SEA Games 2019: On the Esports Games that didn’t make the cut

The esports titles that were included as medal events in the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games have already been announced. These were Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7, Arena of Valor, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, along with another game to be announced later. Even with six titles included in the SEA Games, many other games were left out of the competition. Let’s look into those games and why they didn’t make the cut.

Perhaps the most glaring exclusions are that of the many shooter games in esports. These range from the classic shooters like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Call of Duty (CoD) to hero-based shooters like Overwatch, and even battle royale games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) or Fortnite: Battle Royale.

Despite the popularity of these games, especially the battle royales, there is a simple reason for their exclusion.

Ever since the possibility of esports making an appearance in an Olympic event became a likely one, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been insistent that, should esports be included in any events they sanction, it should conform to the values the committee espouses. This meant that games which promote or explicitly display violence or gambling would not be allowed.

It’s easy to see why CS:GO, CoD, Overwatch, and PUBG have been left out, due to their semi-realistic depiction of gun violence. Fortnite’s exclusion, despite its more lighthearted take (relatively speaking) on gun-based combat, effectively shuts out all shooters from Olympic competitions no matter how popular they may be.

Another notable absentee from the games is League of Legends (LoL), one of the world’s most popular esports titles. The game seems to be a casualty of the selection process, as the six esports medal events were split evenly across the three major gaming platforms: PC, console, and mobile.

Since LoL belongs to the same genre as Dota 2, it meant that only one of them could be present in the games. It may be that one of the reasons why Dota 2 was chosen over LoL was because the SEA as a region has been more successful in the former than the latter. SEA teams such as TNC Predator and Mineski have achieved much success in Dota 2, whereas SEA as a region does not even have its own LoL esports league.

Having SC2 take up the other spot for PC was a logical choice given the other games that have been excluded, it being one of the oldest esports titles still being played is a plus.

Dota 2’s Manila Major in 2016 was one of the biggest esports events to be held in the 2019 SEA Games’ host country, the Philippines. Image courtesy of PGL.

As for the console games, Tekken 7 being the first of the two to be included is interesting. While some might question the game’s inclusion due to its portrayal of physical violence, it’s not a far cry from sports that have been Olympic mainstays such as Boxing or Taekwondo.

The bigger question remains with the other console game yet to be announced. Going by the IOC’s preference for sports simulation games, such as NBA 2K or FIFA, over the ‘traditional’ esports titles, we can expect one of the two to be formally announced soon. My guess would be NBA 2K, as the game was included in an “outdated” list that came before the official announcement.

As for the mobile games, we got pretty much what we expected as Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends are among the most popular mobile games in SEA, with their own esports scenes to boot.

With all that said, one of the biggest takeaways from the selection of esports in the SEA Games is that a lot of compromises had to be made for it to get in. In the process, many of the games some expected to be there had to be left out for esports as a whole to be accepted. It’s a price the industry must pay for this new, (arguably) more reputable, and loftier stage. It was a long time coming, but at least it will have it soon.