Asian Games success delights fans, brightens prospects of digital gaming industry

E-sports finals winners Team China with their gold medals after their win over South Korea in the finals of the League of Legends e-sports tournament, included as an official demonstration sport in the 18th Asian Games 2018 in Indonesia. Photo: EPA-EFE

China again surpassed its rivals by a big margin to top the medals table of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. Although the three medals that the Chinese team won at the electronic sports event consisting of five digital games could not be included into the country's medal standings because the event was for exhibition only, the success has largely changed an entrenched Chinese notion that video game addicts are triflers.

Fortunately, electronic sports will be an official physical item at the next Asian Games which will be held in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in 2022. And Kenneth Fok, president of the Asian Electronic Sports Federation, has said that the Federation's ultimate goal is to get electronic sports into the Olympic Games.

Despite the fact that state broadcaster China Central Television, which has the exclusive rights to broadcasting the 2018 Asian Games, did not live telecast the electronic sports event, Chinese video game lovers have been jubilant about the electronic sports glory in Jakarta. They hope that it would bode well for the future of electronic sports in big sports games and arouse the Chinese government's attention to electronic sports education and the development of the digital gaming industry, which the Chinese regulators have kept an eye on in the recent two years.

A recent report published in the Hangzhou Daily said that Hangzhou has been developing the electronic sports industry as one of its major goals due to its position as a key base for Internet companies.

Industry analysts say that the inclusion of electronic sports into the Asian Games indicates the recognition by the mainstream society, which China could take as an opportunity to accelerate its efforts to improve the whole industry chain.

A real sports item

Electronic sports cannot be equivalent to playing digital games.

"Becoming an electronic sports player is the dream of many young people in China. And the inclusion of electronic sports into the Asian Games has proven that electronic sports is a part of sports," wrote Jian Zihao, a member of the Chinese team which defeated South Korea in the finals for League of Legends in the 2018 Asian Games, in an article.

The article, which was published on on the eve of the League of Legends finals, sketches out how Jian became a professional electronic sports player.

Excessive practice takes up nearly all of the time of his life, which injured his fingers, shoulders and back, said Jiang in the article. But he never thought of loafing on the job, as he knew it could help him form a kind of "muscle memory", which enables him to make immediate reactions in the games. "That is the difference between electronic sports and playing games."

In the article, Jian also attached great importance to teamwork, a key skill for other kinds of athletes to win a group game. "I had to do my job very well. Otherwise, my team could not win."

Aaron Chan, a Malaysian electronic sports commentator, equates professional electronic sports players with conventional sportsmen, as the former's life is also filled with hours of training every day, strategy meetings with teammates and exercises aimed at improving synergy between teammates and skills of making split-second decisions.

"The struggle for an electronic sports athlete is just as real as every other athlete. As much as it seems less physically demanding, it takes a whole lot of mental agility, creativity and mechanical prowess to be good at any competitive titles," said Chan.

In November 2017, the International Olympic Committee said that the intensity of daily training of electronic sports athletes and their spirit of going beyond themselves are traits that enable electronic sports to be a kind of sports item.

As early as 2003, China's General Administration of Sports identified electronic sports as the 99th nationally acknowledged physical item. And nowadays, many electronic sports competitions and tournaments in China are sponsored by many big enterprises such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

In July, the General Administration of Sports issued a notice to organize a national electronic sports open tournament, a sign that reflects China's renewed efforts to promote the healthy development of the electronic sports industry.

"Electronic sports is a new industry, which is at the stage of rules creation," said Chen Jiang, an associate professor at Peking University.

Electronic sports education

The improvement in the industry chain of electronic sports cannot be separated from vocational education, which can produce professional players with highly developed gaming skills.

In 2018, in cooperation with experts from digital game production companies like Tencent, Chen of Peking University offered a course to introduce digital game development, user experience and knowledge of electronic sports, prompting public discussions about electronic sports education.

Chen's move came two years after China's Ministry of Education announced to add electronic sports as a major under the discipline of sports and education against the backdrop of the growing demand for professional digital game players and a boom in the electronic sports market.

"University-enterprise cooperation could be a direction for the creation of electronic sports majors, as universities are short of educational infrastructure related to electronic sports," said Chen.

Currently, Tencent, the developer of a popular digital game Honor of Kings in China, has set up an electronic sports teaching base with the Communication University of China and an electronic sports laboratory with Shenzhen University, which serves students and teachers from the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.

The total value of China's electronic sports industry amounted to 27 billion yuan in 2017, with the number of audiences of electronic sports events in the country reaching 220 million, showed statistics from the General Administration of Sports.

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