SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Esports competitors know they can lead a very lonely life in front of a screen.
But not for those fighting for glory the Pan American Games in Chile. For the first time, they are staying at the athletes' village and will be parading at the closing ceremony and tying their success to their country's team.
Thursday marked the first day of esports competitions in Santiago, with some of the best in the Americas competing for medals in eFootball 2023, an evolution of the game known as PES by Konami, and Dota 2, a multiplayer online battle arena title made by Valve. The two are among the most popular games in the world.
More than 120 competitors from 25 countries are fighting for the first ever Pan American esports gold, silver and bronze medals until Saturday. As in other tournaments, national teams are sitting together to watch the action unfold in total silence in an arena built outside Santiago's National Stadium.
The 22-year-old Peruvian Eliseo Arancibia, one of the favorites in the Dota 2 competition, said he got emotional at the athletes' village after he saw athletes in practice early in the morning. He left his home at age 15 to focus on esports and now is happy to make a living out if it.
“It is an honor to share that space with them being in esports. I see them running, showing their energy at the cafeteria. I wake up at 8 a.m., and they are already training for hours,” Arancibia told The Associated Press as his team prepared to compete. “But if they are passionate about their sport, I am also passionate about mine. It is great to share this, fight for medals, be at the closing ceremony.”
Arancibia met his teammates three months ago amid preparations for the Pan American Games. "But now it is already like a family. I hope we can continue and do more at the Olympic Games. I also hope we can compete in more than two game titles in the future,” he said.
Competitors are wearing national team shirts and jackets to handle the Chilean capital's cold weather of 12 Celsius degrees (about 52 Fahrenheit). Some chose to relieve their pre-match stress by playing vintage games like Pac-Man in a small arcade set in the same arena, while others listened to calm music.
“To represent your country in the thing that I love the most. There is no greater sense of pride you can have,” said Chile's Gustavo “Van der Nuny” Miranda, of the eFootball 2023 category, wearing a shirt with his name on the back and a national team jacket. “Since I was given the opportunity to compete for a place to represent Chile, it has been my total priority."
“Ten years ago, it was difficult to talk about esports as something professional," the Chilean added. “I’m very excited. I’ve been playing video games for 25 years. When I was 10, I never thought I could represent my country in a continental event.”
The competitions in Santiago are made in partnership with the Global Esports Federation.
“It’s an honor to witness the fusion of traditional athleticism and esports on such a grand scale,” said Paul J. Foster, the federation's CEO, in a statement. “This event showcases the unity of our diverse talents and the boundless possibilities of collaboration.”
The esports finals at the Pan American Games will take place on Saturday.
AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports