Sun, Jul 21, 2019 - Page 11 News List

China pouring hopes into e-sports industry

Bloomberg Opinion

Forget medical school and engineering degrees. With a record 8.3 million university graduates this year, Beijing is urging its best and brightest to take up competitive video gaming.

E-sports professionals can make triple the national average salary, according to the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. As the economy slows, pouring resources into China’s night-shift GDP might just be wacky enough to work.

Municipal governments have taken the hint, luring gaming clubs with cash handouts and other perks. Hainan is setting up a 1 billion yuan (US$145.3 million) development fund and giving up to 10 million yuan in subsidies for international tournaments. Shanghai’s Yangpu District offers a 30 percent rental discount to businesses in the sector.

The push has made unlikely pairings of 60-year-old local bureaucrats and 30-something e-sports executives who have been forced to ditch their PowerPoint presentations for formal government memos.

Pan Jie, nicknamed “the Queen” among China’s professional gamers, has learned that Bohemian dresses and video game T-shirts do not go over well when officials visit the Hangzhou headquarters of her club, LGD-Gaming, one of China’s largest.

With government support, Pan’s dream of operating her own e-sports stadium is getting closer to fruition.

Still, you would be forgiven for doubting that layers of statist procedure can springboard competitive e-sports, particularly when China’s private enterprises are already struggling to get the funding they need.

Having scouted venues across China, Pan settled on a plot of land on the outskirts of Hangzhou, within a shantytown development zone in Xia Cheng District.

Beijing has been working to revive these areas since 2015, with the central bank flying in more than 3.5 trillion yuan of helicopter money to support such projects through pledged loans.

Xia Cheng is hoping that a new e-sports park — along with the tourism and tech jobs it can generate — will bring in more than 1 billion yuan, more than 10 percent of the 8.9 billion yuan in fiscal revenue it collected last year.

Judging from a publication by the district’s news office, officials seem to have outlined concrete policies rather than grand promises.

The local government was quick to act, tearing down old residential buildings to make space for construction, which would eventually house up to 1,000 start-ups.

To help LGD-Gaming move into the new center by its deadline of May next year, officials even called furniture shops late at night, demanding employees work overtime to meet the company’s needs. A handful of bureaucrats temporarily stationed at the park have been assigned as start-up liaisons.

Over the next five years, China’s competitive e-sports industry can absorb close to 2 million workers, the ministry said.

However, throwing cash at an idea is not enough. Bureaucrats will need to show that they can work effectively with what they once called the “lost souls” of the gig economy.

During a visit to LGD-Gaming, one official pooh-poohed a hipster barbecue joint inside the e-sports park: Grilling lamb chops on an open pit? How undignified, he had said. The business was shut within days.

“We were sad for a while, because their lamb tasted great,” Pan said.

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