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Games of the Future: Russia’s daring $58m state-funded ‘esports’ event

Later this month, esports teams from around the world will compete in Games of the Future, an experimental tournament that combines sports and esports. With a $10 million (~£7.94 million) prize pool and unparalleled political support, there’s enough to play for. There’s only one catch: it’s in Russia.

Games of the Future, a $58 million (~£46 million) Russian government-funded endeavour, will take place from February 19th to March 3rd. The event is laden with legal issues and geopolitical tensions. Western media has not covered the event extensively. Here’s everything we know so far.
Games of the Future is based on the concept of ‘phygital’ sports, which combine esports, physical exercise, and emerging technologies such as VR and drones. It will combine physical activities with tournaments in Dota 2, Counter-Strike, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and other games that it most certainly does not have licence to use.

The event enjoys political support at the highest levels of the Russian government. At the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2022, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko revealed that the ‘Games of the Future’ will be held in Kazan, a prosperous city in eastern Russia.

In March 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a joint declaration in Moscow announcing that the two countries would collaborate on the event, according to The Esports Advocate. China said it would’support’ the tournament because both countries disagree with Russia’s exclusion from international athletic competitions. “Both sides oppose politicising sports and hope that sports can promote peace and unity,” the joint statement reportedly said.

It is unclear how or whether the Chinese government is still participating in the current version of Games of the Future. It appears that the event was wholly supported by the Russian government, though Xi Jinping did affirm to Putin on February 8th that Chinese athletes would be participating. Putin also urged China to host the upcoming event in 2026.

In December 2023, Vladimir Putin personally signed a measure that set the event in action. According to Real Time, the event has a budget of ₽5.3 billion rubles (about $58.3 million or £46.8 million). The Games of the Future website indicates a $10 million prize pool divided among the many tasks, yet multiple official sources, including Russia’s state news agency, continue to report a $25 million prize pool. Games of the Future did not respond to a request for clarification.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for Tourism, Sport, Culture, and Communications, is in charge of the Games of the Future. Chernyshenko is currently sanctioned by the US, EU, and the UK, among other countries. He was also chastised by the International Olympic Committee in 2017 for his role in Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics doping controversy.

The event’s two main sponsors are Russian Railways and Gazprom, both of which Chernyshenko serves or has served on the Board of Directors for and are subject to sanctions. Additional partners include Gazprom-Neft, Russian mobile network YOTA, investment firm Interros, game shop VK Play, and bookmaker Liga Stavok, among others.

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