An inaugural Commonwealth esports championships is to be held in Birmingham when the city hosts the Commonwealth Games this summer.
The event will take place at the International Convention Centre between 6-7 August. It has been sanctioned by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) executive board to happen at the same time as Birmingham 2022 while being independent of the Games and its programme.
The Commonwealth Games themselves are scheduled to last from 26 July to 8 August, with an anticipated 5,000 athletes from 72 countries competing. The esports championships will issue their own medals, and the titles to be included will be announced at a later date.
“I am delighted that we are announcing the first Commonwealth esports championships and Commonwealth esports forum to take place in Birmingham this summer,” said CGF president, Dame Louise Martin. “Esports is continuing to grow dramatically in terms of popularity and participation, particularly amongst young people, and we are continuing to look at ways to explore how it can align with the Commonwealth Sports Movement.
“Commonwealth esports championships provides an excellent opportunity to pilot esports close to the Commonwealth Games. This will allow us to review the long-term relationship between the Commonwealth Games and esports as we continue to evolve and explore future editions of our event and what they could look like.”
The move has already met some opposition, with Sharron Davies, who won two gold medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, tweeting to say that esports were “Not a sport … a game!”
As part of the announcement the CGF president, Chris Chan, pointed out that the Global Esports Games staged in December 2021 captured more than 500 million views from around the world. The games industry is estimated to be worth $138bn (£100bn) globally, and watching esports on streaming services like Twitch is a mainstream activity for younger players.
The British Esports Association, a not-for-profit national body established in 2016 to promote esports in the UK, is supporting the event in Brirmingham. Its CEO and founder, Chester King, said: “The gaming community has long understood that esports helps teamwork, communication and strategic thinking together with combating loneliness, but alongside this, it creates opportunities for its athletes to participate in a team environment in a similar way to traditional sport with all the benefits.”
The move reflects a broader interest in esports from tournament organisers more used to arranging physical events. Ahead of last year’s delayed Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ran a five-sport Olympic Virtual Series in May and June. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, said the aim was to “grow direct engagement with new audiences,” and said that the move “encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values with a special focus on youth.”
This year’s Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, China in September will award medals for eight esports, including Hearthstone, League of Legends, FIFA and Street Fighter V.
PA Media contributed to this report