Chinese Esports: Heading Towards a Flourishing Future

Source:Yue Meng-Lewis and Donna WongDate:2019-03-18

About the Author

Wong Donna

Currently working as an Assistant Professor at the Coventry University, Dr Wong has been actively involved in sport management research. Her key research areas focus on sports mega-events, mediated sports, and young people’s sports participation, which she has based her PhD thesis – Young People, New Media and Sport on. Her thesis investigates young people’s involvement in sport via the use of new media technology. It examines how sport is employed in the digital age to promote sport participation and engage with young people. These relate closely to her current research which looks at esports development where players are predominantly young people. Her research output has been published widely in books and international journals. Dr Wong has also successfully applied for the inaugural International Olympic Committee Postgraduate Research Grant in open competition in 2010 and she has further secured the FIFA Research Scholarship in 2019. These outputs and research grants not only demonstrate her familiarity with the topics in sport management and research mechanisms, these also reflect her research capability in conducting reviews and providing strategic recommendations.

In addition to her research skills, her eight years of professional appointment with the Singapore Sports Council – the leading sport authority in Singapore, has provided her with the experience of working with sports authorities as well as a good grasp of global sporting landscape. Having spent a considerable amount of time working in the sport industry, her understanding of the nexus of sporting organisations (e.g., National Olympic Committees and National Sports Organisations) established through her work experience and previous research projects will be useful in the holistic analysis of findings in projects undertaken.

Yue Meng-Lewis

Yue is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Digital Marketing at Open University Business School. She previously worked as a Senior Lecturer in Marketing & Sport Marketing at Coventry University Business School, a Lecturer in Marketing at Reading University Henley Business School, and Senior Lecturer in Marketing Communications at Bournemouth University Media School. She completed her Doctoral Studies in Marketing at Leeds University Business School, where she explored how consumers responded to sponsorship initiatives through the Olympic Games. Her research interests focus on international communication strategy, sports sponsorship and endorsement, ambush marketing, and HR practice in various cultural settings. Her work has been presented at a number of international conferences, and published in the European Journal of Marketing, the International Journal of Human Resource Management, the International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, and major text books in the marketing and sport management areas. She serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship.

The past year saw many successes for Chinese esports. To name a few, IG (Invictus Gaming) claimed first League of Legend World Championship for the Chinese mainland; Mainland China and Hong Kong took gold medals in three games during the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta; OMG seized the Gold Frying Pan trophy of the first ever PUBG (PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds) Global Invitation in Berlin; Team China won the 2018 Hearthstone Global Games with a clean 3-0 victory in the Grand Finals.

Rooted in South Korea, the pro gaming industry has now spread and flourished in neighbouring countries, and in particular China. Esports was accepted as a sport by the China General Administration of Sport back in 2003 but after that went through a turbulent time, and was at first slow to develop due to the small market size. At the time, it was difficult for esports clubs and players to secure sponsorship, and Chinese teams and players rarely appeared in international competitions. However, the industry has seen a profound change since 2016 after the government recognised China’s global competitiveness in esports and pledged its support to develop and invest in the industry.

The perceptions and attitudes towards esports by the public is also changing. Computer game playing was once regarded as a worthless and even dangerous activity for the young people. Now, esports players have been officially recognised as athletes owing to the agreed fact that they require excellent eye-hand coordination and dedication, focus and mental preparation.

The esports market in China is no longer small and tightly restricted. According to the Tencent Report it is anticipated that by 2020 the market will have a value of US$1.5 billion, and a global user base of 590 million. Globally, China has become the second largest market, following North America and has surpassed South Korea. There are now over 10,000 esports teams in China attracting 240 million views daily. It is no longer an activity that is mainly young-male dominated. Esports are attracting a variety of users demographically including girls and adults. Tencent’s report found that approximately 24% of esports users are female, 29% are parents and 59% are 31-40 years old.

Globally, according to the Newzoo 2018 Global Esports Market Report, the industry has an annual growth of 38.2% in revenue. Brands are investing near $700 million in the industry, accounting for around 80% of the total market. Big businesses from all around the globe, including Tencent, Walt Disney, Amazon, and Alphabet are investing into esports. We can see that sponsorship is now flooding into esports teams and tournaments with a dramatic tenfold increase in comparison to the investment in 2015.

From a technological perspective, mobile esports is growing at an exponential rate in Asia. It has already developed franchise structures with professional leagues, live stadium events and millions of viewers. The most popular games in 2018 include both competitive and casual games such as, King of Glory (王者荣耀), PUBG Mobile (绝地求生), Hearthstone (炉石传说), Vainglory (虚荣) and QQ Speed (QQ飞车). This is different from the situation in the West where PC-based franchises are still in the dominate position in terms of viewership and mobile is growing in more casual formats.

Esports tournaments are now big enough to fill an Olympic stadium.  The Chinese National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) with the capacity for an audience of 80,000 has been used for the LOL (League of Legends) World Championship in Beijing. The 2022 Asian Games host city Hangzhou has opened an ‘esports town’ complex and it will be hosting venue for the Chinese organisation LGD gaming (老干爹).   The 39.4M square foot venue took US$280 million to build and is operated by the Hangzhou city government. The city government has also announced further plans to build 14 esports facilities in the city before 2022 with a proposed budget of up to US$2.22 billion. In the near future, we will be able to see an esports academy, esports-themed hotel, theme park, a business centre and even a hospital designed for esports players, game goers and tourists. This magnificent esports town is expected to attract over 10,000 aspiring esports professionals and bring in an estimated US$140 million in tax revenues.

Esports were featured at the 2018 Asian Games as a demonstration sport and Paris Olympic Games organisers are ‘in deep talks’ about including esports as a demonstration sport. With more and more official recognition of the significance of esports, we believe that esports in China has a very bright future. Sebastian Lau, Director General of Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF) expects esports will continue its rapid healthy growth in China and elsewhere in the Asian region and will match traditional sports in popularity in the very near future. Mr Lau added: “As the Asian federation, the AESF is working hard to coordinate with OCA (the Olympic Council of Asia) and local organising committee for adding esports as the formal medal sports in Hangzhou 2022”; “We believe it definitely helps esports to be involved in the future Olympic Games”.