Esports As An Official Sport – Countries And Their Road To Recognition

South Korean pro player waving flag representing his country recognising esports as an official sport

The ascendance of esports from niche digital entertainment to a globally recognised competitive discipline marks a profound shift in the world of sports. “Esports As An Official Sport: Countries And Their Road To Recognition” explores this dynamic transformation, chronicling the journeys of various nations in embracing esports within their official sports frameworks. From South Korea’s pioneering steps to Sweden’s recent acknowledgement, each country has a unique story involving cultural adaptation, technological progression, and policy-making, reflecting the growing significance of esports on the world stage.


South Korea (2000)

South Korea’s Road To Esports Recognition


South Korean Esports Player waving the south korean flag and smiling at the camera


South Korea’s evolution into a global esports powerhouse and its recognition of esports as an official sport is a compelling narrative of technological advancement, cultural acceptance, and government support. Here’s a concise timeline:


Late 1990s: South Korea’s rapid economic growth leads to the creation of a robust entertainment industry, including gaming. The government’s decision to build a national broadband network significantly boosts online gaming popularity, setting the stage for esports’ rise.

1999 – The release of Blizzard’s StarCraft: Brood War becomes a pivotal moment for Korean gaming. The game’s popularity in the country and the subsequent broadcasting of StarCraft matches on cable TV channels contribute significantly to esports gaining national attention.

2000: South Korea becomes one of the first countries to recognise esports as a legitimate sport and an official job category. This period sees the establishment of foundational esports leagues and major events, such as the World Cyber Game Challenge in Seoul, symbolising the country’s commitment to developing the esports sector.

2014 and beyond: The Korean esports scene continues to grow, with massive audiences attending major events like the Worlds 2014 in Seoul. The government’s role in fostering esports is evident through investments in infrastructure, like the Busan Esports Arena, and ongoing support for international competitions and talent development.


South Korea’s journey in recognising and nurturing esports has been integral to its position as a global leader in the field. This journey illustrates the potential impact of governmental support and cultural acceptance in the development of esports as a mainstream competitive discipline​​.


China (2003)

China’s Road To Esports Recognition


Pro Chinese esports player waving flag while smiling at the camera.


China’s path to recognising esports as an official sport reflects a blend of government initiative, cultural embrace, and rapid technological growth. Here’s a concise timeline of its journey:


2003 – Official Recognition as a Sport: Marking a significant step in esports’ legitimacy, China’s General Administration of Sport officially recognises esports as the 99th official sport. This early adoption, paralleling South Korea, positions China as a pioneer in embracing esports on a national level.

2008 – Reclassification within Sports: Demonstrating a deepening commitment, the General Administration of Sport reclassifies esports from the 99th to the 78th official sport. This move signifies a rising prominence and acceptance of esports within China’s sporting hierarchy.

2019 – Professional Status for Esports Players and Operators: In a major stride towards professionalisation, China acknowledges ‘esports players’ and ‘esports operators’ as valid and official professions. This recognition not only legitimises the careers within the industry but also encourages further growth and development in the sector.

2018 – Policy Integration and Development: The Chinese government integrates esports into its national strategies, with the State Council issuing Document No. 93. This policy establishes the esports industry as a new form of sports consumption, underlining the government’s support and foresight in the development of the industry.


China’s approach to recognising and fostering esports combines governmental policy, cultural support, and industry development. This journey is pivotal in understanding China’s current status as a major player in the global esports arena, illustrating the impact of a holistic approach in the evolution of esports.



USA (2013)

USA’s Road To Esports Recognition


American esports fan waving flag
Image Credit: EarlyGame


The recognition of esports in the United States reflects a focus on individual talent and institutional acceptance, particularly in the realm of professional gaming and collegiate sports. Here is a concise timeline:


2013 – Official Recognition as a Sport: The United States officially recognised esports as a sport in 2013. This milestone included the qualification of professional esports competitors as athletes, eligible to apply for the country’s temporary worker P1A visa, specifically designed for athletes participating in athletic competitions​​​​.

Professional Gamers as Athletes: In the same year, 2013, professional gamer Danny “Shiphtur” Le became the first esports player to receive a P-1 visa in the United States, marking a significant moment in the acknowledgement of esports players as professional athletes in the country​​.

Collegiate Level Recognition: On the collegiate front, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the authority over collegiate athletics in the United States, has yet to officially recognise esports as a sport. However, some universities, like Robert Morris University (RMU) in Chicago, which is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), have already recognised esports as a sport under their athletics department, treating esports participants as athletes​​.


