Asian Games 2018: China’s League of Legends MVP was a childhood gaming addict, scolded by his parents
Jian’s 3 million Weibo followers surpass the numbers for some of his fellow Chinese gold medallists at the Asian Games, including Su Bingtian, Asia's 100 metres record holder
China defeated South Korea in the finals for League of Legends in the Asian Games on Wednesday, wrapping up their e-sports showdown in Jakarta with two golds and one silver. With a score of 3-1, Team China secured the victory over South Korea largely through their 21-year-old captain Jian Zihao, a self-confessed gaming addict turned all-star player.
Better known by his in-game ID Uzi, Jian is one of the world’s best LoL gamers, and currently plays for Chinese e-sports club Royal Never Give Up. Jian, along with five other top LoL gamers, was selected to represent China in this year’s Asian Games, the first ever to feature e-sports as a demonstration sport.
League of Legends, an online PC title where multiple players battle it out against enemies to try and destroy their defence towers, is one of the world’s most-watched video games.
After leading China’s victory, Jian shared a photo of himself wearing the gold medal on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, garnering more than 260,000 likes in less than 24 hours as well as comments dubbing him “China’s pride”. His 3 million Weibo followers surpass the numbers for some of his fellow Chinese gold medallists at the Asian Games, including Su Bingtian, Asia's 100 metres record holder.
Jian did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent by the South China Morning Post to his Weibo account.
Jian’s journey to become mainstream has been a long one though, much like the development of e-sports itself in China. During a recent interview with the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV Jian recounted that as a school kid he routinely skipped class to play video games to the point that his parents had to hunt him down in cybercafes.
“My parents had huge problems with that,” he said. “They would scold me once they caught me.”
E-sports in China generated more than 90 billion yuan (US$13 billion) in revenue in 2017, a 70 per cent jump from the previous year riding on a boom in live-streaming, according to data provider Analysys. In 2003, China recognised e-sports for the first time as an official sports overseen by its sports authority. Last year, Shanghai’s city government revealed a series of measures to boost the local cultural industry, including the goal of turning itself into the world’s “e-sports capital”.
The 2022 Asian Games will be held in Hangzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, where e-sports will be included as an official event.
Amid these government initiatives, China’s biggest tech players have placed their bets on competitive video gaming by either launching their own e-sports teams – such as gaming and animation platform operator Bilibili and e-commerce giant JD.com – or organising tournaments, such as Tencent and Alibaba, the parent company of the Post.
Still, the Chinese government retains a sceptical stance on video gaming, which has been described by leading state newspapers as “electronic heroin” and “poison” due to concerns over child addiction and content deemed inappropriate. Authorities have kept gaming publishers on a tight leash by pre-screening new games before officially licensing them for sale – and even this process has been frozen for months this year amid a government shake-up of regulators and personnel.
Despite having the exclusive rights for China to broadcast the Asian Games, China’s state TV station didn’t distribute any airtime for the e-sports sessions, forcing Chinese e-sports fans to turn to Twitch, a US-based live-steaming platform, to watch Jian and his teammates’ historic victory.
A commentary published on the website of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece in China, thanked the Chinese e-sports team for their performance at the Asian Games, but noted that e-sports still has a long way to go before it can become an official sporting event, a process that will “require more standardised management and time.”