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Gaming graduates to new level

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-03 09:26
Li Jiyun, captain of Renmin University of China's e-sports team, competes in the University Cyber League. [Photo/China Daily]

Gaming may still be considered the enemy by many Chinese parents, but that doesn't mean university students-even those from the country's most prestigious institutes-are missing out on the e-sports boom.

On Sunday, the final of the 2018 University Cyber League's North Division wrapped up in Beijing, where eight universities, including top schools like Tsinghua University, Peking University and Renmin University of China, fought it out in five different battlefields such as soccer game FIFA online3, first-person shooter Cross Fire and multiplayer online battle arena hit League of Legends.

The East, West and Central South Division finals will kick off before the end of this month, with the winners qualifying for a national championship.

As the only e-sports tournament approved by the Federation of University Sports of China, the inaugural 2018 UCL, co-organized by Tencent Sports, is so far the biggest of its kind, boasting the most teams and the nation's top university players.

Tencent describes the UCL as "a sports and entertainment extravaganza" and one which can facilitate the healthy and sustainable development of e-sports in China.

"University plays a vital role in facilitating the standardization and industrialization of a healthy e-sports industry in China," said Ewell Zhao, general manager of Tencent Sports.

"Through tournament operation and promotion, Tencent will ensure UCL is a professional university-level e-sports tournament, which will help facilitate e-sports' development in China."

The birth of the UCL is just another example of China's booming e-sports industry.

According to the 2017 China Game Industry Report published by Penguin Intelligence last June, the market value of China's e-sports sector reached 20 billion yuan (about $3 billion), generated by gamers' spending, copyright distribution, merchandizing and e-commerce.

The number of registered online gamers jumped to from 170 million in 2016 to 220 million in 2017-24 percent of those were from universities, which equates to about 53 million students.

However, while Chinese professional leagues like King Pro League (KPL) are driving the development of pro gaming clubs and coaches, the university e-sports remains in its infancy.

"We started the e-sports society of our university three years ago, and it was organized by students with no help from teachers or the school," said Li Jiyun, captain of Renmin University of China's team that was crowned League of Legends divisional champion on Sunday.

"In order to balance school work and training, we can only train after class from about 6-10 pm."

That's a considerably more structured regime than Peking University's freshmen-only team has managed.

"Initially, as the freshmen, we just used games like King of Glory as a way to get to know each other and we just got it started in 2017," said Peking's captain, Ge Jiadi.

"In the very beginning, there was just several of us, and now there are over a hundred. We assembled the team by ourselves."

Growing recognition

The newly born UCL is yet more evidence of e-sports' growing recognition, with many believing it is only a matter of time before it becomes an Olympic sport.

The younger generation certainly needs no convincing.

Li from Renmin University believes that e-sports is just like any other sport, requiring teamwork and speedy reactions, while Ge from Peking University hopes that e-sports can shake its stereotypes and become more accepted by the mainstream.

It appears he may get his wish.

The Olympic Council of Asia confirmed that e-sports will be part of the 2018 and 2022 Asian Games, while the International Olympic Council has said that e-sports "could be considered a sporting activity".

Many of China's top athletes, such as Olympic sprinter Su Bingtian and table tennis megastar Zhang Jike, have expressed their support for e-sports, even showing off their own gaming skills in last year's King Pro League fall season final.

Asian E-sports Federation president and Chinese billionaire Kenneth Fok Kaikong is also a supporter.

"Just like athletes in traditional sports, e-sports players also need to have excellent speed of reaction," Fok told China Youth Daily.

"Only after years of training, can the player take part in high-level competitions, and some players face retirement at 25 years old."

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