HANGZHOU (Reuters): Thailand claimed the first esports medal awarded at the Asian Games on Tuesday (Sept 26) in an event closely watched by Olympic officials as a princess of the kingdom made a royal entrance to the equestrian event.
A team of five Thai gamers beat Vietnam in a bronze playoff in the "Valor of Arena" competition as esports pushed its case for Olympic inclusion, five years after being a demonstration sport at the Jakarta Asian Games.
Chinese authorities frown on excessive gaming and have put limits on children's playing time since 2021.
But an enthusiastic crowd of locals cheered on the Thais at the Hangzhou Esports Centre as they prevailed 2-0 in a best-of-three match for the popular mobile phone game developed by a Chinese tech firm.
With a soundtrack of ear-splitting music and live commentary, the players sat in line in their teams on a fluorescent-lit stage under big screens streaming the game-play for fans.
The players tapped their small screens furiously and communicated with team mates via headsets throughout a contest that stretched to nearly 40 minutes.
"We feel excited and great," said 30-year-old Bangkok native Sorawat Boonphrom with bronze secured.
"The feeling is good, so good."
If esports is the future of the Games, Thai Princess Sirivannavari Mahidol (pic) represented its past as she made a regal entrance on a horse named 'Es Fangar's Samba King' in the dressage team event.
With Thailand finishing fifth -- behind gold-winning India -- the 36-year-old daughter of King Vajiralongkorn was unable to add a medal to the crown jewels but may have another chance in the individual event on Thursday.
"Luckily our father is supporting us," said the princess, who represented Thailand in badminton at the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar and equestrian at Incheon in 2014.
"He has always said, 'Go for it! You want to do it? Do it.'
"He knows that what drives my heart is horses and badminton."
China, which has topped the medals table at the last 10 Asian Games, stretched its lead with another clutch of gold medals in its traditional strengths of gymnastics, table tennis and shooting.
Home favourite and two-times world champion gymnast Zhang Boheng grabbed his second gold of the games, adding the all-around individual title to his men's team triumph on Sunday.
Unbeaten in every rotation, Zhang capped a brilliant afternoon by sticking the landing in the horizontal bar to finish with a total score of 89.299, more than two points clear of Japan's runner-up Takeru Kitazono.
North Korea's delegation has made a splash at the Games, the reclusive nation's first appearance at a multi-sport event since Jakarta five years ago.
On Monday, three North Korean shooters refused to join their South Korean rivals in a group photo of medal winners after narrowly missing out on gold.
The nation's flag is supposed to be banned at all major events outside the Olympics due to anti-doping failures but it has flown proudly at the Games of its neighbour China, a longstanding Communist ally.
The World Anti-Doping Agency said it had launched a "compliance procedure" against the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) for allowing the flag at the Games the body runs.
The OCA did not comment.
South Korea's delegation has also been in the spotlight for the conduct of its athletes.
Judoka Lee Hye-kyeong was disqualified in the semi-finals of the women's 48-kg division for slapping a Kazak opponent in the face during their bout on Sunday, while men's tennis player Kwon Soon-woo destroyed his racket in an epic tantrum that went viral after he lost to a much lower-ranked Thai opponent.
Kwon, who also snubbed the post-match handshake, visited Thailand's training camp to apologise and offer "words of encouragement", a South Korean tennis federation official said on Tuesday.
"I heard the Thai player has accepted the apology," the official told Yonhap news agency.