Qatar’s Aspire Zone Foundation, in coordination with the Western Electronic Gaming Association (Wega), has announced that it will host the Qatar eSports Aspire Wega World Cup starting in November, 2019. The announcement signals Qatar is taking a broad and modern approach to supporting sports in the country.
Esports (short for “electronic sports”) have become a massive industry and worldwide phenomenon in recent years, but their rise to prominence has been met with some skepticism in more traditional sporting communities, as overviewed in an episode of the Netflix and Vox Explained series.
Sixty million people viewed the 2016 League of Legends World Championship finals, and the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas has dedicated an entire arena to electronic gaming. Some observers, however, deride esports players and fans as “nerds” and say these gamers don’t “break a sweat” while competing.
This criticism, however, begs a philosophical inquiry into what qualifies as a sport. ESPN covers racing, chess, and even poker tournaments, although none of these activities require physical exertion in the way that more traditional sports like basketball, soccer, and hockey do.
Taking the skeptical view towards esports comes at a cost, given their viral nature and wild popularity among youth. Fortnite, which will be featured in the Qatar’s eSports World Cup, gained 125 million registered players within just a year of its launch in 2017 and the game makes hundreds of millions of dollars a month.
The Qatari government’s support for the sporting industry is part of its National Vision 2030 pillar to promote health and physical fitness in Qatar, so Aspire Zone hosting an esports tournament is a meaningful signal that sports can include non-physical competitions in video games like Fortnite and League of Legends. It sends a powerful message to youth about Qatar’s forward-thinking culture, and that professional gamers can be celebrated as athletes.