As China’s esports enthusiasts adapt to the government’s new gaming restrictions on minors, there are growing concerns over the impact of such limitations on professional competitions, where many of the participants start young.
Some of the country’s leading esports tournaments — including those related to “League of Legends,” “Honor of Kings,” “Game for Peace,” and “Identity V” — announced compliance with the new restrictions and a ban on underage gamers from competing. The decision came after Chinese authorities unveiled plans to limit playtime for underage gamers to three hours a week — an hour each on weekends and national holidays — starting Wednesday.
Many esports players start young in China, and industry insiders say the new rules are highly likely to make it impossible for gaming clubs to train underage players and prepare them for tournaments.
A “League of Legends” coach, going by the pseudonym Ye as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Sixth Tone that his team has trained an under-18 player for over a year, with plans to launch him at a high-level domestic tournament in 2022. But now, it’s almost certain that he won’t participate considering limited training time.
“Now the club’s investment (in the player) has almost gone to waste,” said the coach, who has about five years of experience.
Ye said around 27 gamers at the club are preparing for competitions, several of them under the age of 18. He added that the club spends over 2 million yuan annually — on training, living, and salary expenses — for a team of around 20 players and is still figuring out ways to rehire the underage players once they turn 18.
In recent years, China has become a key esports player. The country has about 500 million esports fans, with revenues from the esports sector – including competitions – likely to surpass 180 billion yuan ($28 billion) this year.
China now also has a national esports team, who made their debut at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, and is preparing for the first medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in the eastern city of Hangzhou. As an officially recognized profession, major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have also ramped up efforts to become the country’s esports hub.
However, as its popularity has grown, authorities have become increasingly wary of the online gaming sector — going as far as to label it “spiritual opium” for teenagers — and has tightened supervision, including implementing curfews and facial recognition to deter minors from excessive playtime.
However, the esports management committee of the China Culture Administration Association on Tuesday said it was important to “treat video games and esports differently.” The authority said the country can develop a healthy esports culture that can be valuable to individuals.
Professionals like Ye believe that while imposing time limitations on minors may hurt their team in the short term, it could have a positive influence in the long run. Esports teams, he said, can now train gamers who have at least finished secondary education and demonstrate a relatively mature mindset.
Recruiting older players could also help them secure a career path after they quit the esports industry, he said. With no academic foundation, young players who don’t make the cut mostly resort to becoming esports livestreamers or work as hired gamers to boost game levels for others.
“The esports industry has a morbid tendency to believe the younger the player, the better,” Ye said. “Becoming an esports athlete is a one-way road. Only about one in every 100 to 200 esports competitors makes it into the top-level domestic tournament. Once they fail … they are not able to do much other than esports.”