The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of China now recognizes eSports athletes and eSports managers as legitimate professions. The Ministery of Human Resources said it will propose to the government of the People’s Republic of China that the two job descriptions be added to the list of accepted professions, along with 13 other new professions.
According to multiple sources, the Chinese Ministry put the 15 different professions up for debate, which ended on January 31. Bilingual Chinese media sources noted that social media outlets in China had discussions in which citizens said they would like to pursue career opportunities in eSports.
Those people cautioned that officials had to differentiate between eSports fans and the actual professional athletes who take part in organized electronic sports events.
Yang Laosi, a notable Weibo social media influence, said in a post on Weibo, “It is understandable that esports players are included on the preliminary list, but those in this category need to be true professionals rather than just video game fans.”
Chinese eSports continues to generate far more revenue than it does anywhere else, despite attempts by officials to limit access to the eSports live streams. Chinese eSports are thought to have generated $13.1 billion in US dollars in 2018, while that total is expected to increase to $5.2 billion to $18.3 billion by 2020. If those figures can be believed, then China is the global capital of eSports.
What is Esports?
Esports is a portmanteau of electronic sports, a term for organized tournament events involving video games. Esports tournaments have real cash prizes and a field of entrants which includes teams of professional video game competitors.
Esports has existed for over 10 years, but the prize money has grown significantly in the past few years. In 2018, the total prize pool for all combined eSports circuits was $93 million. Epic Games, the publisher of Fortnite, announced last year that it would spend $100 million as seed money to fund a Fortnite eSports circuit.
Esports Tournament Circuits
Like poker, tennis, or golf, competitors travel the circuit to compete against other established competitors. Esports athletes have fan followings and merchandise, along with Twitch and YouTube feeds which bring them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. A few, such as Sneaky, make millions of dollars from their eSports career. Lu Jao, a Chinese DOTA 2 specialist, last year made a reported $2,247,924 in US dollars, according to Fox Sports Asia.
In the United States, eSports is broadcast on cable channels and live streamed on Twitch. Fans show up to events to cheer on their favorites, while the broadcasts and live streams have play-by-play announcers, color commentators, and pre-game and post-game studio analysts. The millennial and Gen Z generations watch such events the way previous generations would watch NFL football, NBA basketball, or MLB baseball.
Few players can hope to be as financially successful as Sneaky or Lu Jao, but they have real salaries. The NBA 2K League offers its players $32,000 in salary per year. That means players do not have to hold down a “regular” job, so they have time to practice their skills or promote themselves on Twitch or YouTube — thus generating more cash.
JESU and The Challenge Cup
In Japan, the Japan Esports Union (JESU) now exists. JESU seeks to promote electronic sports in a restrictive environment. The union’s work is starting to pay off, as the Japanese eSports circuit had $43.2 million in prize money in 2018 — a 13x increase from the 2017 totals.
The Challenge Cup last year pitted Japanese players against a Pan-Asian group of competitors — a sign of Japan’s growing competitiveness in the sport. Hirokazu Hamamura, the VP of Gzbrain Inc., said of the Challenge Cup, “This is the first big step. What’s really important for the esports movement is whether our players can become stars. And I think that’s coming.”
Esports premiered in an Asian international athletic competition for the first time (as an exhibition sport) at the 2018 Southeast Asia Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia. When the 2019 Southeast Asia Games are held in Philippines later this year, eSports will be a fully recognized sport.
Chinese Esports Events: Dota 2, League of Legends
In China, live eSports events take place in modern sporting arenas. The country is dotted with eSports venues, while Macau casinos now host eSports events. As Yang Laosi noted, China and Hong Kong have their own eSports professionals, who should be distinguished from the mass of video game players and fanatics.
China hosts some of the most notable eSports competitions each year. The Chongqing Major just wrapped up, while Dota 2’s “The International 9” takes place later this year in Shanghai. In 2020, the The League of Legends’ 2020 World Championship will be held in China.
The decision by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of China to recognize eSports players and eSports managers as legitimate professions is a big step for electronic sports in China. Many other obstacles must be surmounted. For instance, Twitch remains banned in China — for reasons closely related to eSports.
Without the full media exposure eSports gets in the global community, eSports might not have the mainstream impact it has in Europe and North America. Chinese eSports have been amazingly popular to think it is a word-of-mouth sporting niche. As the eSports circuits continue to become more lucrative — eventually comparable to APT and WPT tennis or PGA golf — the Chinese government could warm to the prospect of eSports celebrities.