Mar­ket in play

E-sports fore­cast to see ex­plo­sion in growth

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By MENG JING mengjing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Years ago, at schools in China, teenaged video game play­ers were seen as a bad in­flu­ence on oth­ers. Both par­ents and teach­ers be­lieved the games were ad­dic­tive and dan­ger­ous that could po­ten­tially im­peril the fu­ture of the next gen­er­a­tion.

Li Peng’s par­ents were part of such ‘be­liev­ers’. But, the other day, they be­came con­verts to the grow­ing ‘re­li­gion’ of videogam­ing, and stayed up all night to watch and cheer their 20-year-old son as he emerged into a world gam­ing cham­pion — and a mil­lion­aire overnight.

Li tri­umphed at the world’s most re­ward­ing e-sports tour­na­ment (to­tal prize money: a whop­ping $20 mil­lion-plus).

Li’s five-mem­ber team named Wings Gam­ing se­cured a record-break­ing $9.12-mil­lion prize af­ter win­ning the fi­nal of the 2016 In­ter­na­tional DOTA 2 Cham­pi­onships, held in Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton, in mid-Au­gust.

DOTA2, short for De­fence of the An­cients 2, is a game in which two five-mem­ber teams bat­tle to con­quer each other’s base.

“I’ve been play­ing on­line games since ju­nior high school. But be­com­ing the cham­pion is still be­yond my imag­i­na­tion. Af­ter all, the five of us formed a pro­fes­sional e-sports team less than two years ago,” said Li of the Chongqing-based Wings Gam­ing.

Apart from be­com­ing mil­lion­aires overnight, the team, whose av­er­age age is less than 20, re­ceived peo­ple’s adu­la­tion fit for Olympic cham­pi­ons. Thou­sands of fans waved Chi­nese na­tional flags at the venue, lustily cheered them to keep up their morale dur­ing the con­test and fol­lowed it all up with a re­sound­ing stand­ing ova­tion to sa­lute and cel­e­brate their vic­tory.

The glory on the world stage marks the com­ing of age of com­pet­i­tive or pro­fes­sional e-sports in China.

The gam­ing boom has been fu­elled by the rapidly in­creas­ing prize money at lo­cal tour­na­ments, backed by heavy in­vest­ments by soft­ware de­vel­op­ers and gam­ing pub­lish­ers. On top of that was the sup­port of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Not sur­pris­ingly, e-sports have seen strong growth mo­men-tum over the past sev­eral years, said in­dus­try in­sid­ers.

Ken­neth Chang, deputy sec­re­tary of the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee of the China Uni­ver­si­ties E-sports League, said, “The in­creas­ing prize money at e-sports events has at­tracted many play­ers, even mid­dle school stu­dents, some of whom are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing pro­fes­sional gam­ing as a ca­reer op­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from sohu.com, a ma­jor on­line news por­tal, to­tal prize money at e-sports com­pe­ti­tions world­wide reached $9.91 mil­lion in 2011. By 2015-end, it bal­looned to $64.54 mil­lion, or up 551 per­cent over a four-year pe­riod, or around 138 per­cent yearon-year.

Chi­nese e-sports play­ers have been quick off the blocks in the race for all that prize money. As many as 117 pro­fes­sional gamers won about 7 per­cent of the to­tal prize pool in 2011. In 2015, the cor­re­spond­ing fig­ures were 393 Chi­nese pro­fes­sional play­ers and 22 per­cent, the high­est in the world, coun­try-wise.

Clearly, hand­some re­wards are at­tract­ing more play­ers. But, there’s some­thing more hap­pen­ing here. Even the num­ber of spec­ta­tors and view­ers has been ris­ing steadily. Folks in mil­lions, it seems, sim­ply love to watch Chi­nese champs in e-sports ac­tion — a fact that brings joy to broad­cast­ers, live stream­ing apps and ad­ver­tis­ers alike.

Fit­tingly per­haps, China’s Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport had rec­og­nized e-sports as the 99th sports dis­ci­pline in 2003. It even set up a na­tional e-sports team in 2013, in tune with the fact that the coun­try’s e-sports uni­verse hit 127 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants in 2015, the world’s largest. To­gether, they cre­ated a mar­ket whose 2015 rev­enue reached 27 bil­lion yuan ($4.07 bil­lion).

That’s not to sug­gest the mar­ket has peaked. Far from it.

Zhang Yun­fan, pres­i­dent of Per­fect World Games, an on­line gam­ing com­pany in Bei­jing that op­er­ates DOTA 2 in China, said e-sports in China are still nascent. “Just like bas­ket­ball or foot­ball, the suc­cess of e-sports lies in the huge num­ber of par­tic­i­pants.”

Given the large player base in China, e-sports are set for much big­ger growth, he said.

Again, like in many other sports, e-sports re­quire tal­ent and ded­i­ca­tion. “It isn’t like tra­di­tional sports, but

gam­ing, too, re­quires play­ers to pro­duce swift mus­cle re­sponse. A good player may need to click the mouse more than 1,000 times a minute. They need to train seven to eight hours a day,” said Shen Rongjie, a pro­fes­sional e-sports player in Shang­hai.

Com­par­isons with other sports and sports­peo­ple do not end there. “Very few play­ers win big money from e-sports. A golden ca­reer of an e-sports player could last less than 10 years. Af­ter the age of 25, many of the gamers tend to lose their touch be­cause they can’t re­spond that fast any­more,” Shen said.

That’s not all. Most of the pro­fes­sional play­ers are those who had dropped out of school early. Af­ter their gam­ing ca­reer, they are likely to face chal­lenges in find­ing suit­able al­ter­na­tive ca­reers and jobs.

Ac­cord­ing to him, most of the 100-odd pro­fes­sional e-sports clubs in China lack a sus­tain­able busi­ness model. “Well-known clubs can make money from ad­ver­tis­ers and com­mis­sions if their fa­mous play­ers win big games.

“Other clubs de­pend on the fi­nan­cial sup­port of sil­ver-spoon kids of China’s rich en­trepreneurs,” he said.

Source: New­zoo 2016 Global Es­ports Mar­ket Re­port WANG XIAOYING AND SU JINGBO / CHI­NADAILY

JI HAIXIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

A young fe­male player com­petes in a re­cent e-sports event in Taicang, Jiangsu province. E-sports are set for much big­ger growth in China.

YU FANGPING / FOR CHINA DAILY

Some young peo­ple play video games at an e-sports bar in Qing­dao, Shan­dong province. Many col­lege stu­dents be­lieve it is fash­ion­able to play at e-sports bars dur­ing the sum­mer va­ca­tion.

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