Most teachers would not be impressed to discover a student playing video games in their class, but at a school in eastern China, it is mandatory, part of a drive to train e-sports champions and tap into the booming industry.
“Dammit, I’m dead!” exclaims one student at the Lanxiang Technical School (藍翔技師學院) in Shandong Province’s Jinan as dozens of his classmates who are still in the game continue to furiously bash their keyboards.
Once associated with teenagers stuck in their bedrooms, e-sports — where players square off in lucrative video game tournaments — are growing rapidly.
Chinese Internet research company iResearch estimates that 260 million people are already playing e-sports games or watching competitions in the country, with the biggest bouts playing out to thousands of spectators in stadiums and many more online.
The growth shows no signs of slowing.
Market research firm Newzoo estimates that the e-sports industry will be worth US$906 million in global revenue in 2018, a 38.2 percent increase from last year. China alone will account for 18 percent.
Gaming has become a team sport at 910 universities across the Asian country, but there is also an increase in educational establishments, such as Lanxiang Technical, actively teaching the skills needed for e-sports success.
About 50 students signed up for its inaugural e-sports course, which launched in September last year.
“At first, many parents thought it was just about playing video games,” school director Rong Lanxiang (榮蘭祥) said. “In fact, that’s not the case, e-sports is developing to a very high degree and it’s become an economic growth driver.”
At the school in Jinan, students focus on improving their skills in some of the most popular e-sports games. League of Legends, one of the world’s most played games, is a strategy driven bout where players fight each other in a digital arena. First-person shooters like Overwatch, Counter-Strike and the hugely popular newcomer PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, are also key parts of this unusual syllabus.
“This was a hobby for me. I was really into playing video games — and it’s a new industry. I think there are good prospects in it,” said Teng Xin, who claimed to rack up at least 20 hours of game time per week.
At 22, the student fears he might be too old to be a professional e-sports player, but feels he could be a coach.
His e-sports course lasts a full three years. During the first year, the classes are 50 percent gaming and 50 percent theory lessons on succeeding within the industry. After the first year, the students are divided up. The best gamers focus on becoming professional players, while the others are taught accompanying skills such as event organization, promotion and coaching.
Song Jinze, a shy 16-year-old, said he wants to become a presenter.
Big tournaments attract huge online audiences and, just like any boxing or football match, a good presenter is a key part of the experience.
It’s not a career path that his parents were happy with but he was able to persuade them of his prospects.
“When I showed how much I love this and that I would persist with it, my dad agreed to let me come here to learn,” he said.
The annual school tuition fees are about 13,000 yuan (US$2,051), a fairly reasonable price for tuition in China. The most talented players who become part of the school team are exempt from paying.
Lanxiang Technical has its sights set on tutoring up to 1,000 e-sports students.
It is all a far cry from the situation less than a decade ago when the government was so concerned about young adults spending excessive time on the Internet that it listed Web addiction as a clinical disorder and drafted legislation to limit online time.
Today, China is a key e-sports market. More than 40,000 fans in November last year flocked to Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium to watch the final of the world championships for League of Legends.
E-sports are to be included as a medal sport for the first time at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and proponents are pushing for Olympic status.
The e-sports industry already employs some 50,000 people in China, according to local data firm CNG, but they estimate that the demand is there to employ an additional 260,000 across the country.
Alongside Lanxiang Technical, at least two other universities have opened up e-sports courses. The UK’s Staffordshire University plans to launch a three-year course in September. Universities in Finland and Moscow already offer such courses, while there is an e-sports Academy in Nantes, France.
“In the future, e-sports will be present in every family and it’ll be more popular than basketball and football,” Teng Xin said. “To practice traditional sports, you have to go outside and have space, but you just need a computer to practice e-sports at home.”
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