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June 24, 2017

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ESports is all the rage as big guns join in

CHINA has been encouraging the development of traditional sports including football and basketball, but one particular sport has caught the attention of fans — eSports, or electronic sports, which have been included in the 2022 Asian Olympic Games to be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

ESports take the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions. Therefore, their recognition as a medal event at Asia’s top sports meet has triggered debate among the public. However, the popularity of eSports in China, and their appeal among investors, cannot be ignored.

Over the past few years, the participation of professional gamers and spectators has surged in the country. Currently, China has some 170 million eSports followers.

According to a report by Newzoo, a leading provider of market intelligence for global games, eSports and mobile markets, China and North America will create a total income of US$362 million for eSports market in 2017, accounting for about 52 percent of the global market.

Most eSports competitions are taking place in Europe, North America, South Korea and China, as well as tournaments such as The International and the League of Legends World Championship, are broadcast live.

Just like other mainstream sports, Chinese eSports followers are not used to paying broadcasters to watch the competitions. Only some are willing to buy tickets to come as spectators.

The competition organizers’ expenses are mainly covered by advertisements and sponsorships. They barely manage to make a profit. Players and teams are also supported by sponsors.

At the upcoming world-level eSports competition, the International Dota 2 Championships 7 (TI7), which will be held in Seattle, the US, in August, China will be sending an all-star squad.

Five of China’s top Dota 2 teams were in Shanghai this week and formed a Harbin Beer eSports Legion to take part in TI7.

Dota 2 is one of the world’s most popular multiplayer online battle arena games. China is a powerhouse in TI tournaments, winning the 2012, 2014 and 2016 versions.

“We sponsored Chinese Dota 2 team last year. The results proved that the Chinese are prepared for top-level events,” said Bruno Cosentino, Harbin Beer’s marketing vice president. “Coming to this year’s competition, our primary expectation is to see the players have fun. For anything the legion achieves, we will be happy. It is all about sharing happy moments with your friends.”

Bruno said eSports should not be only about going to competitions, but it is also about passion and joy, just like what people get from other sports like basketball and table tennis.

“There is a lot of intelligence behind the games regarding team work and strategy. This is a growing sport globally and part of the future which is more digital,” said Bruno.

Having eSports as a new item in the Asian Games can be considered as the organizer’s wish to attract more young followers to the multi-sports meet. The partnership between Olympic Council of Asia and Alisports, which is wholly owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, also played a part. Alisports established its eSports department last year to explore the market and promote the sport.

ESports will be presented as an exhibition event at the 2018 Asian Games, and then as a lead-in to the 2022 edition. China Sports Administration issued a notice earlier this year that a national eSports competition will be organized in 2017 with a prize money of 820,000 yuan (US$120,000).

Several universities around the country have introduced eSports majors to cultivate practitioners including coaches, analysts, managers and competition operators. Shanghai University of Sport is also planning to have a major in eSports commentary as early as next year.

“ESports have numerous followers with great social influence,” said Du Youjun, dean of Shanghai University of Sport’s media and foreign language college. “It’s necessary for higher education to step into this area. ESports was growing fast but there was no systematic guidance.”

“ESports majors won’t aim at cultivating gamers, but will provide professional talents for the industry,” said Du.

A survey by China Youth Daily last month showed that 59 percent of the 2,000 surveyed accepted eSports gamer as a profession.

Highly competitive

The affirmative voters think eSports can train reaction and coordination abilities, which is also a good entertainment. But they also expressed concern over health issues caused by playing games for too long. Some worried about youngsters spending too much money or picking up bad habits. Ninety percent of those surveyed were between the ages of 18 and 47.

“ESports are very competitive. You have to be quick in mind and hand at the same time, react and plan strategies quickly,” professional eSports gamer Xu Zhilei said.

Known as BurNIng in the eSports world, the 30-year-old Anhui Province native has been one of the most successful players in China.

Xu said he started playing online video games in middle school, and slowly turned professional, which was against his parents wish at the beginning. “It was when I started to support myself financially by gaming that my parents finally accepted.”

As a professional gamer, Xu spends 10 hours a day training and working on strategies with his teammates.

“Gaming changed my temperament because communication is very important in team work. I used to be a very introverted person, living in my own world and getting irritated easily, which is not acceptable in eSports,” said Xu.

The annual average income of China’s high-level Dota 2 players is about one million yuan. Xu said 30 percent of his income is basic salary, and 50 percent is prize money, while the rest comes from commercial activities, game commentating and profits from his online shop.

But gamers who can make a living out of eSports are still a minority. Xu said it was tough in the beginning when he had to survive on a monthly salary of 1,200 yuan and share a 10-square-meter room with six other people.

“I don’t encourage youngsters to blindly follow eSports as a profession. It’s not suitable for everyone. It depends both on natural gift and hard work,” said Xu.


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