On Tuesday, a joint statement signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping was released revealing that the Chinese government will support Russia’s “Future Games” in Kazan, Russia, in 2024—which also includes “esports.”
While it is unclear which “esports” titles Russia plans to present at its Future Games (it is highly unlikely that any major stakeholders such as Riot Games, Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, or Valve would want to take part in the event due to the ongoing war in Ukraine), TEA has learned about the nature of this event, and as far as we know it, does not include any traditional real-world sporting events.
According to a Sept. 8, 2022, report from Russian State-run publication TASS, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Chernyshenko talked up the “Future Games” concept during the “Russia – Sports Power” forum held in Kazan (Sept. 8 – 10, 2022). In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the formation of an organizing committee to set plans for the Kastan event in 2024.
The Future Games will be a nine day event funded by the federal budget, and offer a total prize pool of roughly $25M USD.
“The world community is ready for an innovative idea that can unite us,” Chernyshenko said, according to the TASS report in September. “I would like to move away from the notion that modern technology discourages sports. This is not the case. I am very glad that it is Russia that can be the leader of the new international sports movement and the host of the ‘Future Games.’ This will expand the number of people engaged in sports.”
At the time Chernyshenko said that the first steps of the Future Games initiative is to create a platform capable of supporting sports competitions taking place in real and virtual worlds. The core focus of Future Games will be “15 high-tech disciplines, including robotics, esports, drone racing, mobility, exoskeletons, and augmented and virtual reality,” according to TASS.
Another report from insidethegames.biz in January offered a little more detail: Organizing Committee member Anton Kara said that the event will feature “256 teams from all over the world,” that Russia will invite “2,000 participants,” and hopes that the event will garner a total of “3 billion views,” though Kara does not say across what livestreaming platform(s) this will take place.
“We have tested the digital formats of football, basketball, martial arts, racing, and also drone racing and Beat Saber,” Kara said, according to the TASS report.
Who Would the Kremlin Put in Charge of Esports in Russia?
It should be noted—as highlighted in-depth in a January report from Russian publication Realnoe Vremya—that there is an ongoing effort in the country to capitalize on the recent successes of some Russian esports players. This includes Team Spirit winning TI in 2021, and Outsiders/VirtusPro winning the most recent CS:GO Major. The goal is to build momentum for esports inside the country, because Russia has been barred from competing under its flag in a lot of international esports and sporting events.
Driving at least the esports part of the conversation is the Russian Esports Federation (ReSF), which has been recognized by Russia’s Ministry of Sport. In June of 2016 ReSF was bestowed the title of “Master of Sports in Russia” by the government, and was given the greenlight to operate educational programs in esports refereeing and coaching. It was also given the authority to host competitions which have the seal of approval/endorsement of the Ministry of Sports and has had a say in influencing visa policy related to esports players.
As we alluded to in a recent newsletter about federations, getting the approval of a government can give a federation a great amount of power within its borders—even when it doesn’t have the support of domestic and international stakeholders such as publishers, esports organizations, and tournament operators. A federation can literally stop an event from happening within its borders when it has the backing of a government.
The Russian Esports Federation has made a few moves in the past that have drawn criticism; In September of 2022 Russia annexed the city of Luhansk in the northwestern part of Ukraine, and in January, the ReSF announced that it had opened a “regional branch of the FCS of Russia” in what is being called the “Luhansk People’s Republic.” This was not well-received by Ukraine and the international community, which viewed it as an extension of the military occupation. It should also be noted that the International Esports Federation (IeSF)—of which ReSF is a member—announced in 2022 that Russian esports players and organizations could not compete under the country’s flag at any of the events it runs.
Outside of that, many major tournament organizers have barred Russian teams from competing in their events over the ongoing war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Riot Games continues to suspend its League of Legends CIS league, and is not facilitating a Valorant Challengers competition in the region.
Nevertheless, inside of Russia the ReSF has the ear of the government, and wields a great amount of influence in the country as a result. According to the Realnoe Vremya article we referenced earlier, the ReSF has a lot of sway with the Ministry of Sport—particularly in the face of the ongoing war with Ukraine: it notes that the ReSF has secured measures to support esports player such as “concessions on mortgages and higher education, exemption from military service, and the creation of specialized cybersport battalions.”
ReSF likely believes that any esports talent that remains in the country can be utilized to strengthen domestic events involving esports such as the Future Games.
Of course, ReSF does not want to acknowledge the loss of talent from players and coaches who were overseas and have no plans to return to the country due to the war: “It is up to everyone to leave. We don’t criticize anybody. But I assure you that most players who have played professionally had already been living abroad for a long time. The current situation didn’t have any impact. Many start to manipulate with this now. Guys, open your eyes, they had been living abroad for [a] long [time] and arrived here to visit their relatives and friends.” – Yevgeny Chekashov, chairman of the Tatarstan office of the Russian eSports Federation.
Finally, and separate from the ReSF and esports, another thing to note is that it is unclear how the Chinese government might support this event beyond sending Chinese athletes to compete in the games (there was no indication of a commitment to help fund the Future Games in Tuesday’s joint statement). It is also unknown just how much it will cost the Russian government to facilitate this event, especially given its current international sanctions and war-driven economy.