Fri, 04 Dec 2020

Over 6,000 audience members watched the 2020 League of Legends World Championships (S10) in Shanghai, China on Oct. 31, 2020. Chinese esports team SN lost to South Korea's DWG 3-1. (Xinhua/Ding Ting)

China plays leading role in eSports boost amid COVID-19 pandemic.

By sportswriters Xiao Yazhuo, Wang Meng

PARIS, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- In front of over 6,000 spectators at the newly-completed Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium, which was staging its first elite-level competitive sports game, South Korea's DAMWON Gaming (DWG) defeated China's Suning (SN) 3-1 to claim the title of 2020 League of Legends (LOL) World Championship.

The victory by DWG was the sixth time that a South Korean team had won the most-watched eSports tournament since the inaugural edition in 2011, meanwhile snapping China's hope of dominating the event for the third consecutive year after the success of Invictus Gaming (IG) and FunPlus Phoenix (FPX) in the past two years.

However, the defeat in the arena doesn't affect China's status as the fastest-growing market of the eSports industry in the coronavirus-hit 2020, with reports by different organizations have all revealed that China will replace North America as the largest eSports market no matter in terms of viewers or revenues this year.

According to a report by Newzoo, a world-leading provider of games and eSports analytics, global eSports revenues will grow to $1.1 billion in 2020, a year-on-year growth of 15.7%, up from $950.6 million in 2019, while China is the largest market by revenues, with a total of $385.1 million in 2020.

With total revenues of $252.8 million, North America was followed by Western Europe with total revenues of $201.2 million.

The just-concluded 2020 LOL worlds again showed how eSports was popular in the country.

Due to the current health situation, only the final on Oct. 31 was open to the audience, and only 6,312 people entered the Pudong Football stadium to watch the showdown.

Over one million people registered their interest in the tickets within four hours, and a total of 3.2 million people signed in for the lottery before the deadline.

"I was in a class when I received a message that told me I could go to the final. To be honest, at first, I thought it was a swindle. I couldn't believe I was so lucky," said Fang Yan, a 20-year-old college student who lived in Ma'anshan, Anhui province.

When the grand final started on Saturday afternoon, the game was watched and discussed by millions of audience online.

The statistics on Bilibili, a live-broadcasting platform that bought the tournament's broadcasting rights on a reportedly eight million RMB (1.2 million US dollars) contract for three years, showed that over 50 million independent viewers were watching the game simultaneously.

"We thought we had accomplished the impossible. Under the background of the pandemic, we have staged a successful tournament and we are really proud of it," said Jin "Bobby" Yibo, the co-CEO of TJ Sport, which manages eSport on the game of LOL in China.

In a year hit by the coronavirus pandemic with many elite sports events that have been postponed or abandoned, the host of the 2020 LOL worlds proved the resilience of eSports. And with no doubt that China's success in controlling the virus was the main reason that made everything possible.

"Many people thought we were crazy maintaining worlds," said Frenchman Nicolo Laurent, CEO of Riot Games (LOL developer). "I don't think there is another place in the world today where we could have organized this competition."

"This year, Shanghai proved it is on its way to becoming, if it's not already, the world's capital of eSports," Laurent added.

The LOL World Championship was first introduced in China in 2017, when the final held in Chinese symbolic National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, has become a milestone moment for eSports in the country.

Over the past three years, eSports were enjoying rapid growth in China with professional leagues getting more and more mature, supportive policies have also been released, and most importantly, the elders' attitudes towards eSports were also changing.

Zhou Zhe'an, an 18-year-old high school student, was a Shanghai local among the 6,000 audiences in the Pudong Stadium on Saturday. His father was also there.

"I chose to come here with my son because I wanted to know what young people like. It's a way for us to communicate with each other and strengthen understandings," said his father.

In February this year, China officially recognized the roles of "eSports professionals" and "eSports operators" as official job titles, which was seen as a big step for eSports.

Next year, the LOL worlds will be held in China again. No matter winning the title or not, China is playing the leading role in the boost of esports worldwide. ■

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