China’s new rules of the game for children under 18 undermine the country’s esports status

In the glassed-in conference rooms, members of the Shanghai Rogue Warriors e-sports team pound on their phones, exercising from 11 a.m. until late at night, sometimes breaking down to eat.

“I spend 15 of 24 hours a day playing video games,” says 19-year-old Zhang Kaifeng, who professionally plays Tencent’s online combat arena Arena of Valor, adding that long hours are needed to stay competitive.

China is the world’s largest esports market, with an estimated over 5,000 teams, but tough new government rules to curb gambling addiction will make a career like Zhang’s hard to emulate.

Having outraged many Chinese teens, the changes are challenging gaming companies to limit online gaming for children under 18 to three hours a week. Even before the changes, minors were limited to 1.5 hours on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends.

The best esports athletes are usually found in their teens and retire at the age of 20, and experts compare the intensity of their training to that of Olympic gymnasts and divers. One of the world’s most famous “League of Legends” Riot Games players, Wu Hanwei, also known as Xie, started playing at 14 and joined the club at 16.

“The new rules are almost killing young people’s chances of becoming professional esports players,” said Chen Jiang, assistant professor at the School of Electronics and Computer Science at Peking University.

By doing so, the rules are also undermining the big esports business in China, where tournaments are often held in billion-dollar stadiums and are streamed live to many others. According to the state agency People’s Daily, the number of Chinese esports fans is estimated at more than 400 million, while the domestic esports market was estimated at about 147 billion yuan (roughly Rs 1.66,820) last year, according to the Chinese consultancy iResearch.

Rogue Warriors, a 90-player club that trains in a three-story building that has dorms and a cafeteria, declined to comment on the expected impact of the new rules.

The head of another major Chinese club said the new rules would mean that many talented people would miss out on the opportunity to be discovered.

“The real best players are usually gifted and don’t necessarily have to play for hours before joining a club. Others may end up being very good, but they need a lot of practice to get there, ”said the executive, who declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The new rules are not in themselves laws that punish people, but place a burden on gaming companies, which will be forced to require logins with real names and national ID numbers. Experts point out that determined Chinese teens can still get around the rules if they have parental support and can use adult logins.

The Chinese authorities did not consider the impact of the new rules on the esports industry, but Peking University’s Chen said they have leeway to grant perks to some young esports players.

“The country can still introduce appropriate policies,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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