China’s U-18 gaming rules undermine nation's Esports powerhouse status

China is the world's biggest esports market with an estimated 5,000-plus teams, but the government's tough new rules aimed at curbing gaming addiction are set to make it difficult.

With streaming becoming more and more popular, there is more reach and scope for esports

China is the world’s biggest esports market with an estimated 5,000-plus teams. However, the tough new rules announced by the government with the objective of curbing gaming addiction makes it all the more difficult for gamers. Shanghai-based esports team Rogue Warriors are one of those expected to be affected badly by such rules and regulations. Members of the team keep tapping away at their phones and electronic devices from morning 11 till late in the night, breaking simply for food. Their pursuit for excellence which often takes place in conference rooms, will certainly be badly hit by such decisions.

“I spend 15 of 24 hours a day playing video games,” says 19-year-old Zhang Kaifeng. Kaifeng plays Tencent’s online battle arena game “Arena of Valor” professionally. The gamer believes that that the long hours are necessary to remain competitive.

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Gaming companies are looking to limit the utilisation of online games for those under 18 to just three hours a week. This decision has provoked an outcry from many Chinese teens. Even before the changes, minors were restricted to 1.5 hours on weekdays and three hours on weekends. Top esports players are typically discovered in their teens and retire in their mid-20s. Experts compare the intensity of their training to that of Olympic gymnasts and divers. One of the world’s most well-known players of Riot Games’ “League of Legends”, Wu Hanwei, also known as Xiye, began playing at 14 and joined a club at 16.

“The new regulations almost kill young people’s chances of becoming professional esports players,” said Chen Jiang, associate professor at Peking University’s School of Electronics Engineering and Computer Science.

In doing so, the rules also undermine the big business of esports in China. Tournaments are often played in billion-dollar stadiums and livestreamed to many more. Chinese esport fans are estimated to number more than 400 million, according to the state-run People’s Daily. The domestic esports market was worth some CNY 147 billion (roughly Rs. 1,66,820 crores) last year, according to Chinese consultancy iResearch.

Did China really ban video games?

An executive at another major Chinese club said the new rules will mean many talented people will miss out on being discovered.

“The real top players are usually gifted and don’t necessarily play long hours before joining the club. Others can be very good eventually but they need a lot of practice to get there,” said an executive at another major Chinese club, who declined to be named citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The new rules are not laws per se that punish individuals but place the onus on gaming companies. The companies will be compelled to require logins with real names and national ID numbers. Experts note that determined Chinese teenagers can still circumvent the rules if they have their parents’ support and are able to use adult logins. Chinese authorities have not addressed the impact of the new rules on the esports industry. It will be interesting to see how the final decision works out.

Sportslumo Desk

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