Examining eSports in China | Cheng Hu
eSports have not always found favour in China. Since their official recognition in 2003 by the Chinese General Administration of Sport, they have been surrounded by ongoing disputes about their value. However, recently this popular scepticism has begun to change.
Are they really sport?
It is the most frequently asked and obvious question. Many people refuse to believe that playing computer games should ever be classified as a sporting event.
Clearly, eSports are very different from almost all other sports in the traditional sense, however, with improvements in technology and internet accessibility they are now entering the public domain ever more frequently.
One line of argument is that successful eSports players must combine intelligence and tactical awareness with teamwork and composure; very similar assets to many other sporting disciplines. eSports competitors also have to complete a great volume of practice hours to stay competitive and be in with a chance of winning events.
The Growth of eSports
Due to a unique commercial model in the sports industry, eSports have been able to develop and grow extremely fast. Appealing predominantly to millennial netizens, they have the ability to engage new and current fans across the world.
In 2016, the Chinese eSports market topped 40 billion RMB, surpassing the USA as the largest in the world. With annual growth expected to remain around 23% in 2017, they are unlikely to concede the top spot anytime soon.
Part of the reason for this growth has been a surge in gamers in China. The user base reached 170 million people in 2016 and is predicted to rise to as many as 220 million by the end of 2017. The development of mobile eSports has been the primary driving factor in this increase.
The recent explosion of live streaming in China has also played an important role. Various services, including Panda, Douyu and Huya, have all begun broadcasting matches. Gamers, such as Xiao Zhi, have also taken to live streaming as a source of income outside of competition.
The integration of social gifting into these platforms means players can earn millions of dollars a year just through their fans. Live streaming also provides an ideal gateway into eSports for potential fans through convenient and easily consumable content
AliSports and WESG
Last year, the sports arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba announced plans to establish a series of huge eSports events, the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG). The competitions will be for four of the most popular eSports games (DotA2, CS:GO, Starcraft 2 & Heartstone), with prize pools ranging from $300,000 to $1.5 million. All tournaments are to be open to worldwide applications and will have finals held in China. The involvement of such a large company shows that eSports are no fad and are here to stay.
It seems then, that the lack of uniform acceptance in China is making very little different to this ever strengthening industry. It is impossible to predict what the eSports landscape will look like in 10 years, however, it is certain that they are here to stay. Who’s to say we won’t one day see them at the Olympic games?