20 minutes, it can end as quickly as 10 minutes.

Indian team for Asian Games: Darshan Bata (captain), Krish Gupta, Abhishek Yadav, Shubham Goli, Ketan Goyal

League of Legends

Another MOBA game that is very much like Dota 2. Another five-a-side contest, where the main objective is to destroy the opposition Nexus. There are over 163 playable Champions to choose from. One has to ask, is there any difference between LOL and Dota? “League is more fast paced compared to Dota,” says Darshan. “You won’t know (in League) when your game gets over. Like one fight and that’s that. But with Dota, you’ve to strategise and all. League is more dependent on reflexes.”

Asian Games 2023: League of Legends Another MOBA game, League of Legends is very much like Dota 2. (Screengrab/YouTube)

Akshaj Shenoy, captain of India’s League of Legends team for the Asian Games adds to the tactical aspect of the game and how he’s thinking about it even when he’s not logged in. “(I’m thinking about it) All the time. League as a game, we play it even when we aren’t. The first stage is drafting. Pick your champions/agents to play in the game. You’ve to pick them while anticipating what your opposition has picked. You both try to counter each other’s advantage.”

Indian team for Asian Games: Akshaj Shenoy (captain), Aditya Selvaraj, Aakash Shandilya, Mihir Ranjan, Sanindhya Malik, Samarth Trivedi

Street Fighter V

Before Mortal Kombat (1992) and Tekken (1994), there was Street Fighter (1987). A single-player based arcade combat game that originated out of Japan. “Two skilled martial arts experts, Ryu and Ken, go out to fight against other fighters held on the streets in five countries and must also face off against two undisputed Muay Thai fighters from Thailand to become street fighter champion,” reads the IMDb description of the late 80s classic, the first installment in the series. But allow comic Roy Wood Jr. to break the franchise down to the bare bone basics.

“Two strangers meet at a public place and just whoop each other’s a**. There’s no journey. No quest. No person. No princess to rescue. It’s just two dudes at a fish market. ‘Hey, I heard you was talking s**t. Would you like to fight?’ ‘Yes, I would!’. They are throwing fireballs at each other and in the background, there’s someone saying, ‘Let me get the catfish nuggets’.”

That simplistic structure has prevailed over the years all the way to Street Fighter V: Champion Edition, which includes all the playable characters from the previous four editions of the game, and will be played at Hangzhou 2023. Unlike the complexities and tactical nous of the previous two games, the objective here is to win the best of a three-round bout. Each character has a unique set of skills – some are good with punches, others with kicks apart from the combos, that come in handy against others. It’s really just one of your good old fighting games that explores combat styles ranging from Boxing to Kickboxing, Ninjutsu to Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu to Krav Maga.

But even for Ayan Biswas, who is among the two representing India at the event in Asian Games, honing his expertise took time. “Being unaware of the game’s mechanics when I started, I was losing almost all of my games online. So, I began watching skilled players and studying how they played the game. I have to admit, it was tough to learn, and I even played the game for more than five hours a day at times,” he says.

Indian team for Asian Games: Mayank Prajapti, Ayan Biswas

FIFA Online 4

Symbolic of football’s presence as the most popular sport on the globe, EA Sports’ FIFA has been the highest selling sports gaming franchise and one that’s been around since 1994.

The series has been a yearly delight for an ardent fan base over 30 years and even though its latest edition (FIFA 23) will be the last in the franchise, FIFA’s monopoly at major esports tournaments doesn’t look like coming to an end any time soon. At Hangzhou 2023, it’s the 2018 online version that will be played as a medals event.

20-year-old Charanjot Singh’s love for the sport perhaps best defines why its gaming depiction has hit the right nerve around the world. “When I’m not playing FIFA on my console, I’m watching it on TV or I’m out on a field playing football,” he says.

The fact that one can simulate the drama of a 90-minute sport across as few as eight minutes on console and choose from over 650 playable clubs and national teams to compete with, or create one of your own, makes for the insane login hours some of the FIFA users boast.

Indian team for Asian Games: Charanjot Singh and Karman Singh Tikka

Games in which Indian hasn’t fielded a team

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PUBG Mobile Asian Games Version

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Call of Duty may still be the number one single person shooting + battle royal games around the world but PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has crossed one billion total downloads in a short span of four years. The popular version of the game features over 100 players spawning on an island – individually or in teams – stocking munitions and supplies, and shooting down one another till the last man/team standing. For the Asian Games though, the developers have created a different genre that will see 16 players in every game being divided into groups of four, competing a shooting mission followed by the teams having to drive their way to a finish line to determine the eventual winner.

Arena of Valor Asian Games Version

Similar to Dota and League of Legends, Arena of Valor is a 5V5 multiplayer online battle arena game. Each player on both sides controls a champion, and has the support of relatively weak non-playable characters – minions – that help deal damage to the opposition with the ultimate objective of destroying each other’s base. While the franchise’s first beta release dates back to 2016, the manufacturers Tencent developed a separate version of the franchise for the Asian Games.

Dream Three Kingdoms 2

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A fourth MOBA game that’ll feature at the upcoming multi-sports event in Hangzhou. The big difference here being that the game can be played as a 10 vs 10 event apart from the usual five vs five matchups.

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