Esports is a big deal in China. The industry is worth over $14 billion and continues to grow at a rapid clip. All over the country, esports athletes put in hundreds of hours a month preparing for the world’s biggest competitions.
Today, winners at international eSports events can take home millions of dollars in prize money. Last year, China’s Invictus team won $5 million at the League of Legends championships. The athletes beat out the U.S. and Europe’s top players for the first time in the event’s history.
Bi Lianli, the Beijing manager for Royal Never Give Up (RNG), believes China’s victory could be a sign of more to come. “Last year, China were the champions in the world competition of League of Legends. Last May, our team won the championship in the preseason. It’s an undeniable fact that China now plays a leading role in the world of esports.”
The Rise of Esports
Competitive gaming has been around for a while. Professional competitions exist for many titles and test players in different ways. For example, Fortnite drops gamers into free-for-all battle royales, where only one person comes out on top. Counter-Strike, on the other hand, pits teams against one another in various scenarios that require military tact and cooperation.
Initially, video gaming competitions were niche events built primarily for the gamers themselves. Thanks to platforms like YouTube and Twitch, everyday gamers can now livestream and watch their favorite athletes in the heat of battle. Esports rose out of explosive demand for this type of content. There are nearly 200 million eSports fans worldwide. Of them, 38 percent of those people live in China.
According to the market research firm Newzoo, eSports is expected to grow to a $1.8 billion industry by 2022. Because of its popularity, some are pushing for eSports to be included in this year’s Olympic games. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening. But, Japan will host a tournament shortly before the Olympics begin in July.
Competitive Gaming Not for the Faint of Heart
While some may think it’s ridiculous to consider video gaming a sport, the experiences of pro athletes might suggest otherwise. All over China, young gamers now aspire to be professional eSports athletes. As with other types of sporting careers, only a few make it to the top. Most athletes retire by the age of 24 because of the grueling lifestyle.
In Beijing, RNG practices in a large basement equipped with the highest-quality gaming gear. The team practices 14 hours per day, 7 days a week. According to the team manager, Bi, members wake up at 1 pm, practice on their own for an hour, and then practice as a team until 5 p.m. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the group eats dinner, exercises, and showers. They battle other teams until 11 p.m. and then practice on their own again until 4 a.m.
The team also has a doctor and physiotherapist who ensure the athletes maintain healthy routines in the months leading up to major competitions. RNG gamers can make six-figure salaries, which excludes winnings throughout the year.
However, players can lose their careers overnight if they are unable to master new and popular games that rise to the eSports forefront. Fortunately, ex-pro gamers are beginning to find ways to stay involved in eSports, even if they aren’t sitting in the hot seat. From gaming fashion to commentating, there is a new world of opportunities awaiting those who make it to the other side.