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Daily Drip

Beijing Pours Money into Burgeoning Esports Industry, While Ensuring the Next Generation Will Suck at Games

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Beijing’s Haidian district is offering 10 million RMB in subsidies to anyone who wants to build an esports arena. At a recent seminar of government and business leaders in Zhongguancun, the tech hub in Beijing’s northwestern Haidian district, the subsidy scheme was unveiled as a way to boost China’s digital culture industries and make use of abandoned factory spaces.

Ironically, the news comes as Chinese regulators are cracking down on the country’s gaming industry. Last Tuesday, China’s National Press and Publication Administration announced new rules intended to limit how much time and money children spend on games.

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It’s not the first time the government has intervened in the industry, which earns over 231 billion RMB (about 33 billion USD) per year. In fact, game developers like Tencent are still recovering from 2018’s nine-month gaming freeze, in which a slew of major games were denied the green light for release as regulators created an Online Games Ethics Committee, overhauling the process of review for new titles.

But the new measures seem to cut deeper, targeting not just specific content that companies can tweak, but the very act of gaming for young people (which some say has become an epidemic of addiction, yielding negative consequences from academic underperformance to diminishing eyesight). 

Some of the new rules include:

  • Minors under the age of 18 cannot play longer than 90 minutes per day on weekdays.
  • On weekends and holidays, minors are allotted three hours of total play time.
  • Gaming for minors is limited to the hours of 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
  • Monthly spending for minors on games is capped at 400RMB (57USD).
  • Spending for players under 15 is capped at 200RMB (28.5USD).
  • Players under eight years old cannot spend money on games.

The new restrictions are a blow for Tencent, the world’s leading game developer and a pioneer of the “freemium” business model, allowing gamers to play for free, but generating revenue through in-game purchases which allow users to customize their costumes and weapons.

Past government crackdowns have subjected gaming companies to scrutiny over violence and content deemed out of line with the government’s socialist values (PUBG Mobile was famously sanitized into a bloodless shooter called Game for Peace). These measures, though onerous, allowed gaming companies to censor their titles and eventually gain approval. The government’s new controls, however, limit users directly.

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Under the new system of restrictions, kids are required to use real names and identification credentials when logging in to play. Even if some young players use a parent’s ID or find another work-around, the restrictions seem likely to curb online gameplay among children.

Chinese esports teams have shown huge promise — just last weekend, the League of Legends world championship cup was won by a Chinese team for the second year in a row — and the government seems keen to expand the industry at home. But amidst increasing regulations, will tomorrow’s championship stadiums be filled with overseas players?

Zach Hollo
    J. Zach Hollo is a RADII contributor currently based in Guangzhou. He recently competed a master's degree in international affairs at National Chengchi University in Taipei, where he studied as a Fulbright scholar. Before that, he taught English in China's Hunan and Henan provinces. As an undergraduate, he attended Northwestern University's campus in Doha, Qatar, where he majored in journalism.