How the Global Esports Federation and the Commonwealth Games Federation made a giant leap
As the start of the Commonwealth Esports Championships draws close, the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Katie Sadleir, talks to the CEO of the Global Esports Federation, Paul J. Foster, about how much they are looking forward to the event, the relationship between the two organisations, and what it means for the future.
After some truly intensive planning, the #CEC2022 is nearly upon us – how do you feel about it?
PAUL: Great. We have come on a long journey in a short time, but it’s nothing compared to the journey of the athletes who are going to be competing on this incredible stage we’ve built with our partners. Our job was to give them the best possible chance to shine. Their job is to become tomorrow’s heroes and realise their own dreams. We’re excited, proud, thrilled and grateful to have this historic honour, to join with our visionary partners at the Commonwealth Games Federation.
KATIE: Fantastic! I’m so invested in this and so excited by it. It’s been great working with Paul and the wider team. The GEF doesn’t have the boundaries that traditional sport has. There’s a culture spectrum between the two organisations that are really healthy. People ask me about the relevance of the Commonwealth Games, and when I talk about esports, the conversation changes. We want to stay relevant to our young population, and I see this as a mark on the ground, that we mean business.
What are you looking forward to most?
KATIE: Everyone is so fascinated by it, and I’m really looking forward to the Commonwealth Esports Forum. I think it will challenge all kinds of perceptions. I’m also really interested in watching all the competitions. I’m learning fast.
PAUL: The thing I never get tired of is seeing the faces of the athletes. Their determination, preparation, skill, drive, and mental focus are every bit the equal of the traditional athlete. I can’t wait to see the victory ceremonies and the medals. That makes it really real. I love the fact that we are all going to cheer for each other. The esports community is all of ours, it belongs to everyone – so we are going to listen to the athletes, to the Member Federations, to create history together. Esports has arrived.
Can you believe how far esports has moved forward in the three years since the GEF was established?
KATIE: It’s fascinating. You hear about organisers running hundreds of tournaments a day, it has massive participation. The development of esports medicine is also interesting, and it shows how committed the GEF is to looking at the holistic development of individuals, rather than just the games. The fact there will be physical demonstrations alongside the competition is interesting. And our values of humanity, equality and destiny are similar. We say that sport is just the beginning. The GEF talks about #worldconnected. There’s a shared perspective.
PAUL: We could never have imagined it. We are humbled by the progress, but at the same time, it speaks to our collective determination. We did that heavy lifting in terms of thinking about our vision, mission, and our five universal values - equality, fair play, diversity, inclusion, and innovation. We convened the esports community. We had the ambition to create credibility and legitimacy, and here we are in Birmingham with prestige for esports globally. And we are creating a safe, healthy and inclusive esports ecosystem to inspire young people and to make them feel like they belong. I think if you do all that, you set a good foundation and the future is limitless. We are just getting started, every day provides a ton of opportunities, and the best is yet to come.
The partnership between the GEF and the CGF is one between a very new and a very old organisation, but it seems to be working so well…
KATIE: The CGF has been going almost 100 years, we are a traditional, multi-sports organisation. We’ve done a roadmap about becoming more relevant to the future, and part of that was embracing the esports movement, and getting more technologically savvy. The partnership is a win-win. These games are a pilot, but we do see ourselves having a long-term relationship. The GEF has a growth mindset and is interested in evolution and innovation. What we bring to the relationship is that traditional set-up, and hopefully, we can help transform the perception of esports. We both have a commitment to sports inclusivity.
PAUL: The CGF has been around for a long time, but they have really listened to us. The Commonwealth Games belongs to the CGF, so how brave were they, and their President, Dame Louise Martin, to embrace the opportunity to engage a whole new audience and paradigm of participation? They’ve been adventurous and they are wonderful partners. The GEF and CGF have a shared value of equality, and I’m really proud of that. As an Australian, I’ve always been proud of the Commonwealth and I’ve really enjoyed working with Katie and her team. I hope the CEC becomes part of their future, and is cherished as much at the CGF as it is at the GEF. This is a game changer and we want to grow it.
What is your message to the athletes and teams?
KATIE: It’s going to be fun. If I was a young esports person, I would be embracing this time. The city of Birmingham is buzzing, it’s Disneyland on steroids. The tagline for Birmingham is ‘bring it on’, the buildings are wrapped. And by being associated with the Commonwealth Games, it becomes more than a sporting event, it becomes a cultural festival. The art, music, performers – it is a stimulating place to be, and the fact the events overlap makes the CEC a real part of the multisport environment.
PAUL: This event is yours. You are us, and we are you, #worldconnected. All the athletes should be proud to be here – they have achieved something epic. So let’s have fun, the whole world is looking for that at the moment, and not all heroes wear capes. Let’s hang out and think ‘isn’t this good’. We might find some role models, and make some people’s days a little brighter. For kids starting out, or someone new to gaming after some isolation, let’s show that the sun will come out tomorrow.
How bright is the future looking for esports?
KATIE: We run the Commonwealth Games, Youth Games, and Championships. So there are all sorts of opportunities to talk about collaborating esports with our wider assets. But what’s great is that this is a blank sheet of paper, looking forward.
PAUL: We are heading towards the Global Esports Games in Istanbul in a few months’ time, and then in the following years, we have this GEG flagship event in Riyadh, China, Dubai, and the USA. What we’ve done is create a runway, momentum, and incredible energy. There are people from places and organisations not in the Commonwealth coming to see the #CEC2022, and to see what it’s all about. If you think back to our mission for credibility, legitimacy and prestige – to be adjacent to the Commonwealth Games offers all of that and more.