This overview of the United States’ journey in recognising esports underscores the progressive integration of esports into the nation’s athletic and educational frameworks, highlighting the evolving status of esports as a legitimate competitive field.


Finland (2017)

Finland’s Road To Esports Recognition


Finland map with headset


Finland’s journey in recognising esports as an official sport demonstrates a commitment to integrating esports into its national sports infrastructure and education system. Here’s a timeline:


2017 – Official Recognition of Professional Esports Players: Finland officially recognised professional esports players as athletes in 2017. This recognition was significant not just symbolically, but also practically, as it meant that players’ wages and competition winnings would now qualify for professional sports activities earnings. A portion of these earnings could be placed in a tax-free fund, providing financial security for esports athletes, particularly considering that most esports players end their competitive careers in their thirties​​.

2019 – Integration into the Finnish Sports Community: The Finnish Olympic Committee took a pivotal step in 2019 by establishing esports as a part of the country’s sports community. This move was marked by the launch of the bi-annual Finnish Assembly tournament, rapidly becoming one of the leading esports competitions globally. This event draws both amateur and professional Finnish players to compete in various titles and has also attracted international competitors​​.

Educational Initiatives: Recognizing the potential of esports, the Finnish government has introduced esports courses in some Finnish colleges. These courses are designed to equip the next generation of Finnish esports talents with the necessary skills and mentoring to become professional athletes. This educational initiative underscores Finland’s optimism and forward-thinking approach to the esports industry​​.


Finland’s approach to recognising and nurturing esports combines governmental support, educational initiatives, and integration into the national sports framework. This progressive stance highlights the country’s commitment to developing esports both as a competitive discipline and a viable career path.


Germany (2018)

Germany’s Road To Esports Recognition


Video game controller with German flag skin


Germany’s recognition of esports as an official sport marks a significant milestone in the country’s engagement with the digital sports arena. This development reflects a blend of governmental acknowledgement, societal interest, and the growing economic footprint of esports. Here’s a concise timeline:


Late 2017: The foundation of Germany’s first national esports association, the Esport Bund Deutschland (ESBD), in Frankfurt, symbolises a formal step towards structuring the esports landscape in the country. The ESBD’s main agenda is to pursue the legal recognition of esports as a sport.

February 8, 2018: A landmark day for German esports, the coalition government comprising the CDU/CSU and SPD officially recognises esports as an official sport. This decision opens up new avenues for the growth of esports within Germany, including the potential for inclusion in the Olympics.

Post-Recognition Effects: The official status of esports significantly benefits German esports clubs, allowing them to apply for not-for-profit status, leading to reduced taxes and the ability to receive tax-deductible donations. It also simplifies visa processes for international esports players, enhancing Germany’s attractiveness as a host for major esports tournaments.

Global Context and Future Outlook: Germany’s move aligns it with other nations that had already recognised esports, including South Korea, China, and Russia. The German government’s commitment to esports also encompasses support for its inclusion in global sporting events like the Olympics, reflecting the country’s progressive stance on digital sports.


Germany’s journey in recognising esports as an official sport illustrates the evolving relationship between digital entertainment, sports, and governmental policy. It highlights the country’s recognition of the economic and cultural significance of esports, both nationally and internationally.


Ukraine (2020)

Ukraine’s Road To Esports Recognition


Esports Pro player wearing Ukrainian flag


Ukraine’s official recognition of esports as a sport is a significant development in the country’s digital culture and sports landscape. This recognition reflects the evolving nature of esports globally and its impact on the digital economy and culture. Here’s a concise timeline:


August 17, 2020: The Ukrainian Esports Federation (UESF) submits an application to the Ministry of Youth and Sports for the official recognition of esports as a sport in Ukraine. This application is a critical step in the process of gaining formal recognition and highlights the growing significance of esports in the country​​.

September 7, 2020: A pivotal date in the history of Ukrainian esports. On this day, esports is officially recognised as a sports competition in Ukraine. This decision follows a meeting held by the Commission for Recognition of Sports and is a result of the increasing popularity and growth of esports in Ukraine. It also marks the culmination of efforts by various stakeholders in the esports industry to gain official recognition​​​​.

Post-Recognition Developments: Following the official recognition, stakeholders in the esports industry, including the Ukrainian Professional Esports Association, begin to outline their vision and strategy for the industry over the next five years. This initiative indicates a proactive approach towards capitalising on the new status of esports in Ukraine and shaping its future in the country​​.

