China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV received a massive viewership boost last week thanks to an unlikely saviour – a report on a group of teenage boys playing League of Legends, a popular computer game.
The report, a documentary entitled “The World of Sports,” focused on e-sports - competitive online gaming centered on teams of players banding against each other for sponsorship, monetary awards and fame.
Successful e-sports tournament winners have won over US$100,000 (HK$776,000) in prizes, and League of Legends, a multiplayer fantasy title featuring several players in an arena setting, is one of the most popular games played.
CCTV’s documentary focused largely on Royal Club, a Chinese League of Legends team founded in 2012.
Featuring a rotating squadron of players from the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Royal Club represented China in the League of Legends World Championship in October 2013.
The team performed well in the semi-finals but ultimately lost to South Korean team SK Telecom T1 K in the finals.
Nevertheless, Royal Club’s performance still garnered considerable acclaim and attention from both domestic Chinese audiences and international ones.
When CCTV aired “The World of Sports” on January 13, interest in the episode rose substantially over the following week, trending on social media networks like Sina Weibo.
According to search indexes from Baidu, China’s most commonly-used search engine, online searches for CCTV rose more than 42 times in frequency after the episode aired.
“This was not a case of games receiving a boost in interest from CCTV,” wrote Chinese gaming news portal 17173.com . “This was a case of CCTV receiving a boost in interest from games!”
In light of the episode’s success and the tremendous popularity of League of Legends and similar games in China, CCTV may devote further time to e-sports documentaries in the near future, 17173.com reported.
Video: Interview with Chinese pro gaming team Royal Club
Aside from its Chinese fanbase, League of Legends enjoys a massive international following. An estimated 32 million people watched online streams of the 2013 World Championship, according to reports from The Verge .
In July 2013, the United States government officially announced that foreign League of Legends players travelling to the US for tournaments were eligible for the P-1A visa – the same visa granted to professional athletes who must remain in a country for long periods in order to compete.