Don’t underestimate potential of e-sports

Many would argue that playing video games is neither a sport nor a profession, but even a cursory look at the data suggests otherwise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 1:11am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 1:11am

The idea that the government put HK$35 million into this week’s festival for video game and K-pop enthusiasts has been met with a mixed reaction. Gamers and those in the fast-growing e-sports industry are encouraged and hope it will lead to greater support. But there are also people who perceive electronic games as being a waste of time that get in the way of education and a healthy lifestyle. Those with the latter views are right to worry about children who are addicted or do not get enough exercise, but in being dismissive, they are closing their minds to the opportunities.

About 50,000 people are expected at the three-day event starting today at the Hong Kong Coliseum that includes an e-sports tournament. But such numbers do not reflect the prevalence of video games or the potential benefits for our city. The professional gamers who will take part give a hint, as did the announcement by the Olympic Council of Asia in April that competitive video game playing would be included in the official sporting programme of the Asian Games in Hangzhou in 2022.

Does Hong Kong need an e-sports league to bring industry and players to new heights?

Some people reject the idea that competitively playing games like Counter-Strike, Dota 2 and League of Legends can be considered a sport. But the gaming industry, corporate world, sports media and spectators long ago decided otherwise; China made the decision in 2003. There are thousands of professional players globally who compete in tournaments that pack arenas with tens of thousands of people with tens of millions more watching online or on television. Prize money can be in the millions of US dollars. Tournaments are especially popular on the mainland, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States. The global e-sports industry generated US$493 million in revenue in 2016 with an audience of 320 million and is expected to bring in US$696 million this year.

While there are many leisure game-players in Hong Kong, professionalism is still in its infancy. Yet, opportunities abound with the industry contending major revenue can be generated for the local economy from advertising, media broadcasting rights, sponsorship, merchandising, ticketing and equipment manufacturing. A professional league could create jobs and help the careers of talented players. Officials see benefits for the tourism industry.

The skills, stamina and long hours of practice required of professional gamers mean that like athletes, they have to have healthy bodies and minds. That also means those aged between 18 and 25 do best; such short careers require backup plans, so school has to go before full-time gaming. But the e-sports industry has many facets and with so much potential, the government, entrepreneurs, parents and school-leavers should be open to the possibilities.