Esports could be included in Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games, after inaugural pilot event in Birmingham

Athletes such as Emma McKeon, Georgia Godwin and Oliver Hoare have caught the attention of Australians at the Commonwealth Games and athletes such as ‘Rin’, ‘Jakino’ and ‘Fern’ could one day be up there too.

It’s not as fantastic as it might sound. On the final weekend of the Games in Birmingham, the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championship was held as a pilot to see if it could be part of the Games.

There are currently 16 sports already confirmed for Victoria 2026, with organizers looking to add another three or four to the final schedule by the end of September.

“We have signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the World Esports Federation, which does not stop after these Games,” said Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief executive Katie Sadleir.

“It’s a long-term commitment to learning, knowledge transfer.”

Ms Sadleir said the CGF would conduct an independent review after the Birmingham event to consider what the future of esports at the Games could look like.

“We will evaluate all options and consider what is the best win-win for the partnership,” he said.

“It’s not just about whether or not we want esports in the Games, it’s also about whether or not esports wants to be in the Games.”

Exorcisms and dragon slaying the new sporting frontier

Australia lost to Singapore in the women’s Dota 2 bronze medal match.(Provided by: World Esports Federation)

Having watched raucous crowds pack into venues across Birmingham to cheer on athletes from New Zealand to Nigeria, in sports as diverse as weightlifting to rhythmic gymnastics, it’s a little strange to step into the esports arena.

Held at the Birmingham International Convention Center, there’s a small crowd gathered to watch Australia and Singapore square off in the Dota 2 Women’s bronze medal match.

Two teams of five are placed on an impressive stage, each player with their own computer and headphones, while the multiplayer battle arena video game is displayed on a large screen.

There is even live commentary, albeit quite different from the typical sporting event.

“A lot of damage in Australia comes from exorcism,” says one commentator.

Cheers and applause erupt when there is a flurry of activity on the big screen. It’s hard to tell what’s going on, but maybe a dragon slays?

This is different, but that’s the point. The CGF wants to tap into a new, younger audience that may not traditionally engage with mainstream sports.

And the potential money on offer doesn’t hurt either – the global esports market is currently valued at around $2 billion, dominated by Asia and North America.

There are many different bodies that govern esports. This event is curated by the Global Esports Federation (GEF).

The players are not concerned with behind-the-scenes politics, but are excited to be on the world stage, just like any athlete representing their country.

Five women in green and gold overalls stand side by side.
Five players represented Australia in the women’s Dota 2 competition.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

Adelaide’s Lynley-Ann Dodd, aka Rin, is a member of the Australian women’s Dota 2 team.

The 29-year-old has been playing games for most of her life and said the growth of esports has meant a lot to people who are not interested in the traditional sport.

“I wish I could go back and look at my younger self – 13, 14 – when I first started this game and say ‘you could do it’, because I never felt like that was a possibility,” he said.

“I gave up on myself many times because this possibility did not exist.

“And I think now being able to be a role model for … women, teenagers, kids who really enjoy gaming, who want to be able to take it seriously, that’s the best gift of all.”

Women wear headphones while playing competitive esports.
Australia’s women’s Dota 2 team relished the opportunity to compete in a major international tournament.(Provided by: World Esports Federation)

Another member of the Australian team, 28-year-old Antonia “Jakino” Cai from Sydney, also sees the market value in established sports organizations involved in esports.

“Esports will get bigger over the years as the technology improves and all the young people will know about it,” he said.

“A lot of money will be invested in it. We already have tournaments that are [worth] million dollars.

“So this will get bigger and the next step is to put it in the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics.”

Can esports be a sport for everyone?

The women celebrate at the Commonwealth Esports Championship.
Esports are still dominated by men, although women from Asia are leading the way for greater representation.(Provided by: World Esports Federation)

The ethos of the Commonwealth Games is to be a friendly and inclusive Games, with a particular focus on women and people with disabilities.

And esports has its challenges when it comes to being a truly welcoming environment for women.

“There’s this perception that women aren’t as good, and for me I think it’s because we don’t have that many women in the area,” said Sydney’s Kanyarat “Fern” Bupphaves.

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