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Message: ESports: exciting, electronic and expanding
Dong Jun / SHINE

Visitors try new digital games at the ChinaJoy expo that closed earlier this week in Shanghai. ESports has become big business — a whirlwind of fans, professional players, gaming gear, prize events, broadcasting and training sessions. 

Iamawater, a veteran player of the game Dota 2, said he is considering paying about 10,000 yuan (US$1,429) for tickets and travel costs to the International DOTA 2 Championships to be held in Shanghai in two weeks.

It’s a top global eSports event and the first time the tournament is being held in China. The prize pool has risen to a staggering US$32 million.

Tickets to the final tournament session sold out within seconds after appearing in official sales channels. Scalpers are now hawking tickets at up to 10,000 yuan, nearly fourfold of the official price.

“The tournament is equal to the World Cup to me and other players,” said Iamawater, a gaming name for a man who works as a manager at a medical firm in Beijing. “It means even more when it’s held in Shanghai, with some advanced Chinese squads participating.”

ESports has become big business — a whirlwind of fans, professional players, gaming gear, prize events, broadcasting and training sessions. The phenomenon was called the “NBA or World Cup in the digital world” by some officials at the ChinaJoy digital entertainment expo that closed earlier this week in Shanghai.

In the first six months of this year, eSports revenue in China rose 11 percent from a year earlier to 46.5 billion yuan. The industry draws in some 500 million people.

During the ChinaJoy Expo and Conference, firms like Tencent, Perfect World, NetEase, Nvidia and Vivo all announced investment and strategies in eSports.

“It’s no longer a sub-category of the gaming industry, said Chi Yufeng, chairman of Perfect World, which assists in organizing the coming TI9 event in Shanghai.

The location is fitting. Shanghai accounts for one-third of domestic game market income and has plans to develop the city into a global eSports hub within three to five years.

In 2018, the city’s eSports industry raked in 14.6 billion yuan in revenue.

The development of eSports is a “city-level strategy” that will fuel the development of various industries and create a new business ecosystem, according to Yu Xiufen, director of Shanghai’s culture and tourism administration.

Ludwig Wahlberg spent his 22th birthday on August 5 in Shanghai, several thousand miles from his home in Sweden. As a professional eSports player on Team Secret, he and his team members have been spending up to 12 hours a day preparing for the upcoming tournament at the GeForce Boot Camp in Shanghai, Nvidia’s first and only GeForce eSports studio in China.

The camp offers professional computers and gear, including chairs specifically designed for eSports gaming

Sun Yan

Swedish eSports player Ludwig Wahlberg (left) spent his 22th birthday earlier this month in training with team members at the GeForce Boot Camp in Shanghai, Nvidia’s first and only such camp in China. 

Window into eSports

At Chinajoy, NetEase announced it will invest 5 billion yuan to establish an eSports industrial park in the Qingpu District. It will cover eSports research, venues, talent training and related sectors, said Ding Yingfeng, president of NetEase Games.

Smartphone vendors, including Vivo and Oppo, and chip designer Qualcomm displayed their latest technologies at the expo, with mobile eSports a centerpiece. That sector has huge potential in China, with the world’s largest mobile user base and its active development of 5G.

“5G will be a big boost for eSports, while its integration into many platforms will open up many other possibilities,” said Chi of Perfect World.

During ChinaJoy, Vivo launched its first 5G smartphone, with features like cloud games and eSports, thanks to improved calculation capacity and faster 5G speeds.

Vivo also displayed a virtual eSports team called Supex, with artificial intelligence features. It was co-developed by Vivo, Tencent AI Lab and Qualcomm.

At the expo, Shanghai officials announced guidelines for the construction of eSports venues and the first eSport masters tournament, to be held this November and December.

To become a global eSports hub requires development of top-tier tournaments, professional players, venues, audiences, eSports leagues and broadcasting and training facilities.

“Shanghai has most of those conditions and has made efforts to improve the whole eSports ecosystem,” said Jams Zhang, general manager of Nvidia China.

Nvidia, the world’s biggest computer graphic firm, has been a major contributor to that progress. Besides offering powerful graphic devices supporting eSports games, the company has offered tools for game broadcasting and created a camp for eSports training.

According to Shanghai guidelines, eSports venues will be categorized into four types based on size and capacity. A-level venues must be able to accommodate more than 10,000 people and host world-class events. Other venues will be used for national and regional game events, and livestream videos and host tryouts.

Li-Ning Gaming eSports, a new division of the sportswear company, said the potential of eSports in China will influence the industry far beyond its borders.

“We want to offer team management and related services for eSports tournaments and leagues, based on our long-term experience in the industry,” said Stella Li, executive director of Li-Ning Gaming eSports.

Perfect World has also cooperated with local academies to train eSports talent, including players, team managers and event organizers.

“I am looking forward to the event,” Iamawater said of the coming tournament in Shanghai. “Even if I have to watch broadcasting events to support my favorite team LGD.”


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