China’s Video Games Obsession?

We all know about China’s infamous gaming obsession, but what if it wasn’t so bad after all? The development of the e-sports industry proves a prosperous future.

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Gone are the days when teenagers were sent to notorious “boot camps” to get rid of their gaming addiction. Who would think that, the once culprit of flunking exams and sedentary lifestyle would become a competitive sport in the 2020 Hangzhou Asian Games, a major to study in at least 20 Chinese colleges, vocational schools and a fast-growing industry attracting tech giants and private companies.

E-sports, also known as electronic sports or competitive gaming, involve organized multiplayer video game competitions particularly between professional players. Some of the most successful titles that often appear in e-sports tournaments are Dota 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

Sichuan Film and Television University is one of the first higher educational institutes driven by the finical rise of the industry, having invested in a state-of-the-art gaming laboratory. Students enrolled into this major are not just playing games all day. They are bound to study a heavy load of courses from English and digital painting to marketing and psychology to prepare them for all the roles in the industry, such as gamers, judges and commentators.

An entire eco-system has formed involving tournament organizers, online video companies (that broadcast and replay competitions), purpose-built e-sports stadiums and game developers. In the first half of 2017, the sales of e-sports products hit over 35 billion RMB in the Chinese market, an increase of 43 percent from the same period last year, according to Beijing-based video game research firm CNG.

Graduating from e-sports almost guarantees a job, which pays 6,000 RMB per month right now, 50 percent higher than the national average of 4,000 RMB for fresh college graduates.

Behind the industry, 600 million gamers, almost double the population of the United States, are willing to spend 399 RMB (US$60) on a gaming mouse. There’s a saying: if you don’t have these necessaries, you don’t call yourself a gamer in China. Like other competitive sports, e-sports teams are sponsored by hardware suppliers to increase the sales of their products.

Other than lucrative gaming products, e-sports has strong revenue potential ranging from sales of content rights to broadcasters, payments from live streaming platforms and the vast advertising revenues. One example is League of Legends World 2017 finals in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest. Held in early November, 40,000 fans flocked to see the finals with over 60 million viewers online. Tickets from 280 to 1,280 RMB sold out within seconds of going on sale on official channels, while one 480-RMB ticket was sold for 13,000 RMB in repeatedly changed hands.

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To match “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation among the youth”, e-sports will be included in the official program at the 2020 Asian Games in Hangzhou, announced by the Olympic Council of Asia in April. Having long been ahead of the Olympics’ medal table, China is eyeing leadership in this new type of sport. And it certainly won’t be too difficult as the industry continues to grow.

The development of video games has gone hand-in-hand with China’s internet penetration. Back in 1997, China had just 300,000 computers and 620,000 people surfing the web, according to official figures. The rapid growth of e-sports has only come in recent years thanks to the availability of broadband internet and widespread ownership of smartphones. In fact, the e-sports trend has saved the once saturated cyber cafes, whose footfall number quickly decreased in 2013 due to higher personal ownership of PCs. An e-sports-facilitated internet cafe provides gamers a social setting in playing team-based games, as well as watching professional live tournaments alongside other gamers.

Indeed, some parents still frown upon hearing that their kids’ dream is to become an e-sport player, but things are changing. Half of the students studying e-sports in Sichuan Film and Television University ran into trouble with their parents and 12 out of their 60 students eventually dropped out of school due to parents’ persistence.

On the other hand, graduating from e-sports almost guarantees a job, which pays 6,000 RMB per month right now, 50 percent higher than the national average of 4,000 RMB for fresh college graduates. And on top of the regular salary there is always the bonus from winning games. According to a report published by Tencent in September, up to 85 percent of e-sports-related job posts across the country remain unfilled, because of a shortage of talent.