There’s no denying that China has become a dominant world power when it comes to sports like diving, swimming, and ping pong. Now, the country is looking to achieve dominance in another arena that is no less lucrative: competitive video games.
Often referred to as “E-sports”, competitive video gaming is a burgeoning market in which competitors can earn enormous prizes worth up to $3 million. Broadcast internationally and flanked by big name sponsors, some players in the nascent sport have been able to make a living by playing games like Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and League of Legends.
And while Chinese players have achieved a lot of success on their own, the country looks to make a bigger impact on the world stage by allowing e-sports to be taught in its schools.
Last month, e-sports was named by China’s Ministry of Education as one of the 13 new majors that can be taught at its colleges. Before that, competitive video gaming has previously been approved as the country’s 78th official discipline for sports by the General Administration of Sport of China in 2011, thereby elevating it to the same status as ping pong and swimming.
And now, the first e-sports class is set to be taught next year. The Hunan Sports Vocational College will offer an e-sports class for 40 students in the fall of 2017.
As vice dean of the college’s sports department Liu Jun puts it, the course won’t just be fun and games, but about taking fun and games seriously.
“We want to churn out all kinds of professionals in club management, data analysis, tactics design, sports brokering, coaching, judging and anchoring. E-sports players are just one of the many options,” said Liu.
Students interested in majoring in competitive video gaming will be enrolled in compulsory lessons for law, computer science and English lessons as well as specialized courses covering sports management, data analysis, tactics design and sports brokering.
It’s a far cry from the stigma that video games like League of Legends have been saddled with in China. Born in smoky internet bars where patrons are known to frequent at all times of the day, video games have been given a poor reputation by society who blame it for anti-social behavior and poor academic performance.
The backlash against video games is so severe that some parents have forcibly enrolled their children at “internet addiction camps” as a way to get them to stop playing online video games. Just last month, notorious anti-internet addiction crusader Yang Yongxin resurfaced in the news with fresh allegations that he is again using electric shocks to treat patients despite getting banned from doing so in 2009.
With the public having such a low opinion of playing video games, there’s a simple reason why the government of China has decided to support the development of what was once considered the “scourge of society”: money.
In it’s report, the Global Times reports that a new leaf has been turned ever since “the country has witnessed just how viable and profitable the gaming and e-sports industry has become”. And as important as many Chinese consider education to be an important part of their children’s lives, the Global Times writes that the monetary success of e-sports is making society change its mind:
If their parents and teachers ever scoffed or laughed at them before for neglecting their studies and being glued to their computer screens, it’s reasonable to presume those same adults are now eating humble pie.
The estimated market value of e-sports in China reached over 26.9 billion yuan in 2015, 19 percent higher than the year before.
In addition to filling out tertiary roles in this field, Party secretary for Hunan Sports Vocational College Zhou Zhihong thinks that providing an e-sports course at a Chinese school can provide video gamers with an education, something Zhou admits many are lacking.
Going to school and getting an education in what you love to do may sound like an ideal situation, but prospective students first need to meet the standards of the college. As Liu said, the college will only accept applicants with “a good command of mathematics and communication skills and also a pleasant appearance and disposition.”
But even as China plans for the future of e-sports, it hasn’t done very well in the present. E-sports competitions previously hosted in China have had a checkered past.
This past March, the DoTA 2 video game competition held at the Shanghai Major Playoffs were soundly criticized by the international community for everything from corruption to incompetence. The criticisms got so bad that Valve CEO Gabe Newell had to step in with a public scolding of the Chinese hosts.
In July of last year, Chinese streaming site ImbaTV hosted an all-women competition for the Hearthstone video game that drew criticism for forcing its female competitors to dress up in white robes and high heels (shown above). The Daily Dot described it as “someone’s dollhouse fantasy” while Forbes said it was ” a Clickhole-level parody of what a women’s eSports tournament might look like.”
We’re not sure what the future holds, but as dominant as Chinese e-sports players may become, we can probably guess what they will be wearing.