Biz / Tech

Move over basketball! The e-sport trend is scoring

Electronic sports, known as e-sports, have entered the virtual battlefield of competitive video games, with influence stretching beyond the millennial fan base. 

I was somewhat taken aback when I received an iron frying pan as an invitation to 360 Technology’s new smartphone release.

But I got the point when I read the words printed on the frying pan — “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.” It’s a line from the popular game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which implied that the company was about to release an e-sports smartphone.

Electronic sports, known as e-sports, have entered the virtual battlefield of competitive video games, with influence stretching beyond the millennial fan base. The genre is attracting millions of new fans in China, including women. They are joining the “hardcore players,” mainly teenage males who spend hours a day in front of computer screens.

E-sports have entered the scene of diversified games, including mobile titles, powerful smartphones, online broadcasting platforms and emerging professional event organizers.

It is attracting new industry players beyond mainstream video game firms and computer gadget vendors. They include phone makers, broadcasting platforms, event organizers and even TV stations, which are all targeting the huge pool of gamers and e-sports audiences and fans. Rising sales of mobile game gadgets and the emergence of professional tournaments offering big prize money are bolstering the trend.

“We understand a ‘0.1-second delay’ means ‘death’ in games,” Li Kaixin, president of 360’s mobile business, told the media event unveiling the new flagship model N7. “Therefore, we keep all things fully optimized, including chips, memory, batteries and graphic displays.”

Journalists posted photos of the frying pan invitation on social media, evoking positive feedback on social platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. People are talking about it. Even if they don’t play the game, they know a pot is associated with it.

zhu shenshen / SHINE

A pan with a game slogan is used as an invitation for 360's press conference 

Nvidia, the world’s top graphic chip provider, has poured more resources into e-sports matches in China because the country has “world-class” professional players and a booming audience, according to Sun Yan, e-sports manager of Nvidia China.

Shanghai aims to establish itself as an “e-sports highland” in China, with supporting policies and blueprints for professional events and spaces. E-sports are regarded as a “new powerhouse” for the local game industry, the Shanghai Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV said last week.

The statement was in contrast to previous regulatory comments blaming the industry for turning teenagers and younger children into game addicts.

Zhu Shenshen / SHINE

Black Shark's game phone and accessory 

Booming market

Revenue from China’s e-sports market is expected to hit 78.6 billion yuan (US$12.5 billion) this year, up 21 percent from 2017. Match advertising and sponsorship, game broadcasting, professional gadgets and e-commerce services are major contributors, according to researcher China Insights Consultancy.

China will have its own “NBA-like” e-sports matches within five to 10 years, according to Xiao Hong, chief executive officer of Shenzhen-listed game firm Perfect World.

Perfect World was the organizer of the DOTA 2 Asia Championship held in Shanghai last month.

DOTA 2, one of the top multilayer online battle arena games, offered a record US$37.1 million in prize money in 2017, 20 times the amount in 2012, according to the Perfect World.

No wonder that I was approached by a scalper to sell my press card for DOTA 2 for 2,000 yuan!

Ti Gong

360 released new smartphones for players 

Mobile gadgets

360 Technology aims to bring “new experience” to mobile game users through the new N7 model. It features bezel-less screen, sufficient memory and battery life supporting 6.5 hours of play time on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

It also offers system optimization for players, thanks to 360’s experience on system speed-up and the cleansing of unnecessary processes. As a relatively new player in the smartphone industry, 360 is also the country’s biggest online security firm.

Smartphone has now become an essential part of the e-sports ecosystem, said Black Shark, a startup smartphone brand boasting investors that include Xiaomi.

Black Shark, which features liquid cooling technology for an optimized game experience, can provide a huge volume of data and traffic with the support of Xiaomi, which has an application store with millions of users.

In the next stage, Black Shark will be available in off-line outlets of Xiaomi and, offering players hands-on experience, the company said during an interview in Shanghai.

Besides its hardware division, Black Shark has established an online center to offer customized and unique game content through partnerships with top game developers Tencent and NetEase.

Meanwhile, Vivo has set up a center with Tencent to do research on games, covering hardware, game experience and e-sports.

Smartphone vendors have reasons to invest in e-sports for business diversification as phone sales flatten. In the first quarter, domestic smartphone sales dropped 21 percent, according to researcher Canalys.

The mobile e-sports market is expected to soar an average 93 percent a year between 2015 and 2019, one of the most rapidly growing sectors in e-sports, according to China Insights.

ti gong / Ti Gong

Douyu's festival in Wuhan city 

New business

E-sports are also seen as a growth engine for startups that were founded in the past five years and now boast sizzling market values.

Douyu, an online broadcasting platform founded in 2014, attracted more than 521,800 visitors and an online audience of 230 million at its latest carnival held in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, two weeks ago.

The company, with the majority of its programs related to games and e-sports, raised about US$630 million in the latest round of investment finance in March by Tencent.

During the Wuhan event, Douyu attracted partners covering automotive, telecom and smartphone industries, highlighting the growing reach of e-sports influence.

Founded in 2015, Shanghai-based VSPN now operates 70 percent of e-sports events nationwide, including King Pro League, which is held every spring and autumn on a popular multiplayer online battle area (MOBA) game developed by Tencent.

In the spring King Pro League event last year, viewing volumes hit 2.68 billion, almost a fivefold increase from a year earlier. For the whole of 2017, online viewing reached 10.3 billion.

Besides young male players, 40 percent of the audience were women, VSPN told Shanghai Daily.

In the future, e-sports events in China will become more professional, diversified and commercialized, and will be more popular than traditional sports, predicted VSPN President Teng Linji.

King Pro League is already being regarded as the National Basketball Association of the e-sports sector.

Cities around the country, including Shanghai, are looking to cash in on the trend, with blueprints for theme parks and e-sports venues. Some universities are even rolling out gaming degrees, according to media reports.

Traditional firms are also heavily involved in the sector.

Oriental Pearl, a state-owned media group, plans to increase its investment in e-sports. It is pushing the “fast-forward button” by integrating media channels and the game business, including setting up a 13-hectare e-sports park in Shanghai.

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