What are they thinking? Esports is not a game for the Hong Kong Tourism Board to play

Sudden realisation that it’s too hot at Central harbourfront in summer shines a burning light on the whole organisation of the HK$35 million esports festival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 9:18am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 11:49am

The half-baked esports festival is beginning to unravel with the Hong Kong Tourism Board feeling the heat.

Initial concerns over the lack of participation of Hong Kong esports community, the format and also the participants have now given way to more serious concerns as to whether the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) knows what it’s doing – or if the event will even take place.

The HKTB announced last weekend that due to “unstable weather” in recent days, all ticket sales have been postponed and it is now seeking an indoor venue for the HK$35 million event that also includes a music festival.

Initially scheduled for the Central harbourfront, the event is the HKTB’s effort to capitalise on the surging popularity of esports to boast flagging tourism numbers.

It also doubles as one of the “mega events” Hong Kong is hosting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to mainland China.

With the Hong Kong government feeling the pressure to put on a good show for the anniversary, the HKTB put out an open tender for event organisers at the end of 2016.

How many companies submitted proposals is unclear, and the HKTB says consultations are still ongoing even now, with just a little over a month to go.

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After initial bids were received, it seems the tourism board determined that the proposals were not up to scratch and decided to organise the event itself.

At first glance, the event, now called the ICBC (Asia) Esports & Music Festival – doesn’t look bad.

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Described as “the world’s first-ever ‘Return of the Legends’ tournament”, it will see “20 former professional league players of the online video game ‘League of Legends’ (LoL) – including world champions from North America, Europe, mainland China, and Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau – compete for glory”.

However, on closer inspection, and with a little thought given to the audience the event is actually targeting, and the stated aims of the HKTB, this could turn into a mini Harbour Fest, the HK$100 million music festival that backfired in 2003.

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The decision to base the event around League of Legends and the premise of watching former professionals compete in a show match, coupled with the late announcement and the chosen dates for the event, all seem like obvious mistakes.

The event has understandably failed to garner much attention in the esports community, as there are already so many quality options available to League of Legends fans.

With the League of Legends professional league just ending, and the finals taking place in September in four cities in mainland China, the August 4-6 date is a very poor choice if the HKTB wants to draw tourists from neighbouring Asian countries.

And that is its stated aim – trying to attract younger visitors amid flagging arrival figures.

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Although League of Legends is the most popular esport in the world, and particularly so in Asia, hosting events for this game are notoriously difficult.

The game’s developer, Riot Games, imposes extremely tight restrictions on outside organisers, and the developer’s own leagues, invitationals and world finals are well-established and highly respected.

Clearly, the needs of League of Legends fans are already well served.

Other esport titles, such as Overwatch, have seen an explosion in popularity in the last year. Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), one of the most popular esports of all time, is seeing a resurgence in mainland China. And Dota 2 is as popular as ever with Asian esports enthusiasts.

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The developers of these games – Activision Blizzard and Valve – are far less hands-on than Riot Games, and the vast majority of events organised around these games have very little involvement or restrictions from their developers.

And, recent uncertainties in the Overwatch professional scene aside, organisers are free to host events without worrying about competing with owners of the intellectual property that the event is based around.

Although there are already many events in these spaces, a quality, well-funded production, with current professional scene participants would stand a high chance of success.

Although the HKTB has received approval from Riot Games to hold the “Return of the Legends”

tournament, Riot Games declined to answer any questions on the event activities, the organisers or its involvement, stating only that “it is not appropriate for them to comment on the event, and they wish the event organisers every success”.

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The HKTB’s announcement last weekend raises more questions than answers.

Heat and humidity seems a flimsy excuse to change venues at such a late date. Surely the logistics of accommodating 10,000 people in the height of summer have not only just occurred to the HKTB now?

Where will the HKTB find a venue to host so many people on one month’s notice?

For a city with the self-proclaimed title of ‘Asia’s World City’ – Hong Kong lacks modern, large venues. Of the few venues capable of hosting 10,000, how many of them are fit for purpose, if any?

As for the event itself, if it goes ahead, whether it will strengthen Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s event capital is looking doubtful.

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However, if the show does go ahead, it will be welcomed by Hong Kong’s esports fans. The HK$35 million allocated to the event dwarfs any esports events held in the city to date.

Derek Cheung, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Esports, the company which brought the League of Legends Masters Series to Hong Kong last year, says that event cost about HK$8 million.