from the going-viral dept
We’ve marked an awful lot of progress markers when it comes to the emergence of esports into the popular lexicon throughout the world. If there were a general theme to those posts, it certainly would be the progress esports has made in being considered a real, established sport, and not just a hobby that borrows that word with no validity. Progress, as I enjoy saying, is not linear, however.
And now it appears that how at least one nation is dealing with the world’s early emergence from COVID-19 protocols, is exposing one minor step back on all the progress. Sweden was set to host Valve’s DOTA 2 big championship contest, The International, until very recently when the country’s sports federation suddenly decided that esports aren’t actual sports when it comes to COVID-19 travel exemptions. By way of background, this tournament was originally supposed to be held in Sweden in 2020, but it got pushed to 2021 due to the pandemic. As Valve planned for the event, it worked with the Swedish authorities to make sure everything was a go.
As Valve outline in a blog post, Sweden still has a number of stringent restrictions in place regarding public gatherings, which would otherwise threaten the ability to hold a big in-person tournament like The International, even though elite sporting events have been excluded from these.
Valve claims that as planning continued local authorities “continued to reassure us in our regular and constant communications with them that The International – Dota 2 Championships qualified for the same exemptions other elite sporting events there received.”
The exemption language specifically states that travel exemptions would apply to, among other categories,:
-people travelling for the purpose of performing highly skilled work, if their contribution is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed remotely, including people who will take part in or perform necessary tasks at elite sports competitions
That sure does sound like The International would fit the categorization. Due to that and to the communication with the Swedish government, Valve planned to host the tourney in Stockholm. Then, suddenly, The Swedish Sports Federation voted to not allow any esports organizations as members. As a result, the COVID-19 exemptions no longer would apply to anyone traveling to the country for the tournament. Soccer and other sporting matches that include large crowds and international players are all moving forward; esports tourneys like The International will not.
Not wanting to give up, Valve instead asked Sweden’s Minister of the Interior to “reclassify The International – Dota 2 Championships as an elite sporting event.” Which he immediately refused. They then appealed directly to the Swedish government, and were knocked back again.
So now, as July approaches, Valve has decided to all but abandon their Swedish plans and start “looking for possible alternatives elsewhere in Europe to host the event this year, in case the Swedish government is unable to accommodate The International – Dota 2 Championships as planned.”
Now, we can argue all day long whether the world in general, or Sweden in particular, is in the right place when it comes to combatting COVID-19, whether large sporting events like this should even be held, or under what circumstances they should be held. But what doesn’t seem to make sense in any capacity is to have the approval to host this agreed upon tournament live at the pleasure of a Swedish sports organization’s opinion on whether or not esports is sports-y enough to warrant the same exemptions as other large sporting events.
Two steps forward, one step back, when it comes to esports’ place in the world alongside more traditional athletic events. And with just a dash of annoying bureaucracy to boot.