Cyberport’s plan to make Hong Kong an e-sports hub: if you build it, they will come

The government-owned tech incubator will spend HK$50 million to create venues for large-scale video game tournaments, to take a bigger bite of the billion-dollar industry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 10:40pm

Hong Kong has set aside HK$50 million to create spaces for video game competitions as the city pushes a plan to become a regional hub for the billion-dollar e-sports industry.

Cyberport, a technology start-up incubator managed by a government-owned company, will spend the money – half of the HK$100 million (US$12.76 million) earmarked for the sector in the 2018-2019 budget – on e-sports venue innovation, according to Eric Yeung Chuen-sing, president of the E-sports Association Hong Kong who was briefed on the plan with other industry representatives last week.

Maria Lam, Cyberport’s chief corporate development officer, said the 4,000 sq ft venue, located in the atrium of the 1 million sq ft technology park, will break ground later this year. Besides a competition venue, an area will also be set up for non-gamers to experience e-sports, Lam added.

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Terence Leung Tak-ming, manager of Cyberport Youth, said the venue could also host international tournaments as well as local contests, which will help Hong Kong boost its credentials as a regional gaming hub.

“E-sports in Hong Kong is lagging behind Taiwan, South Korea and mainland China,” Marbles So, project manager of Kowloon EStadium, an entertainment company that runs e-sports venues and teams, said. “A specialised stadium is key when negotiating with game publishers to host live competitions.”

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Similar to cities bidding to host the Olympics, arenas need to apply for hosting rights from game distributors and creators such as Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends.

The growing popularity of the sport has seen championships held in increasingly large stadiums. Last year, the finals of the League of Legends World Championships – the equivalent of Fifa Word Cup in e-sports – took place inside the Beijing National Stadium, which was built for the 2008 Olympics and holds up to 80,000 people.

Yeung agreed that larger and better venues were crucial to making the industry grow in the city. “We believe the core of e-sports is competition itself and we should have resources to support our local e-sports tournament.”

Yes Media, a pan-Asian sports media company, is launching a multifunctional e-sports facility at Cyberport this autumn, according to the firm’s chairman and chief executive Thomas Kressner. The 30,000 sq ft area will be used for training and competition, as well as television broadcasting and online streaming.

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“We aim to bring e-sports content to TV, just like other traditional sports,” Kressner said.

Yes Media’s ASN channel holds content rights to international sports leagues such as America’s National Football League and National Hockey League on a pan-Asia basis.

“It’s no longer just some teenagers hiding in their bedrooms,” Dennis Lau, co-founder of Forger E-Sports, said. “The strong teams in Hong Kong are all backed by big corporations or venture capital.”

Lau’s company operates Hong Kong E-sports Gymnasium, a venue that can host 10 players and as many as 200 spectators, and has its own gaming team.

“It’s important to fund the whole system, including training talent, hosting contests and broadcasting – not just the venues,” Lau said.

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To boost the industry’s profile in the city, Lau said the government should include e-sports in the Hong Kong Games, an Olympics-style event held every two years in which athletes from the city’s 18 districts compete for medals. The Hong Kong Games will take place next year.

“That will be more effective than spending HK$35 million on a music festival with some e-sports elements,” Lau said, referring to last year’s Hong Kong Esports Festival. The three-day event was organised by the city’s tourism board and drew thousands of fans.

Cyberport has not decided what to do with the rest of the HK$50 million in government money designated for e-sports. The incubator said it would keep listening to recommendations from the industry.

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The global e-sports economy is expected to grow 38 per cent this year to HK$7.05 billion, and sustain similar growth in the foreseeable future, according to a report from global e-sports research firm Newzoo. Southeast Asia is expected to be the fastest-growing market.

“As more e-sports venues, teams and companies emerge, Hong Kong now has more potential to develop the sector. And we will continue to support that,” Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, secretary for innovation and technology, wrote in a post on his department’s website last week.