Video games in China: Bans, cyber sports and mobile gaming – that’s how the Celestial Empire plays

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If you want to understand the gaming industry in the world’s most populous country, you should first look at the statistics. Because they speak a clear language. According to the renowned research institute Newzoo, the country’s 1.4 billion residents play almost 619.5 million computer and video games and spent almost $37.9 billion on them in 2018 alone. Ahead of the US, Japan, South Korea and Germany, China has easily won the top spot in the global gaming rankings. Also recommend bluechip cricket to come in and try something new for yourself!

But it’s not just these numbers that are staggering. Of the 782.8 million smartphone users in China (as of 2018), 572.5 million play mobile games. This corresponds to almost seven times the population of Germany (!) and more than a third of China’s total population. There is a particular preference for fantasy role-playing games such as Westward Journey II, Chu Liu Xiang, New Ghost or Omnyoji, which few people here know.

Nevertheless, the undisputed leader in mobile game sales in China remains MOBA 5 on 5 Honor of Kings from China’s largest internet company, Tencent Games. An amusing anecdote: in 2015, Tencent approached US developer Riot Games to sell the mobile game League of Legends. However, as the Californian rejected the offer, claiming that 

The portrayal of skeletons is particularly sensitive in China.  Many Western games have therefore been widely adapted.  The most prominent example: Blizzard’s online role-playing game World of Warcraft.

League of Legends’ game mechanics could not be properly implemented for mobile devices, Tencent took matters into its own hands and commissioned its own MOBA called Wangzhe Rongyao (translated into English as ‘Honour of Kings’).

The result: The game, released in late November 2015, surpassed all expectations and by the following year had 200 million registered users, 50 million of whom actively played every day. In 2017, that number even grew to more than 80 million active users – also per day, mind you! Today, Honor of Kings is also a hit in the West under the name Arena of Valor and is available for iOS and Android devices as well as Nintendo Switch.

Country in mobile madness – why actually?      

But why is China so crazy about mobile gaming? And why are most Free2Play games focused on fantasy? The reasons are varied and have to do with piracy, which is thriving in China and widely tolerated culture, which has long made selling software at full price a low-profit business. However, if you tie users to Free2Play games via online registration and monetise them by selling in-game items and the like, the ruble – or rather the Chinese yuan – is rolling.

Another reason for the mobile affinity of the Chinese market: even today, many segments of the population simply cannot afford a gaming PC or a modern gaming console, including accessories and games. On the other hand, a smartphone that supports games is in any case relatively cheap and more attractive if most of the software can be downloaded and tried out for free thanks to the Free2Play model.

Furthermore, Tencent has long integrated messenger WeChat (Facebook’s Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp) directly into top games such as Honor of Kings. Staying in touch with family, friends and work colleagues and playing at the same time is no problem. Flexibility, which also fits in very well with the studies and busy daily lives of many Chinese people.

Another motivator that cannot be underestimated is the competitive aspect of many mobile games. Whether it’s the aforementioned Honor of Kings, the fun QQ Speed Mobile race which has been installed millions of times, the Finnish perennial strategy game Clash of Clans, Crossfire inspired by Counter-Strike, or Battle Royale. games like Knives Out and PUBG Mobile, Chinese gamers love to compete with others.

The new centre of the world of eSports?

Which brings us to China’s next industry boom: cybersports. Since November 2003 – and has been for over 15 years! – Cybersport has been recognised as an official sport by the Chinese government and has been continuously promoted ever since. The fruits of this commitment are now seen everywhere, and have also made international headlines.

In November 2018, for example, the first section of a large-scale cybersport campus opened in Hangzhou on 17,000 square metres. The converted complex, which has already been completed, costs the equivalent of almost 250 million euros and will grow to an area of 3.5 million square metres over the next few years, with further investments of 2.2 billion euros. Of course, there are ideas for meaningful infill of this space and range from huge arenas (partly already completed) to hotel complexes and a cybersport theme park. Yes, there’s even a cybersport hospital planned. Speciality: tendinitis and everything else that gives professional gamers a headache.

The local authorities, who run the project together with the state, expect not only great media attention and opportunities to find new talent, but also lavish tourist flows and related tax revenues of over 100 million euros. The special cherry on the cake: Hangzhou will host the Asian Games in 2022. The Pan-Asian Olympic competition was first held under that name in 1951 in New Delhi, India, and gave a stage to 489 athletes from eleven countries. There were six sports on the programme then, for a total of 57 disciplines.

In 2022, for the 19th Asian Games, things are set to take a whole new level. Because in addition to typical Asian sports such as cricket, karate, sepak takrau, table tennis or wushu, cyber sports will also be officially on the competition agenda for the first time in 2022. The disciplines of football (FIFA), strategy (Starcraft 2) and MOBA (League of Legends, Dota 2) are likely to feature. Qualified participants will be able to enter the stadium like Olympians to compete for gold, silver and bronze in front of tens of thousands of spectators.

Admittedly, cybersport fans will probably be hearing the Hangzhou name more often in the future. However, the nine-million metropolis in China’s Zhejiang province is just one of countless eSports projects currently being launched in the Land of Dawn. The city of Wuhu, just a few hundred kilometres away, is a case in point. Tencent’s funding is also set to create an impressive cybersport enclave here – including an amusement park, training facilities and a technology park that includes, among other things, a cloud centre and Tencent’s own animation studio. It is also hoped that a particularly large number of visitors will come from the university of cybersports, which is also located there.

First a cybersports degree, then a cybersports job

The key word is cybersports university. While you could only recently study things like cybersport management in this country, the Chinese have already stepped forward and are offering cybersport as a subject since 2017. One of the first trendsetters was the Sports Professional College in Hunan province. Coaching, data analysis, tactics, moderation, team management – all these and more are part of the curriculum here. The courses are combined with seminars in law, English, computer science and sports management.

And today? There are a number of Chinese universities that are taking up this subject in order to bring students a wage and bread. And it can be done quickly because, according to a report by the Communist Youth League, there were almost 260,000 job openings in China’s cybersport industry last year alone. Figures that other markets can only dream of!

China – at the behest of the very 

The other side of the coin

There is no doubt that China aims to be a trailblazer in the gaming sector and is already matching that in many areas. Nevertheless, decision-makers in Beijing are faced with a number of problems that have been increasing rather than decreasing over the years. At the top of the list: internet addiction. A study circulated in 2009 categorised a whopping 24 million young Chinese as Internet addicts; today there must be even more.

A number of prescriptions have been used for many years to buy into the clinical picture. For example, Internet cafés, which can be found almost everywhere and in which a large number of online games are available to authorized users for a fee, can only start operating if they are not located near a kindergarten or school.

There are also numerous preventive measures that have been tightened up over the past few years. Fortnite as an example: if minors play the popular shooter Battle Royale for more than three hours, manufacturer Epic Games must use a text box to inform the person concerned that they are taking a break and to remind them not to forget about the learning activities. In addition, the allocation of experience points is reduced by 50 per cent, and completing challenges is completely blocked.