Kingdom on Keyboards


Beijing Review 2021年47期

By Yuan Yuan

The League of Legends World Championship finals took place on Saturday, November 6, a timing welcomed by fans of the game, many of whom work on weekdays. While looking forward to the day, one such fan, Lin Weicang, said the choice of day was considerate, even though Chinese fans would need to stay awake through the night due to the time difference as the game was held in Reykjavik, Iceland. They have another day to relax. “It will be a sleepless night for electronic sports fans in China,” the 27-year-old Beijing resident said in a post he shared on WeChat Moments.

Since Chinese esports team EDward Gaming(EDG) beat rivals GEN.G from the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the semi-final on November 1, the final became a big event for Chinese fans like Lin. A fan of the team for eight years since the EDG club was established in 2013, Lin has dreamed to see the team become number one in the world. In previous years, EDG did not progress beyond the top eight to reach the semi-finals.

The situation was not expected to be any better this year. Few fans believed EDG would reach the game, let alone stand a chance against last years champion, ROKs DWG KIA. Lin didnt want to think about the result in the lead-up to the final. As the weather forecast predicted a rare cold wave would hit Beijing on the night of November 6, Lin stocked up on enough snacks and beverages to get him through the night.

The intense battle between EDG and DWG KIA seemed interminable, but after four grueling hours EDG seemingly produced a miracle, winning 3:2 at approximately 1 a.m., Beijing time, on November 7. Lin was thrilled to share their victory on WeChat Moments.“EDG won!” he posted, receiving over 100 likes within the first minute. “At that moment, I realized many of my friends had also been glued to the screen,” he told Beijing Review. He also noticed that China Central Television (CCTV) released the news through its account on Chinas Twitter-like platform Weibo and within an hour, the post had been shared over 5 million times.

A rugged way

Photos of that night shared on social media show hundreds of fans out in the streets, crowding in front of screens live-streaming the game in southern cities like Guangzhou, where the EDG club is based, and Shenzhen in Guangdong Province. Other photos captured the celebrations that lasted throughout the night. “It was the highlight moment of Chinas esports,” Lin said. “It is not the first time for Chinas team to win world-level games, but this time, we felt more excited as the team turned the tables to defeat such a strong opponent.”

Li Xiaofeng, known popularly by the name Sky, is the most renowned professional esports player in China. Li watched the whole game and posted a congratulatory message to EDG on Weibo.“Chinas esports teams rock!” he said.

Born in 1985, Li is regarded as the leading figure of the first generation of Chinas esports players. When he decided to quit middle school to devote himself wholeheartedly to becoming a professional esports player in the late 1990s, he received nothing but strong opposition from his parents. “Societys attitude toward esports players in those days was very unfriendly,” Li said in a recent interview with Xinhua News Agency. “They just thought I was one of those bad boys that got addicted to computer games.”

After struggling to play games in local Internet cafes, Li decided to go to Beijing to seek more opportunities. At only 19, and with less than 100 yuan ($16) in his pocket, he left his hometown in Henan Province for the capital without telling his parents. He joined a small team at first, went through harsh training of over 15 hours a day and took part in many competitions, finally becoming a two-time champion at the World Cyber Games.

In 2014, as a retired esports player, he set up his own esports club. “Today, the esports environment is more friendly in China,” Li said. The success of the first-generation players has paved the way for the next batch of players. When Li Xuanjun, a member of the EDG team, wanted to quit middle school at the age of 14, he didnt receive much resistance from his mother and teachers, who agreed to let him try gaming full-time for one year on the condition that if he didnt make any progress, he would return to his studies.

Profession vs. hobby

The story of the talented esports players joining professional clubs in their early teens maybe a thing of the past after China released a rule on August 30 restricting players under 18 to no more than three hours of gaming per week.

The restrictions, which are the firmest ever introduced, required all national competitions to raise the minimum age for participation to 18 and all professional clubs to dismiss players under 18. Some in Chinas esports community fear this new rule will hinder the discovery of esports geniuses at early ages.

“As a father of four, I can truly understand the rationality of this policy,”said Nicholas Aaron Khoo, co-founder of Singapores Cybersports & Online Gaming Association. “Actually, many countries are observing and learning what China is doing in this respect [as game addiction has become an increasing concern worldwide].”

The difference between a gaming addict and professional esports players, according to Khoo, is really about how they plan and arrange their time. Professional players follow a planned schedule and have a clear goal of winning competitions, while the gaming addicts merely indulge in excessive playing.

As of 2003, esports was recognized as an official sport by the General Administration of Sports of China. In 2016, it was further promoted as part of Chinas fitness and leisure industry. In the same year, the Ministry of Education made esports management an undergraduate university major. All these measures have created a boom in the niche. A report by Global Times revealed there were approximately 488 million gamers in China in 2020, and the industrys revenue skyrocketed from 94.73 billion yuan ($14.8 billion) in 2019 to 136.56 billion yuan ($21.4 billion) in 2020.

Li Xiaofeng suggests those avid gamers keep a cool head when making the decision to go pro.“Only one in a million can become a professional esports player,” he said. “Dont regard yourself as a talent just because you can achieve high scores in regular computer games.”

He suggested these players visit professional clubs to test whether it is the right area for them.“Even after youre enrolled in the clubs, the training is intense and bitter,” he added. “It demands a combination of multiple capabilities such as teamwork and learning abilities as you need to quickly adapt to different iterations of a game, Li said. “It is a serious sport, just in an electronic way.” BR