Hong Kong’s own international e-sports team? It could happen soon

Local advocate for the burgeoning industry says government needs to recognise the pursuit as a real sport, as he plans tournament against nearby countries early next year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 November, 2017, 5:49pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 November, 2017, 10:56pm

Local gamers could represent Hong Kong against other international e-sports teams as early as January, according to the head of the body pushing the burgeoning industry in the city.

And the team could play at the 2022 Asian Games, where e-sports will be recognised as an official event.

Eric Yeung Chuen-sing, newly elected president of the E-sports Association Hong Kong, urged the government to recognise e-sports as a sport and subsidise gamers to enter international contests. The measures are key in enabling the “young people’s industry” of e-sports to take off in the city and keep up with a rising global trend, he said.

E-sports, or electronic sports, are multiplayer video game tournaments, in which contestants compete for hefty cash prizes. It has also grown into a popular spectator sport.

According to gaming industry research service Newzoo, revenue from the global e-sports market is forecast to jump 41 per cent year on year to US$696 million this year, with China the world’s second-largest market after the US, taking 15 per cent of the global industry.

About half of the world’s 385 million e-sports viewers are aged between 21 and 35, Newzoo said.

In July, Yeung and several partners, including Hong Kong Chinese Importers’ and Exporters’ Association vice-president Michael Hui Wah-kit, invested HK$5 million in launching an e-sports bar in Lai Chi Kok as a base for weekly tournaments for professional and amateur gamers, as well as for testing new games.

Yeung said e-sports would be more vibrant if the government encouraged the setting up of a local league, more venues, and a database of e-sports players.

“E-sports tournaments can become great events for our city ... The professional teams [abroad] have their own coaches, analysts and sponsorship executives,” he said.

Watch: Hong Kong’s first all-women e-sports team

Hui said that, while e-sports is a mature industry in the US, local businessmen were discouraged by high entry costs.

“Some American former gamers are now managers and commentators who own his or her own brand of merchandise such as caps and shoes ... but it’s really not easy in Hong Kong, especially when you need all this [gaming] and live statistics equipment to host an event,” he said.

Yeung said the use of computers, video screens, and high-quality streaming equipment means it can cost more than HK$200,000 to host a one-day tournament.

The e-sports bar he and Hui built, called Versus Stadium, has a gaming stage for five-a-side or one-on-one competitions of real-time strategy games.

Yeung said his next targets were helping to form a Hong Kong e-sports team for international matches, and making a database of e-sports players and venues.

“We have invited the Chinese national team, Taiwan and Macau for a tournament in January,” he said. “But currently, there are only tournaments between clubs, not between national teams ... We are studying how to form our national team and work that out [by then].”

New World plans to promote live watching of e-sports, with seven stadiums in China

Yeung said that would pave the way for taking part in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, where e-sports will be a recognised event for the first time.

In October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged to boost the development of innovation and technology to “create quality employment opportunities for our young people”.

Yeung said if the government truly cares about young people, it should acknowledge e-sports as a sport, so gamers can get the support they need, while the business sector can be confident that they are sponsoring a recognised sport and not just gaming.

Taiwan’s Taipei Times and United Daily News reported that the island’s Legislative Yuan on Tuesday voted to include e-sports as an official sports category supervised by Taiwan’s government and eligible for government subsidies.

“E-sports is really the young people’s industry,” Yeung said. “I hope the government will sponsor local gamers to join international competitions.”

In August, the city’s tourism board organised its first e-sports and music festival, which attracted 60,000 local and overseas gamers and K-pop fans to watch top-rated players from around the world pit their skills against each other.