Deputy Minister’s Statement: Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation, Oleksandr Borniakov, emphasizes the significance of this development, stating that esports has evolved beyond just gaming to become a fundamental element of modern digital culture. He notes the global popularity of esports, including its strong following in Ukraine, and acknowledges the country’s high culture of esports and its teams’ success in various international tournaments​​.


Ukraine’s journey to recognising esports as an official sport illustrates a broader trend of integrating digital sports into mainstream culture and the economy. This recognition not only acknowledges the popularity and cultural relevance of esports but also opens up new opportunities for growth and development in the sector within Ukraine.



Pakistan (2021)

Pakistan’s Road To Esports Recognition


Gamer keyboard in a pakistan flag skin


Pakistan’s journey towards recognising esports as an official sport is a notable development in its digital and sporting landscape. It signifies a growing acknowledgement of esports’ significance in the modern digital era, coupled with its potential for youth engagement and economic growth. Here’s a concise timeline:


Prior to 2021: Esports and gaming were relatively unfamiliar concepts in Pakistan until a significant milestone in 2010. Arslan Ash, a Pakistani Tekken player, gained international acclaim by winning the EVO Championship Series in Japan and the EVO Championship series, putting Pakistan on the global esports map and inspiring many in the country​​​​.

Early 2021: The process of formal recognition begins with the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, announcing that esports will soon be accorded the status of regular sports in Pakistan. This announcement comes after his expression of interest in the Pakistani gaming industry and subsequent discussions among the Pakistan Sports Board and the Pakistan Science Foundation​​​​.

January 2021: A Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the Pakistan Sports Board and the Pakistan Science Foundation, officially granting esports the status of regular sports in Pakistan. This decision reflects the government’s recognition of the growing popularity and potential of esports in the country​​​​.

Post-Recognition Initiatives: Following the official recognition, the Minister announces plans to offer certifications in animation and game development in institutes across the country to foster growth in the esports sector. Additionally, the first National esports tournament in Pakistan is scheduled to kick-start in March, marking a significant step towards nurturing esports talent in the country​​​​.


Pakistan’s path to recognising esports as an official sport underscores the potential of digital sports in emerging economies. It highlights the country’s commitment to embracing modern digital trends and providing new opportunities for youth engagement and economic development in the esports arena.


Thailand (2021)

Thailand’s Road To Esports Recognition


Thailand team at the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou


Thailand’s recognition of esports as an official sport is a significant advancement in its sporting and digital culture landscape. This move reflects the growing global status of esports and acknowledges its potential as a professional and economic venture. Here’s a concise timeline:


Prior to 2020: The Thai E-Sports Federation (TESF), established to manage esports in Thailand, began organising and sanctioning both domestic and international competitions across Southeast Asia. Notable events included the 2020 Mobile Legends: Bang Bang tournament, which attracted major sponsors like Razer and Samsung Galaxy​​​​.

September 20, 2021: The TESF shared a notice from the Royal Gazette, a public journal of record that publishes law and regulatory notifications from the Thai government, officially declaring esports as a professionally recognised sport in Thailand. This declaration was a pivotal moment for the esports community in the country, setting the stage for substantial growth and development​​.

September 22, 2021: The Thai government officially recognised esports as a professional sport. This recognition meant that professional gamer and teams in Thailand became eligible for financial support from the government and the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT). Recognised esports teams and athletes also gained access to funding, support, and honours for their skill development and welfare, marking a significant step in promoting the local video game industry and esports talent​​​​.


The official recognition of esports in Thailand underscores the country’s commitment to embracing modern trends in sports and entertainment. It also opens up new opportunities for the esports industry, including financial support and the professional development of athletes and teams, contributing to the growth of the digital economy and the recognition of esports as a mainstream competitive discipline.


Russia (2000)

Russia’s Road To Esports Recognition


Logo of the Russian Esports Federation
Image Credit: Liquipedia


Russia’s journey towards recognising esports as an official sport is marked by several key milestones, reflecting the country’s evolving attitude towards competitive gaming. Here’s a concise timeline:


2000-2001: The establishment of the Russian eSports Federation (ReSF) in 2000 marked the beginning of a formal structure for esports in Russia. By 2001, the ReSF achieved state recognition, indicating early governmental acknowledgement of esports​​.

2004: Esports continued to gain recognition and was again officially acknowledged by the state in 2004, demonstrating the growing acceptance and popularity of esports in Russia.

2016: A significant year for Russian esports, with the Ministry of Sports officially recognising esports as a sport on June 17, 2016. This recognition was formalised through the publication of official documents on the Russian website of legal acts. Following this, esports events in Russia were to be held under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports. Additionally, competitive players became eligible to receive official sporting titles, such as “Master of Sports of Russia,” “International Master of Sports,” and “Honoured Master of Sports of Russia”​​​​.

