Back in The Game
The rise of esports in China By Li Nan
The spring of this year brought a series of landmark moments for China’s esports. On May 20, Chinese esports team RNG beat South Korea’s KZ 3-1 in the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational, an annual League of Legends tournament, winning China’s third world championship.
Previously, on April 24, it was revealed that esports were, for the first time, to be included as a demonstration sport at the upcoming 18th Asian Games which will be held in the cities of Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia. According to the Asian Electronics Sports Federation (AeSF), six video games have been confirmed as part of the Games— League of Legends, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, Arena of Valor, Starcraft II, Hearthstone and Clash Royale.
“We are very excited to see esports making a debut at the Asian Games,” said Kenneth Fok, President of AeSF, adding that only those games that promote a vision of integrity, ethics and fair play were selected. But Fok, who took office last September, has a bigger ambition—the inclusion of esports in the world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympic Games.
Whether or not esports will ever be included in the Olympics, there is evidence that China’s esports are thriving following two decades of development.
Official figures show that the total revenue of China’s game sector amounted to 218.96 billion yuan ($34.15 billion) in 2017, increasing by 23.1 percent year on year. The population of online Chinese esports participants reached 220 million, surging by 69.2 percent year on year. The data was released by the China Culture and Entertainment Industry Association (CCEA) and Beijingbased market intelligence provider Entbrains in November 2017.
Such rapid growth is transforming the global landscape of the industry. Newzoo, an Amsterdam-based game market researcher, noted in its latest Global Games Market Report that China remains the top spending country worldwide with more than a quarter of the overall market and over 60 percent of the mobile game market this year. North America is second, with Europe trailing behind.
Ups and downs
What is behind the miraculous boom of China’s esports? The official recognition of esports as a competitive sport, the professionalization of players and the development of China’s Internet and dotcom companies are all believed to be among the reasons. But the rise of China’s esports has been anything but smooth.
The game industry in China began in the late 1990s, with amateur gamers playing imported PC games like Starcraft and Counter Strike in cyber cafés across the country, according to a report released by Shanghaibased iResearch in February.
In 2001, the Chinese team won the first esports world championship at the inaugural World Cyber Games in South Korea, but since few at the time knew anything about the emerging industry, the news went largely unnoticed. It was widely thought that spending too many hours playing video games was harmful to young people, especially students.
“Most parents believed that playing video games was a waste of time, not a proper occupation,” Yu Boshu, a professional esports player with Chengdu-based AI Club, told Beijing Review.
The scene began to change entering the 21st century. On November 18, 2003, esports were listed as the country’s 99th recognized sport by the State General Administration of Sports. A once littleknown industry had entered the spotlight. At least nine TV shows on esports were on air within the year, including Esports World by China Central Television, and the First China Esports Games (CEG) kicked off on March 20, 2004.
The year witnessed jaw-dropping growth in the industry’s takings, from 950 million yuan ($148.3 million) in 2002 to 3.48 billion yuan ($543.3 million) in 2003, rocketing about 266 percent according to figures released in January 2005 by the China Association for Science and Technology.
But the good times were not to last. Reports about young people’s addiction to video games caught the attention of the Chinese Government. One month after the First CEG, a directive was issued to cease the broadcast of all TV programs about video games. As a result, both media exposure