A throne of games

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/9 18:38:39

Electronic gaming, already a national Chinese sport, now enters college as an official major

Last month the Ministry of Education released a new directive, allowing Chinese vocational colleges to open up 13 new majors in 2017. Electronic sports (e-sports) is one of these, falling under the categories of education and sports. But while gaming has become big business in China, will the new major become just another excuse for Chinese students to indulge themselves in their favorite pastime: playing computer games?

E-sports, as the new field is called, is a form of competitive sports facilitated by computers, particularly video games; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the system are mediated (refereed) by human-computer interfaces.

In 2011 the General Administration of Sport of China approved e-sports as the 78th official discipline for sports, essentially turning computer games into a national sport along with ping-pong, hurdling, swimming and other Chinese Olympiad favorites.

The Ministry of Education's recent announcement naturally went viral, with many young adult netizens commenting that if only they could have been born a couple years later they would have enrolled in this major.

Others, however, are coldly regarding it as little more than a distraction from "real learning" despite the fact that the gaming industry has become big business in China and abroad over the past decade.

Hunan Sports Vocational College was one of the first colleges to respond to the new directive. This past September, the college announced that it intends to set up an e-sports and management school, with its first class of 40 students to begin in 2017.

A girl dressed in a cosplay outfit of a popular gaming character plays a video game.

More than just games

Liu Jun, vice dean of the college's sports department who is also in charge of the new major, told the Global Times that their goal is to cultivate talents related to all segments on the industry chain of electronic sports, not just video games and gamers.

"We want to churn out all kinds of professionals in club management, data analysis, tactics design, sports brokering, coaching, judging and anchoring. E-sports players are just one of the many options," said Liu.

Compulsory lessons in law, computer science and the English language as well as specialized courses covering sports management, data analysis, tactics design and sports brokering will all be part of the curriculum so as to ensure that their graduates enter China's workforce with a broad range of talents, skills and interests.

Liu added that the college will also build a team of teaching professionals out of the college's current staff as well as external professionals straight out of professional teams and the sports market who can give lessons in these specialized courses.

"We encourage our teaching staff to engage in advanced studies in electronic companies to gain firsthand experience. At the same time we will also hire experienced professionals and technicians from the industry who will be trained into qualified teachers," said Liu.

Upon hearing the groundbreaking news about the establishment of an e-sports major, many professional gaming clubs immediately extended their invitations to the first batch of future undergraduates.

Big names like OMG, Snake Esports and Team WE have already signed exclusive recruitment agreements with Hunan Sports Vocational College, providing job opportunities for the first class of undergraduates following their completion of the program.

Bob (surname withheld), an agent representing Team WE, told the Global Times that his club will carefully inspect the program's students and consider recruiting the most outstanding ones after they graduate.

He explained that all professional gaming clubs have their own unique training systems for specific games such as League of Legends, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

"I think 'club mode' is more inclined to practice while 'college mode' is more inclined to theory," said Bob.

Bob explained that the players in Team WE, for example, are primarily currently composed of middle school and high school graduates while its management teams are mostly university graduates and some post-grads. Most of these employees, however, are not doing what they majored in.

"Many practitioners are quite young when they enter this industry, and most players in professional teams have never attended a vocational college or traditional university," Bob said.

The gaming industry has become big business in China and abroad over the past decade. Photos: CFP

Smashing stereotypes

Zhou Zhihong, Party secretary for Hunan Sports Vocational College, believes that the establishment of this unusual major will help fill in some blanks of this burgeoning industry while also reversing the embarrassing fact that most Chinese e-sports aficionados are uneducated.

Indeed, e-sports, and gaming in particular, has a notorious reputation among parents and teachers in China, who believe that video games turn children's minds into mush and have resulted in an entire generation of lazy and uninspired youth who would rather lounge around in smoky Net cafes all night long than study, get a real job or positively contribute to society.

Many Chinese parents of electronic addicted teenagers have even paid for expensive (around 5,500 yuan, $818.81, per month) electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) camps as a "cure" for their child's obsessive gaming habits.

Yang Yongxin was one such controversial Chinese clinical psychiatrist who advocated and practiced ECT and reportedly successfully treated over 3,000 children before the practice was officially banned by the Ministry of Health in 2009.

Yang claimed that electroconvulsive therapy "is only painful for those with Internet addiction."

However, over the past decade electronic gamers have become less stigmatized and singled out by Chinese society now that the country has witnessed just how viable and profitable the gaming and e-sports industry has become.

Certain jobs related to the industry have in recent years even become among the highest-paying jobs in the nation.

Who's laughing now?

Competition awards for gamers have also reached record highs. Annual global e-sports championship tournament The International now has the most and highest financial awards among all e-sports, with the 2016 prize pool set at $20 million.

This is third only to the World Cup (soccer) and the MLB (baseball) World Series, surpassing even long-established championships such as Wimbledon (tennis), Super Bowl (football) and NBA (basketball).

This year, Chinese e-sports squad Wings Gaming were crowned the new Dota 2 champions at The International 2016, claiming $9.1 million in cash prizes.

If their parents and teachers ever scoffed or laughed at them before for neglecting their studies and being glued to their computer screens, it's reasonable to presume those same adults are now eating humble pie.

According to statistics, the market scale of e-sports in China reached over 26.9 billion yuan in 2015, a rise of 18.9 percent compared with 2014.

Among them, the revenue from electronic competitions totaled 310 million yuan, the revenue from clubs and broadcasting platforms totaled 2 billion yuan and the revenue of electronic games as retail products hit 24.5 billion yuan. This figure is expected to rise continuously in the near future.

There have been many other notable improvements in this industry in China over the past decade, according to Bob, whose club was founded in 2005.

"The players, teams and competition organizers have become more and more professional. The form of the league made the industry more mature and normalized," Bob said.

"I think the establishment of this new major will have a positive influence on those who are not familiar with the industry, and I think as time goes by people will have a very positive opinion of it," Bob added.

Not a rehab center

Since the release of the news about the Ministry of Education's announcement, an unexpectedly high number of students and even their parents have expressed a desire to apply to Hunan Sports Vocational College, which Liu said surpassed his wildest anticipation.

Xiao Yuanyuan, a grade 12 student in Shanghai who loves video games, told the Global Times that while she would consider applying for the new major, she also expressed some concerns about the industry as a whole.

"For me, video games are more of an entertainment than a profession. Though society has become more tolerant toward the gaming industry, the outlook remains unknown," said Xiao.

For those who are willing to actually enroll in this avant-garde major, Liu suggested that parents and students alike first need a reality check about what is truly required of anyone who pursues an e-sports major and profession.

Lest anyone think competitive gaming is all about playing games and smoking cigarettes all day in their underwear, Liu clarified that his college will only enroll those with "a good command of mathematics and communication skills and also a pleasant appearance and disposition."

"People play video games to have fun, however e-sports is now an official Chinese sport with strict rules and well-organized mental and physical competitions between players. But it can also be helpful to the mental development and mind-body coordination of teenagers and facilitate team spirit," said Liu.

"We are not an Internet addiction rehabilitation center," Liu remarked.

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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