Investment in Esports: In October 2015, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov invested more than $100 million in the development of esports in Russia. This investment was aimed at boosting the popularity of esports, building e-gaming arenas, and creating media channels to cover events. Such substantial investment reflects the increasing economic significance of esports in Russia​​.

Previous Challenges: Esports had previously gained official recognition in Russia in 2001 but was excluded from the list by the Sports Ministry five years later for failing to meet certain requirements. The re-recognition in 2016 thus marked a notable turnaround in the government’s approach to esports​​.


The recognition of esports as an official sport in Russia signifies a major shift in the perception of competitive gaming, aligning it with traditional sports. It also reflects the broader global trend of integrating esports into mainstream sports culture, offering new opportunities for growth and development in this emerging field.


Indonesia (2020)

Indonesia’s Road To Esports Recognition


Gamer mouse with Indonesian flag skin


Indonesia’s recognition of esports as an official sport reflects the country’s evolving perspective on competitive gaming. The timeline below outlines key developments in Indonesia’s journey to embrace esports:


1989: The first esports tournament in Indonesia took place at the People’s Entertainment Park in Surabaya, featuring the video game Super Mario Bros, only four years after the game’s release​​.

1999: A significant increase in esports activity in Indonesia, aided by technological developments. The Game League, the official esports competition in Indonesia, organised various tournaments with online games such as StarCraft and Quake III​​.

2013: The Indonesia E-sports Association (IeSPA) was established, signifying a growing interest and organisational structure for esports in the country. This organisation played a crucial role in nurturing Indonesian esports talents and shaping the sector​​.

2018: Esports featured in the 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia, though not as an official medal event. This inclusion highlighted the growing popularity and acceptance of esports in the Asian sports ecosystem​​.

2020: In a landmark decision, the Indonesian government, specifically the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Indonesian Sports Council (KONI), officially recognised esports as a sport. This recognition during the 2020 National Conference of Central KONI (held virtually on August 25-27) allowed esports titles to be contested in official medal competitions such as the National Sports Week (PON) and SEA Games. Additionally, the Indonesian Esports Central Board (PB ESI) was inaugurated by KONI to hold competitions and foster athletes​​​​.


Indonesia’s journey to recognising esports represents a blend of grassroots growth, community engagement, and eventual governmental recognition. The establishment of official organisations and the inclusion of esports in national and international sporting events mark significant milestones in legitimising and nurturing the esports scene in Indonesia.



Sweden (2023)

Sweden’s Road To Esports Recognition


Swedish pro esports player walking with flag


Sweden’s journey to recognising esports as an official sport is marked by its vibrant gaming culture and strategic moves by the esports community. Here’s a concise timeline of this journey:


1990s: The inception of DreamHack, the world’s largest LAN party and computer festival, marks a significant moment in Sweden’s esports history. Beginning as a gathering of enthusiasts, DreamHack evolves into professional esports events, showcasing Sweden’s early engagement with the esports scene.

2017: The Esports Association applies for membership in Sweden’s National Sports Confederation, facing initial rejections. This period marks the beginning of a formal pursuit for recognition.

May 2023: Despite the Swedish National Sports Confederation’s board recommending against it, the Confederation votes to admit the Swedish Esports Association, following a previous rejection in 2021. The vote is a critical step towards official recognition, as the Confederation is responsible for representing sports to the government and distributing government funding.

2023: The Swedish Esports Federation successfully submits another membership application after overcoming initial obstacles and establishing clear competition regulations across genres like Rocket League, CS:GO, and Dota 2. Their membership is approved at the National Sports Meeting in Uppsala, marking esports as the 73rd specialist sports federation within Sweden’s National Sports Federation.

Post-2023: Following this landmark decision, the Swedish Esports Federation, led by figures like Sammi Kaidi and Chris Jonasson, begins inviting associations to discuss the implications of this recognition and the support services available.


This timeline illustrates Sweden’s progressive embrace of esports, transitioning from a passionate gaming community to official recognition within the national sports framework​.


As esports continues to carve its niche in the global sports arena, numerous countries stand on the brink of official recognition, signalling a new era of digital sports. Nations like Brazil, Japan, and India among others, are increasingly nurturing their esports communities, indicating potential future endorsements. This evolving landscape underscores the transformative power of digital innovation in reshaping traditional concepts of sports, competition, and community engagement. The journey of esports from virtual battlegrounds to recognised sports status is not just a testament to its growing popularity but a reflection of our changing world.