Having attended Great Britain’s most elite army officer training school, served as Chief Executive of the football S. League, and led Singapore’s National Olympic Council, Chris Chan knows a few things about leadership
Chris Chan was confirmed as the President of the Global Esports Federation (GEF) at the launch three years ago. As the organization enters a remarkable new era, the rich and varied backstory of the 72-year-old is woven into the connection between the esports community and traditional sport.
The Singaporean is, after all, able to draw on a wealth of experience and knowledge gained from military service, sports administration – and a young relative.
“I did national service at 18 and found that I enjoyed it – I liked being outside and the independence away from home,” Chan said.
“I ended up being the first person from Singapore to be offered a scholarship to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, England. Those years shaped me as a person and as a leader. Eventually, I served in the Singapore Armed Forces for 28 years, vocationally as a Commando. I have an affinity with the Commandos particularly, and made many friends.”
On the eve of the second edition of the Global Esports Games, the President’s impressive career in sports administration further strengthens the credibility, legitimacy and prestige of esports.
“As President, I hope I’ve worked to put the GEF on a good footing, alongside our Board and CEO, the Secretariat, and the volunteers across all the Commissions,” he said. “We share the same belief and values.
“I love that we do things differently. We dare to make changes. To listen and deviate a bit from the norm. GEF is spirited and bold. We have a very good team in our CEO, Paul J. Foster, the Secretariat, and the expert Commission members. They’ve all contributed so much. We’ve made friends, and we have attracted global partners. The proof is in the pudding.”
The next slice of that proof takes place in Istanbul, Türkiye, 15-17 December. Over 300 competitors from 65 Member Federations will compete for the ultimate esports prize in four titles: DOTA 2, eFootball 2023, PUBG MOBILE, and Street Fighter V: Champion Edition.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Chan was not immersed in esports prior to his role with the GEF.
“Like most people of my generation, I didn’t understand it at first,” he said. “But I’d seen how some sports like skateboarding, which people thought were ‘extreme’, had evolved. Today they’re in the Olympics.
“I also grew to understand what is required from an elite esports athlete. I realized it was misunderstood. And then together with our Board and team helped create the GEF, which was started here in Singapore, to help lead esports forward.
“I got involved right at the start, in 2019. I thought that GEF’s mission, vision, and objectives could win over the esports community and do something for them. And as Covid happened and other sports were on standstill, we grew and grew. Then we had our first Global Esports Games in Singapore and viewing figures were amazing. It showed how powerful this is to the youth.”
After serving as chief executive of the S. League, Chan later became Secretary General of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
“My cousins played football for the Singapore national team, and I played for Singapore schools,” he said.
“They were just starting the S. League when I joined, I was their second CEO, and it became very successful. I’m now in my 21st year in the NOC. It was meant to be a short stint, but I enjoyed the challenge. We have a small team but we multi-task, and the reward is when you see athletes succeeding.”
Seeing athletes succeeding within an ecosystem that celebrates and inspires youth is part of a vision shared by Chan and the GEF as a whole.
“It is a major objective to bring credibility to esports,” Chan said. “It will continue to grow. I’m so impressed with the athletes I meet. It is touching for me when they are on the podium with a flag flying in an esports arena. It’s such a strong impact seeing those tears of joy, with competitors competing for their homelands.”
This legitimacy can only be strengthened by the landmark events on the horizon.
“The Commonwealth Games were first and now we’ve got the Pan American Games next October,” Chan said. “Traditional sports leaders have opened up the event to us. Paul got asked a lot of hard questions about all the various issues around esports but, after he spoke, Pan Am took a vote, and they decided unanimously to include esports alongside the sports program at the Games.
“We are doing something right. And we’ve got some big announcements coming up at the Global Esports Games in Istanbul, too.”
So, does GEF’s President compete himself?
“I love to watch and learn and have played a bit of football with my nephew,” he said. “I follow the English Premier League, so at least I know who the players are!”