Picture by ESFI

Integration of esports with ‘other sports’ mutually beneficial, says Asian Games medallist Tirth Mehta

Tirth Mehta won a bronze medal in Hearthstone at the 2018 Asian Games, when esports was a demonstration event.
By Aarish Ansari

With esports included in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, it provides a whole new opportunity for India to shine on the global sports platform.

An event that caters to a younger audience, esports could tap into the nearly 700 million Indians who are under the age of 25.

Over the past few years, esports has not only provided entertainment but offered a viable career option, even if it's still in a nascent stage.

The beginning in Jakarta

The seeds of this were sown at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia when esports was included as a demonstration event – a move widely praised by the gaming community.

“It felt great to represent India at one of the most prestigious events in the world,” said Indian gamer Tirth Mehta, who won a bronze medal in Hearthstone -- a digital collectable card game -- at the 2018 event.

“We got to meet other athletes, have a chat with them and talk to them about esports. It was very encouraging when they admitted that the skills required in esports are the same as the skills, hard work and dedication required to become a professional athlete.

“The overall experience was amazing.”

Fellow Indian gamer Ankur Diwakar, known as JauntyTank, also participated in the 2018 Asian Games with Pro Evolution Soccer.

Tirth Mehta competing at the 2018 Asian Games.
Picture by ESFI

Esports attract eyeballs

Although gamers got a much bigger platform in the form of Asian Games, Tirth Mehta believes the inclusion of gaming at multi-sport events is mutually beneficial.

“Esports is where most of the younger audience is. Including esports in general athletic events will help capture the attention of that young audience and maybe they will get interested in athletics. It will be beneficial both ways,” Tirth claimed.

And his claims are not wrong.

In 2021, there are an estimated 3.24 billion gamers across the globe, according to global statistics website Statista.

That is more than the population of India and China combined and close to half the population of the world.

Reports also suggest that 80 per cent of Gen Z – people born between 1997 and 2015 – play games, representing a huge market that can be captivated by multi-sport events.

Esports in Asian Games a perception changer

It’s not like all the gains are reserved for regular sports. The advantages of being part of multi-sport events are numerous for esports too.

Competitions like the Asian Games help give recognition and credibility to esports, which was earlier only seen as a pastime.

“It changes the perception that the general audience has. More parents are allowing their children to participate or compete in esports. It's helpful in the growth of the community,” believes Tirth.

Tirth Mehta, however, considers himself fortunate to have a supportive family that encouraged him to play, even when there was no clear road map.

With their support, Tirth has played Hearthstone at the international level, including appearances at the IeSF World Championship, Hearthstone Championship Tour and Thailand Major.

Aiming for 2022 Asian Games

After winning bronze at the 2018 Asian Games, Tirth Mehta, now 26, is preparing to represent India again at the 2022 edition, where esports make up eight medal events.

However, Tirth will not have it easy this time. The Bhuj-based gamer, who used to train up to 12 hours a day, will now have to juggle between gaming and his full-time role in a game development studio to prepare for the big-ticket event.

“I don't get enough time to practice as much as I like… I’ll take some days off and get some more time when the Asian Games come,” Tirth concluded.