China win Asian Games’ first esports gold medal

IMAGE: The players from Team Thailand prepare before the Arena of Valor Asian Games version bronze medal match on Tuesday. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

China won the Asian Games’ first esports gold medal on Tuesday in an event closely watched by Olympic officials.

A team of five Chinese gamers beat Malaysia for the title in the “Arena of Valor” competition as esports pushed its case for Olympic inclusion five years after being a demonstration sport at the Jakarta Asian Games.

Chinese authorities frown on excessive gaming and have put limits on children’s playing time since 2021.


But thousands of home fans were in a frenzy at the Hangzhou Esports Centre as China beat Malaysia 2-0 in a best-of-three clash for the popular mobile phone game.

Tapping furiously on their phones amid ear-splitting music and live commentary, the players communicated via headsets throughout a contest that stretched to 45 minutes and may have seemed bizarre to sports purists.

Thailand earlier claimed the first esports medal awarded at the Asian Games on Tuesday, winning a bronze in a playoff against Vietnam in a mobile phone game at an event that will be closely watched by Olympic officials.

Esports was a demonstration tournament at the Jakarta Asian Games five years ago but is a medal event in Hangzhou for the first time, adding weight to the video game industry’s push for a spot on the Olympic programme.

Teams and individuals are battling for a total of seven gold medals across a range of titles in Hangzhou, including online soccer and multi-player battle arena games.

The tournament has drawn crowds to Hangzhou’s Esports Centre since Sunday, underlining Chinese fans’ enthusiasm for esports despite local rules limiting children’s gaming time.

On Tuesday, they cheered on five Thai gamers — Sorawat Boonphrom, Anusak Manpdong, Chayut Suebka, Vatcharanan Thaworn and Kawee Wachiraphas — as they beat their Vietnam counterparts 2-0 in a best-of-three match for bronze in ‘Arena of Valor’.

Developed by a subsidiary of Chinese tech giant Tencent, Arena of Valor is a multi-player battle arena game hugely popular in Asia.

With a soundtrack of ear-splitting music and live commentary, the players sat in line in their teams on a fluorescent-lit stage under big screens streaming the game-play for fans.

The players tapped their small screens furiously and communicated with team mates via headsets throughout a contest that stretched to nearly 40 minutes.

“We feel excited and great,” said Bangkok native Boonphrom after the win.

The 30-year-old turned professional a decade ago after first getting into gaming aged five.

“The feeling is good, so good.”

Malaysia and China will play for esports’ first gold medal in the evening session on Tuesday, also for Arena of Valor.

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