Esports could be included in Victoria’s 2026 Commonwealth Games after the first pilot event in Birmingham

Athletes like Emma McKeon, Georgia Godwin and Oliver Hoare have caught the attention of Australians at the Commonwealth Games, and one day ‘Rin’, ‘Jakino’ and ‘Fern’ may also be there.

It’s not as imaginative as it might sound. During the final weekend of the Birmingham Games, the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships were held as a pilot to see if they could be part of the actual Games.

There are currently 16 sports already confirmed for Victoria 2026 and organizers aim to add three or four more to the final program by the end of September.

“We have signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Global Esports Federation that will not stop after these games,” said Katie Sadleir, Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF).

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

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

“We will examine all options and see what is the best win-win situation for the partnership,” she said.

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

Exorcisms and dragon slayers at the new sporting frontier

Australia lost to Singapore in Dota 2 women’s bronze medal match.(Supplied: Global Esports Federation)

After watching rioting crowds pour into venues across Birmingham to cheer on athletes from Niue to Nigeria in sports as diverse as weightlifting to rhythmic gymnastics, it feels a little odd stepping into the esports arena.

Taking place at the Birmingham International Convention Center, a small crowd is gathered to watch Australia and Singapore face off in the Women’s Dota 2 Bronze Medal Match.

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

There’s even live commentary, albeit very different from a typical sporting event.

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

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

That’s different, but that’s the point. The CGF wants to reach a new, younger audience that is not traditionally involved with mainstream sports.

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

There are various bodies that regulate esports. This event is overseen by the Global Esports Federation (GEF).

The players are not involved in behind-the-scenes politics, but they look forward to being on the world stage, just like any athlete representing their country.

Five women in green and gold tracksuits stand arm in arm.
Five players represented Australia in the women’s Dota 2 competition.(ABC Sports: Amanda Shalala)

Lynley-Ann Dodd or Rin from Adelaide is a member of the Australia Dota 2 Women’s Team.

The 29-year-old has played games for most of her life and said the growth of esports means a lot to people uninterested in traditional esports.

“I wish I could turn it around 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 there was that possibility “, she said.

“I gave up on several occasions because there was no such opportunity.

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

Women wear headsets when playing eSports competitions.
The Australian Dota 2 women’s team had the opportunity to compete in a major international tournament.(Supplied: Global Esports Federation)

Another member of the Australia team, Antonia “Jakino” Cai, 28, from Sydney, also sees market value in established sports organizations dedicated to esports.

“Esports will only get bigger over the years as technology gets better and all young people will hear about it,” she said.

“A lot of money is invested here. We already have tournaments that are [worth] millions of dollars.

“So that’s going to be bigger and the next step is to put it in the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics.”

Can esports be a sport for everyone?

Women celebrate at the Commonwealth Esports Championships.
Esports are still male-dominated, although women from Asia are leading the way for greater representation.(Supplied: Global Esports Federation)

The Commonwealth Games ethos is to be 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 that good, and I think that’s because we don’t have that many women in the area,” said Kanyarat “Fern” Bupphaves, from Sydney.

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