Asian Games Diary: The bright and dark sides of China's ESports industry

 The bright and dark sides of China's ESports industry
Thailand's Anusak Manpdong, left, prepares for the 'Arena of Valor' Asian Games version bronze medal match. File photo: AFP/Philip Fong

A group of people sitting around a table with computers and playing video games in silence. That was what I expected when I went to the Hangzhou ESports Centre, the venue for the video gaming discipline ESports, which has made its debut at the continental event. I got it absolutely wrong!

The arena appeared to be hosting a sound-and-light show. The newly built ESports Centre was designed like an indoor stadium. The gamers were sitting around tables that are set up in the middle of a circular stage. The spectators were seated on chairs arranged in concentric circles, overlooking the gamers and enjoying a free view of the proceedings. There were giant LED screens showing the live action from the computers and phones. The spectacular atmosphere would transport one to a surreal world.

The atmosphere at the Hangzhou ESports Centre was electric. When it comes to passion and fervour, ESports are on par with football and athletics. In the middle of the illuminated stadium, the gamers can be seen slouched in their gaming chairs nonchalantly, but they are fighting with each other to win a medal for their country. 

China has the world's largest ESports market by revenue and fans. The Chinese authorities had made concerted efforts to get the sport included in the Asian Games programme. According to official data, the gaming population in Asia is around 49 crore. Of which, women constitute around 38 per cent. Around five per cent of the Chinese population earns a living from the sector either directly or indirectly. China hosts as many as 62 ESports events across the country every year. So, China's push for ESports at the continental event comes as no surprise. 

Asserting their supremacy, China won the first gold ESports medal in Asian Games history by beating Malaysia in the smartphone multiplayer battle game 'Arena of Valor'.  

There are certain issues concerning the thriving gaming industry. A majority of Chinese parents worry over their children's gaming addiction. The authorities were quick to respond to the rising concerns as they decided to live broadcast only the semifinals and finals of ESports events at the Asian Games. It is said that concerns around internet addiction were behind the directive.

For years, Chinese authorities have sought to control how much time kids can spend playing games online, to fight internet addiction. There are hundreds of rehabilitation centres in China for youngsters who are addicted to gaming. 

Over one billion people have access to the Internet in China, more than in any country in the world. On average, Chinese Internet users spent around 7.5 hours online daily. Over the years, several gamers, including students, have died of exhaustion after playing video games for 20 hours or more straight. Such incidents prompted the authorities to bring in stricter rules. 

As per a new law, children aged between 8 and 15 are allowed to use mobile phones for one hour per day, while the screen time for children under eight is limited to 40 minutes. Children aged 0–3 years should be shown only songs and audio-focused content.

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