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On Birmingham 2022 and moving forward to the Panam Games: “we all knew this was a special moment”

GEF CEO Paul J. Foster reflects on his experiences of the historic Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Esports Championships (CEC) and the confirmation of the equally exciting Santiago 2023 Pan American Esports Championships

Paul J. Foster, GEF CEO on the Commonwealth Esports Championships Birmingham 2022: “we all knew this was a special moment”
“I was like a teenage boy meeting his new heroes”

The CEC reminded me of the power of sports and the gravity of representing your nation. Wearing the national colors and standing in front of your flag – it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

I was so impressed by the humble, grateful athletes in Birmingham. Win, lose or draw, there was emotion. As an Australian, I couldn’t help but ask for a photo with their Rocket League team after they won medals. I was like a teenage boy meeting his new heroes.

The medals around their necks might as well have been diamonds – these three wonderful women, who have a fabulous future, smiling, together with their kangaroo mascot. They were so proud of their success, but they also understood the importance of this esports moment, one they’d traveled 20,000km to be part of.

There were beautiful diverse faces from every continent. Presenting the India team with their medals, it reminded me of the sheer scale of their nation. It also illustrated to me how profound our motto, #worldconnected, really is. The more we work around the globe, the more we bring people together, and so many things can happen.

I was so proud of the world-class stage we had in Birmingham – and the quality of the tournament matched it. There was so much raw emotion, and the roar of the crowd was fantastic, from the passionate Welsh fans to the Malaysian supporters roaring on their eFootball winner with England’s own song, “football’s coming home.”

I’ve been to lots of events over the years, and I’m rarely surprised. But at the CEC, everyone left surprised, myself included. At GEF we focus on creating credibility, legitimacy and prestige for esports, and on the idea of a #worldconnected – and it really did manifest.

You could look around and see the innovation showcase, the virtual Taekwondo that was set up by our brilliant partners Refract, with world-class athletes – but then you had the public and reporters from the BBC trying it out, too. Lots of people turned up to see what this was like, and never left.

We will all look back on the CEC and know it was “a moment”. Everyone in the ecosystem, from the Mayor of the West Midlands to the UK’s Minister for International Trade, the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation to the athletes and our speakers at the remarkable forum, found something surprising.

What was codified most of all was raw emotion: the joy of winning a medal, the humility of our community in defeat, how proud they were as part of our community, and that GEF did this for them. Together with the CGF, this was a tangible #worldconnected initiative – it really did connect our community. That was my delight.

“Now we move on to the Americas”

Meeting the Panam Movement, I played them BBC footage of Katie Sadleir, the CGF CEO, talking about our partnership. We had discussed shaping it around the Commonwealth Games, and we’d looked at each other and said, “why not?”

It ticked three boxes for the Commonwealth Games, and these are what I thought about with the Panam Games, too.

These are connections, by bringing people together through the excitement of gaming; innovation, including what GEF does in terms of format and moment; and engagement – how we resonate with this incredible young demographic, who will never watch TV, who have never known anything other than digital, and for whom society isn’t binary in any sense.

GEF understands the limitless opportunity of this moment. And now here we are, taking that to the Americas.

We haven’t rushed into this. We started out in the Americas through our relationship with Camilo Pérez, the President of the Paraguayan Olympic Committee and the head of the South American Sports Organisation (ODESUR).

We formed a partnership a few years ago, and in a month’s time, we will be in Asuncion, Paraguay for the South American Esports Championships. Then we had the GEF Festival in Rosario, Argentina.

Now, thanks to the remarkable, visionary but prudent leader at Panam Sports, Neven Ilic, we have embarked on another partnership.

Neven thought about all this properly. He took his time to learn about esports, we had lots of meetings, and he made us jump through lots of hoops and think wider. He trusted but he verified. And it all moved towards our meeting at Panam Sports’ 60th Executive Committee.

It was such a warm, welcoming group – they even wished me happy birthday. But we went through very detailed, probing questions. This was not a shoo-in, we had to prove our case. It was very transparent, and Neven and the team had done the due diligence.

There was the same thing at the General Assembly the next day, with lots of proper, thoughtful questions. But the result was that esports will become part of their journey, as we create together the Pan American Esports Championships alongside the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games.

We’ve taken the first step together with a major, diverse organization that includes a huge number of countries – the Americas, north to south, including central America and the Caribbean, with all its languages and cultures.

People often ask about the future of esports. Where is it heading? What about the Olympics? I say that is for other people to determine. We are here to listen and share what we know and learn what we don’t yet know, to welcome and connect. These are first steps.

To Panam Sports, like the Commonwealth Games, I say, we will not let you down or disappoint you. Let’s start and see where this goes. That will be up to future generations – our job is to create the connections, and open doors and minds. When that happens, the rest will follow. We are comfortable with knowing that we don’t know everything.

What we do know is about pride, emotion, and joy. We saw it in the faces of our heroes in Birmingham. We heard about it in their stories. They are the heart of the GEF, and we will see them again in Santiago in 2023. This is our time.


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