Cities around the world are now each asserting their claim on the ‘global esports capital’ title through investments, hosting tournaments, and establishing facilities. In 2021 alone, Shanghai unveiled its new $900M esports center while Singapore hosted the Mobile Legends' M2 World Championship - one of the world’s top mobile games.
Despite COVID-19’s impact on global tourism, esports has become a strong asset for driving investment capital, and one of the reliable industries for cities to recover their entertainment, cultural and travel economy from. This has created competition from global cities to host tournaments, teams, and even entertainment resorts.
Although COVID-19 has restricted global travel, it has significantly accelerated the growth of gaming in the 3rd Age of Sport. In the first half of 2020, China’s gaming industry generated $10.3Bn in revenue, a 55% year-on-year increase, partly due to the pandemic, while global ‘watch hours’ in 2020 grew from 4.8Bn Q1 to 7.6Bn in Q2.
We dissect the international megacities with the potential to become the esports capital of the world, post-COVID-19.
Shanghai’s investment in tournaments and facilities is spearheading growth
Singapore has already hosted two major esports events this year
European cities London and Berlin are successfully developing new gaming talent
Auckland has a unique asset with Valve Corporation
No city attaches more importance to esports than Shanghai. As China’s financial capital, Shanghai’s esports development dates back to 2011 when it launched its first esports competition called the G-League, hosted alongside Shanghai’s iconic landmarks like the Oriental Pearl Tower and West Nanjing Road.
To support and attract more esports companies to relocate to Shanghai, the city offers multiple supportive policies in housing, tax benefits, and direct cash rewards to top esports talent. Since 2013, ‘to become the global capital of esports’ has been an official call by the Shanghai government.
Hundreds of esports companies are headquartered on Shanghai’s famous Lingshi Road, including esports event organiser & operator VSPN, Imba TV, game publisher Activision Blizzard, successful organisation Edward Gaming and many more. In other districts, League of Legends operator TJ Sports, Invictus Gaming, and Royal Never Give-Up have set up shop to conduct business in the city.
In competitions and leagues, alongside hundreds of small and medium esports events, Shanghai is the only city in the world that has hosted both Dota 2’s The International (2019) and League of League World Championships finals (2020). It was the latter tournament in late 2020 that saw over 3M fans register for one of the 6K seats at the Grand Final. Thanks to the government and China's successful response to the pandemic, Shanghai has become a convenient and available city to host esports events with live audiences.
The pandemic did not stop esports companies from building offline esports properties in the city. Earlier in 2021, Edward Gaming’s parent company SuperGen Group started construction work on the US$1.55Bn Shanghai International Culture and Creative Esports Center. The construction is expected to be completed by 2023, creating around 2K esports-related jobs. This statement strengthens Shanghai’s desire to become the global gaming capital, and shows how quick China, and Shanghai in particular, has been to take the lead.
Outside of Shanghai, a number of other Chinese cities including Shenzhen, Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, and Guangzhou are also investing to become a global gaming capital.
A surge of investment in Singapore has been injected into esports, including MMA property ONE Championship. The company established its esports subsidiary, ONE Esports, and started to host and sponsor large-scale international events in the city.
In 2021 alone, the M2 Mobile Legends: Bang Bang World Championships took place in a bubble, whilst Singapore also hosted Dota 2 Major offline events between March 27 - April 4, marking the first Dota 2 offline Major since the pandemic began featuring $500K in total prize money.
The multilingual nature of Singapore helps global esports tournaments avoid the limitations that can be caused by language barriers. For example, events in Shanghai have to be telecast in Mandarin, and in other European or U.S cities have to be broadcast in English.
For a long time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) encouraged sports federations to think about how to govern electronic and virtual forms of their sport, as well as explore opportunities with game publishers. In 2019, a Tencent-backed Global Esports Federation (GEF) was founded and headquartered in Singapore, as well as appointing Chris Chan, secretary-general of the Singapore National Olympic Council as the president of the federation.
London & Berlin
London’s holistic gaming ecosystem includes several organisations from the entire supply chain establishing their European HQ in the city. Game publisher Riot Games, tournament organisers ESL Gaming and Gfinity, as well as esports organisation Fnatic are all based or have offices in the capital.
The U.K esports scene has successfully generated a number of on-screen talent or casters for English language esports broadcasting, including Paul “Redeye” Chaloner, Alex “Machine” Richardson, and Owen “ODPixel” Davies. Esports talent with a British accent is popular in the wider global esports broadcasting area, making London, and the U.K, a perfect source of esports talents. This talent, and professionals, are important for the sustainability of the esports industry, and with London housing a large proportion of these, they are successfully staking their claim as a global gaming talent producer.
Talent and professionals are important for the sustainability of the esports industry. Alongside on-screen talents, London could also provide a number of potential behind-the-screen talents to the esports industry, depending on its high educational power.
London is home to many of the world’s top universities including University College London, London School of Economics and Political Science, King’s College London, and Imperial College. The students of those universities are not only the audiences at esports events but also the potential new blood for the industry.
For tournament organisers, hosting an esports event in London is too expensive. The high cost of real estate and venue rent is one of the major concerns for any tournament organiser. Brexit also caused instability for European players to attend esports events in the U.K or join teams due to visa complications.
Similar to London, Berlin also hosts top esports organisations in the city, including Riot Games, ESL, esports team G2 Esports, among others. The city is also the home of the world-leading esports business media The Esports Observer, and Riot Games’ League of Legends European Championship (LEC) Studio, Europe’s top League of Legends competition. Compared to London, Berlin has fewer academic institutions to develop esports talent, but the cost of living and real estate prices are far more sustainable.
Auckland, New Zealand
The reason that Auckland is a perfect place to develop esports is quite accidental. Due to the pandemic, Gabe Newell - the founder of game publisher Valve Corporation, was forced to stay in New Zealand. Valve owns two major esports titles globally: Dota 2 and CS:GO. In Dota 2, the annual event The International (TI) has the record esports prize money with $40M for the upcoming TI 10. CS:GO is the king of the first-person shooter (FPS) esports scene with millions of fans around the world over its 20 years as an esports title.
Newell enjoyed his time in New Zealand so much that he even considered moving his company to the country from Seattle according to a recent interview with TVNZ. If this did happen, Auckland would very likely host the CS:GO Major or one of the biggest esports events, Dota 2’s The International in the future.
According to the World Health Organization, New Zealand has had a total of 2,432 confirmed cases and 26 deaths, while the U.S has had over 29.5M confirmed cases.
In addition, Jacinda Ardern, the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand, is the world’s youngest female head of government. Her government performed well against the pandemic and raised awareness of how important women are in the workforce. Over half of the senators in Congress are women as well. Esports has been labeled a “male-dominated” industry for a long time, but recently the topic “women in esports” has become a powerful trend in the ecosystem.
The stage is now set as global cities aim to become the true gaming capital of the world. With the support of the central government, we expect to see Shanghai establish itself ahead of the rest by investing in new facilities, hosting premium tournaments, and developing future talent.