A university town where you earn credit by playing games

Internet giant Tencent plans to build an ‘e-sports town’ complete with university to train the next generation of professional gamers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 8:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 11:09pm

Playing video games on your smartphone during lectures is undoubtedly frowned upon at most colleges.

But imagine a university where fine-tuning your League of Legends strategy or honing your dragon-battling skills in Honor of Kings is actually encouraged. In fact, it’s the reason you’re there and after lessons finish you can head off and enjoy a white-knuckle ride based around your favourite online games at a theme park just a short walk away.

Sound far-fetched? It could soon be a reality under plans by internet giant Tencent to build an ‘e-sports town’ in China dedicated entirely to competitive gaming.

The project would include a theme park, tournament venues and even a university to train the next generation of professional gamers.

The move by Tencent, the world’s largest video game company by revenue, comes amid a nationwide frenzy to get competitive gaming recognised as an official sport at the Olympic Games.

The planned ‘e-sports town’ will be located in Wuhu city in Eastern China’s Anhui province where Tencent has inked a framework agreement with the local government to create a string of online gaming offerings.

It is only natural for Tencent and other gaming companies to build e-sports towns since their core business is based on gaming
Kenneth Chang, China Universities E-sports League

These include the university and theme park, a cultural and creative park, an entrepreneurship community, a big data centre and other facilities that can support the development of online video gaming. It will also be the venue for several of Tencent’s flagship gaming tournaments, according to a post on the Wuhu government’s official website on Tuesday.

Shenzhen-headquartered Tencent didn’t elaborate on the plan nor the size of its investment when contacted by the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, saying the plan “is still in the early stages”.

It is the latest move by China’s internet giants to push online gaming towards mainstream recognition at home and globally.

In April, the sports arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group announced it had managed to get e-sports accepted as an official medal sport at the 2018 and 2022 Asian Games through a partnership with the Olympic Council of Asia. Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, views this as a stepping stone toward competitive gaming being recognised as an Olympic Games discipline.

“It is only natural for Tencent and other gaming companies to build e-sports towns since their core business is based on gaming,” said Kenneth Chang, deputy secretary of the organising committee of the China Universities E-sports League “But it doesn’t make sense to build an entire university for e-sports. There is no dedicated university for any other sports.”

Better known for its popular messaging service WeChat in China, Tencent has grown into one of the most valuable internet companies in the world, thanks to its strong footprint in video games.

The company cleared US$10 billion in gaming revenue last year. A report by analytics firm App Annie earlier this year said Tencent was the top earning mobile game publisher of 2016 globally, driven by the strong performance of titles including Honor of Kings, a role-playing game for smartphones. The Finnish games developer Supercell, which Tencent owns, ranked second.

Many parents in China worry about the impact of online gaming on their children’s lives and well-being. But the rise of e-sports and other forms of competitive gaming which sometimes offer cash rewards worth millions of US dollars, has made many young Chinese – and even their parents – believe there could be a promising career in playing games.

China’s General Administration of Sport recognised e-sports as the 99th sports discipline in 2003. It even set up a national e-sports team in 2013, in tune with the fact that the country’s sports gaming universe has become the world’s largest with 72 million enthusiasts.

“The development of e-sports in China will reap the benefits of changes in people’s consumption behaviour as more money will be spent for entertainment and recreational purposes,” said Robert Xiao Hong, the chief executive of Perfect World, an online gaming company in Beijing that operates the popular DOTA 2 battle arena video game in China.