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Shanghai shines to confirm status as global gaming leader

By HE QI | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-02 09:29
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A League of Legends character poses for a photograph with a fan in the build-up to the world championship. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

The League of Legends came alive in the streets of Shanghai throughout October to leave no one in doubt the LOL World Championship was in town.

Everywhere characters and elements from the hit title were visible-fake manhole covers displayed the event's logo every 100-200 meters along the pedestrianized Nanjing Road, while at the foot of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower a giant sculpture of the game's iconic elder dragon was erected.

Tickets for the final were in such hot demand that Guan Zeyuan, who commentated on the action over the weekend, told China Daily that he had to take evasive action after being inundated with requests from friends and contacts.

"There were too many people asking me for tickets, so I had to change my WeChat name to 'No Tickets'," said Guan.

Because of local coronavirus prevention measures, organizers had to limit the capacity at Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium, with just 6,312 of the 3.2 million-plus registered LOL players gaining admittance via a lottery process.

Nicolo Laurent, the CEO of LOL developer Riot Games, believes that this year Shanghai has realized its goal of becoming the global e-sports capital.

"We could not think of any better place to celebrate the 10th year of the League of Legends," said Laurent.

"Just look at the support we get for events and venues, the amount of investment and real-estate projects related to e-sports. This is pretty amazing what is happening here.

Fans roar on their heroes during Saturday's League of Legends World Championship final in Shanghai. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

"And as regards the infrastructure, such as the remote broadcast, and also the government support which is a big thing-sometimes elsewhere in the world it is difficult for governments to understand new sports or technology."

As the birthplace of China's League of Legends Pro League (LPL), Shanghai has devoted itself to becoming a center for the competition, and in 2017 the city officially declared its intention to become a global e-sports hub.

Now, over 80 percent of China's e-sports enterprises, including teams and live-broadcasting platforms, have chosen Shanghai has their base, while over 40 percent of the nation's e-sports events are staged in the city.

"Shanghai citizens suddenly find that the atmosphere of e-sports in the city is getting stronger and stronger in recent years. And the word e-sports is now common parlance," said Dai Yanmiao, associate professor at Shanghai University of Sport.

"We must affirm the driving force and cohesion of the e-sports sector. It has mushroomed from humble beginnings and is now an influential industry that is culturally and financially robust," Dai said.

Dai acknowledged that while e-sports can still be misunderstood or viewed with suspicion by nongamers, he reckons the generation gap is closing, citing the positive social and communication aspects young people derive from gaming.

He added, though, that more research was needed into the relationship between young children and e-sports.

"For young people, it is fine to embrace it, it is just a part of life. Watching the NBA, soccer and League of Legends should be a combination on a large plate, not the only one. It is simply a new option to add to traditional sports," said Dai.

Although Shanghai has become well-versed in staging big e-sports events over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic presented fresh challenges in staging this year's LOL worlds.

The city formulated measures to encourage the staging of online e-sports events. The safety-first policy made it possible for Saturday's final to take place on schedule and with a limited number of fans in attendance.

With the support of the government and related enterprises, the spring split of the League of Legends season was restarted online in March, becoming the first professional e-sports competition in China to resume after the outbreak.

"In such a challenging year, the top priority and most important thing is security," said Leo Lin, co-CEO of LOL World Championship organizer TJ Sports.

"From the first second when all our athletes and staff got off the plane, we provided point-to-point epidemic prevention protection. We have a very thick stack of epidemic prevention manuals and safety-standard guidelines behind us to guide our thousands of staff to complete all the work in such a challenging period."

Professor Dai echoed those sentiments and believes that Shanghai deserves huge credit for its successful staging of the worlds.

"It could be described as the only large-scale international sports tournament that has been held normally in the world so far this year," he said, "which is recognition for the strong foundation of the city's e-sports industry."

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