Even amid tightening regulatory control over gaming, esports is becoming a source of national pride in China. Over the weekend, many Chinese people were surprised by the enthusiastic domestic reaction to the victory of a Chinese esports team.
On Nov. 6, Edward Gaming (EDG), an underdog Chinese team of League of Legends players, won the 11th season of LoL's World Championship. Even though this was already the third time a Chinese team has taken the throne, social media still went crazy. Over one-third of the top 50 trending hashtags on Weibo were about the game, and the main tag has been read over 3 billion times. The livestreamed competition was watched by over 80 million people separately on Weibo and Tencent's video platforms, plus hundreds of millions more on Bilibili. Those who weren't following the game were caught by surprise over how many of their friends were cheering the victory, many of whom didn't appear to be gamers or esports fans at all.
Celebrations in real life were also frantic. Roars from exhilarated fans shook college dorm buildings while others ran around in the streets. Bars and shopping malls hosted watch parties that were soon crammed by fans. The majority of them are young men in their 20s, although a significant number of female fans can also be seen in the videos. Outside of China, this level of fervent national celebration probably only happens after a World Cup victory, but in China, esports is taking center stage.
The parallel between these reactions over the weekend and Beijing's recent moves restricting video games may seem confusing. But as gaming analyst Daniel Ahmad noted on Twitter, China currently has an estimated esports fan base of over 400 million. While the country wrestles with its long-held belief that minors should not be exposed too much to video games, it's also not giving up on esports' gigantic commercial potential and possible global cultural impact. Perhaps most evidently, Chinese authorities are increasingly pushing esports to be considered a serious sport, with it being added to the 2022 Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China.
For a Chinese gaming industry that has struggled this year with looming regulations, EDG's victory and the national reaction to it provides a much-needed boost of confidence. It proves that while few are watching, esports has grown to be a universal form of entertainment among China's youth. With Chinese traditional sports teams like soccer and basketball playing disappointingly on the global stage, esports is where fans are going to get their dose of national pride.