Back in The Game

The rise of es­ports in China By Li Nan

Beijing Review - - Nation -

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

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