How China's New Regulations will Impact the Esports Industry
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
By Eddie Chen & Yinan Zhang. China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) issued a new regulation that it claims will help prevent game addiction in minors (people under 18 years old). This regulation specifically limits the amount of time minors can play online games to just one hour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as national holidays, from 8-9pm. Simply put, minors can only play games for three hours a week in China, which the Chinese video gaming industry calls "the toughest regulation on game addiction prevention targeting minors."
The NPPA also set up a platform that allows the public to report game publishers who are violating restrictions related to children. In addition to affecting the video games industry, this new regulation is having an impact on China’s esports industry because it adds a minimum age requirement for players to be at least 18 years old, which begs the question: what will happen to all the minor professional esports players under this strict regulation?
An immediate impact
After the reveal of the regulation, almost every esports competition and organisation is avoiding allowing minors to attend or compete at events or on their teams.
TJ Sports, the League of Legends esports operator in China, announced that all its esports competitions, including the League of Legends Pro League (LPL), League of Legends Development League (LDL), and Wild Rift-related competitions will comply with the regulation.
In a strong sign of compliance, player Lin "Creme" Jian from LPL team OMG has been removed from the roster because he is a minor. Jian was a well-known rookie during the 2021 summer split, but he will not be allowed to play on the competitive scene until next year when he turns 18.
At present, multiple players have been removed from rosters due to the age restrictions, not just in the League of Legends, but also in Honor of Kings, Dota 2, Peacekeeper Elite, among others.
Esports is traditionally dominated by young players, and training camps are conventionally the starting point of Chinese esports players, with more than half of the youth training rosters being minors. 18 years old is widely accepted as the golden age of esports players rather than the launching point. In the Chinese player market, most esports organisations recruit their players between the ages of 14-16.
Normally, esports players train for 10-14 hours a day, or sometimes even more. Like traditional sports, training is considered the only way for players to maintain their high-performance levels.
At a prime age
Young players will have to seek exemptions, but It is unclear whether the government will make these for those certified minor esports players to get sufficient training.
Minors are considered to have faster reactions and quicker micros. That's why most esports organisations in China are willing to invest in youth training camps to identify and train minor players with great potential. Some minor players in esports youth training camps have suspended training.
Minors have brought glory to China’s esports industry. In 2012, Chinese iconic League of Legends player Jian "Uzi" Zihao joined the LPL team Royal Never Give Up (RNG) and started his esports career at age of 15, eventually retiring at 23 last year. He played at the League of Legends World Championship 2013 Finals at 17.
Another famous example is Chinese player Yu “Jackeylove” Wenbo, who joined LPL team Invictus Gaming (IG) at age of 16, and won the 2018 League of Legends World Championship in South Korea at 17.
WarCraft III player Li "SKY" Xiaofeng, one of the most iconic Chinese esports players in the country and the first recipient of the World Championship in China, was a core player of esports organisation Home when he was 16, and won the WarCraft III World Cyber Games (WCG) championships in 2005 and 2006. After his victories, careers in esports gradually became a visible and acceptable profession in the country.
A blurred future for esports
The new regulations will have a huge impact on China’s esports performance as there are no countries in the world that have issued any similar restrictions, and players outside China have more time to train. Therefore, major international esports titles like League of Legends, Dota 2, PUBG, and CS:GO are affected most in China.
In the short term, the new regulation will have a big impact on the user base, which is projected to drop due to the restrictions. Young people under the influence of this new regulation might not see playing games as their main source of entertainment, but they might prefer to watch esports live-streamed instead.
In the long term, however, the regulations are not assumed to have a negative impact on the industry, instead, they will help build the industry standard. Mainstream media has increasingly picked up on this industry and exposed it to a wider audience in recent years, and the esports fan base has tremendously grown in China.
At the end of the day, governments and parents believe that the latest regulation will contribute to the sustainable development of minors. The NBA stipulated in 2005 that players participating in the draft must have attended college for at least one year.
Minor players returning to school will reportedly help society to instill values in these young people，somehow even improve their understanding of the game and the esports industry in the future. That said, an enormous amount of the gaming grey market sprang up for minors. The new regulations have led minors to use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to find alternative platforms like Steam to play unauthorised game versions. Renting Honor of Kings accounts costs $5 for two hours on these platforms.
These negative effects and grey areas caused by the new regulations pose urgent problems that need to be solved. More supporting policies are expected to be issued in the future to promote the development of China's esports industry and to help more Chinese esports players find a prolonged career in the industry, as well as a brighter future for China.