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Esports Industry in China: through the Window of the 2022 Asian Games

By Dan
Sep. 10, 2021 updated 02:44

On September 8th, the 2022 Asian Games officially announced the eight esports games that will be debuting as medal events. This year's Asian Games will be held in Hangzhou, and most of the selected esports games come from Chinese developers. The eight titles are as follows:

Esports was initially a demonstration sport at the Jakarta 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. The six esports games picked at that time were League of Legends, Arena of Valor (Honor of Kings International Edition), Clash Royale, Pro Evolution Soccer, Hearthstone, and StarCraft II. It is not hard to notice some differences in the games picked by the two Asian Games - RTS game StarCraft II was removed, while a shooter, Game for Peace and a fighting game Street Fighter V were added. As a result, there are now a total number of 4 MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) 

Among the 8 games, the inclusion of Dream Three Kingdoms 2 surprised even Chinese players. It is a Three Kingdoms-themed MOBA game, which has a noticeable gap in popularity compared to its counterparts Dota and League of Legends. However, its developer is Hangzhou Dianhun, a local company in the host city of 2022 Asian Games, which might explain its being selected.

The selection of Arena of Valor has also generated some discussion. The game's Chinese version, Honor of Kings, is currently China's best-selling mobile game and is known as the "national game". But still, it is less well-known than Dota or League of Legends in terms of internationaltournaments.       

Another thing that sparked a lot of debate among Chinese players was the StarCraft II being voted out. The famous Chinese StarCraft commentator Huang Xudong bluntly roasted Blizzard: "Obviously they are ignoring their elite RTS (Real-Time Strategy) games and trying everything they could to promote Overwatch. I have reminded them countless times that nothing will come of it! But they just wouldn’t listen. Now Hearthstone is their only game that made into the Asian Games – shame on them."

Similarly, another Chinese StarCraft KOL (Key Opinion Leader) - former StarCraft professional player “F91”, Sun Yifeng, also expressed dissatisfaction with Blizzard, saying that "it was as easy as falling off a log (for Blizzard to get WarCraft/StarCraft selected) but they didn’t make it".

(Sun Yifeng retweeted Huang Xudong’s harsh comment, saying sarcastically that Blizzard was “sick”)

Apart from the rise of MOBA’s and the fall of RTS’s, the victory of Arena of Valor and the defeat of StarCraft also reflect the changes in the Chinese esports market.

Between 1998 and 2008, the first batch of esports games such as Counter-Strike and StarCraft entered China. During that time, China's esports development was slow due to policy influence, with third-party tournaments such as WCG dominating the market and Chinese esports clubs such as WE just beginning to sprout.

With games such as StarCraft II and League of Legends landing in China from 2009 to 2013, some Chinese game operators began to host esports tournaments with increasing prizes. The Association of China Esports was also established among a thriving ecosystem.

After that, between 2014 and 2017, China's esports market entered a period of rapid growth. With official tournaments and third-party events flourishing, and with the addition of live streaming platforms, esports became widespread in China, at which point mobile esports such as Honor of Kings began to explode.

From 2018 to the present, China's esports industry continues to be standardized - national professional standards for esports player and training partner are introduced one after another, and more professional esports alliances are established. The selection of a variety of Chinese esports games for the Hangzhou Asian Games may actually be a sign of the formalization of the Chinese esports market, and to some extent reflects the attitude from the government authority.

We can see that from 2020 to 2021, China's policies in support of the esports industry continue to increase and cover the whole country, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hainan, Xi'an, Chengdu, Kunming and many other provinces and cities.

Esports-related governmental policies and documents issued in various cities from 2020 to 2021

According to data analysis agency iResearch Consulting Group, China's esports market size has exceeded 145 billion yuan in 2020 and is expected to exceed 180 billion yuan in 2021. Aside from being “sportalized” and “technicalized”, esports in China also demonstrated a trend towards integration with urban cultural construction, which will be a major trend in the future development of China's esports market.