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Worlds 2020 Roundup
October 2020 was pretty much China Esports Month, due to the massive gravity of the 10th annual League of Legends World Championships (aka “Worlds 2020”) held in Shanghai from September 25 through October 31. As promised in Vol 3.32, I decided to push Worlds 2020 news into a standalone issue so that it would not overwhelm the other news. And so:
The AR-heavy Worlds 2020 Finals Opening Ceremony was the first live event at Shanghai’s new Pudong Football Stadium, home to SIPG F.C.
South Korea’s Damwon Gaming beat China’s Suning Gaming (SG) for the 2020 Summoner’s Cup, in front of a live crowd of 6,312, the first event at Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium and the biggest live event to be held in China after the pandemic began. Highlights:
Damwon Gaming takes the S10 crown in Shanghai. It was the first win for an LCK team (South Korea’s Pro LoL league) since 2017. The crowd was of course heavily in favor of the hometown team, but Damwon turned the crowd’s cold welcome into motivation, encouraging each other to turn the football stadium into a “Shanghai library.”
Despite the loss, SG left with plenty of respect from the hometown crowd, due to their impressive underdog run against top LPL and LCK teams that brought them to the finals. SG’s run was fantastic marketing for its owner, Chinese e-commerce giant Suning, just ahead of the 11.11 shopping holiday in China, which saw its e-commerce app downloads increase 179% on the day after the finals. SG even got its own televised Single’s Day event, courtesy of Huya (check out the video).
3.2M people entered a free lottery for the 6,300 plus League of Legends World Championship tickets. Per SportsMoney, “Due to the epidemic prevention and control, this is the strictest audience admission in history, requiring multiple checks and verification such as ID card and face recognition." (my translation). TEO previewed all of the procedures that made the live audience possible.
Keeping with tradition, the opening ceremony was a feast of high-tech production technology, including an AR concert by virtual K-Pop group K/DA with live dancers and Chinese pop star Lexie Liu, and a sudden appearance of a 10-story tall AR Galio stone colossus. Produced by Riot and TJ Sports with Shanghai Media Tech providing production facilities in venue.
The event gave Shanghai another opportunity to showcase its deep investment in esports. See: As a big event approaches, eSports flexes its muscles, and Shanghai shines to confirm status as global gaming leader.
Outside of China, viewership hit a peak viewership of 3.88M viewers on YouTube and Twitch, for the second highest peak viewership of any esports match in history. Meanwhile, Bilibili, as the finals’ exclusive licensee in China, reported peak live viewership of 300M. Not inconceivable given the size of the esports audience in China, multiple broadcast and streaming sublicensees (Huya’s stream counter showed more than 100M concurrent viewers at one point) and the lack of any other live competition to compete for viewers’ attention.
Play-Ins, Groups, and Playoffs
Worlds 2020 opened with the Play-Ins Stage Open, live from Shanghai Media Tech’s cloud production studio [SMT云创空间]. Each stage of the competition had its own open, but IMHO the first one most effectively demonstrated the groundbreaking XR production.
The competition stages ran from September 25 through October 25. One of the most anticipated matches was between SG and Jing Dong Gaming (JDG), which is owned by SG owner Suning’s e-commerce rival JD. Upon winning, Suning celebrated by issuing $15M USD/¥100M RMB in e-commerce vouchers. Other highlights included the first reverse sweep in Worlds history, executed by Top Esports (TES) against Fnatic, and the Cinderella story of Hong Kong-based PSG.Talon tearing through play-ins with 2 substitutes and becoming the most-watched team in Play-Ins (shortly thereafter, Talon Esports raised USD $2M in seed round funding).
Twenty-two qualifying teams from around the world arrived early for a 14-day quarantine, and competed within protocols similar to the NBA “bubble” without a live audience or fan meet and greets. To make up for the lack of fan experiences, TJ Sports set up more than 500 offline check-in locations around Shanghai, and launched a significant amount of online content to engage fans. Esports decorations were pervasive in certain parts of Shanghai.
The entire competition, from Play-Ins through Semis, was played in an “extended reality” (XR) studio that combined walls of LED screens and advanced networking and computing technology to create a 360-degree virtual world around the competing teams, the first instance of this technology in a live multicamera production. (The approach is similar to that used by Disney to produce The Mandalorian, using technology based on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.) The production was jointly produced by Riot and Possible Productions, with technology from Lux Machina, and local production from VSPN and SMT. Riot produced an excellent “Behind The Scenes” that you can see at this link, and Mediastorm 影视飓风 produced this excellent deep dive for the production tech nerds among us:
Record Number of New Partnerships
2020 Worlds acquired 15 global brands as sponsors, compared to 8 last year. Teams that made it to Worlds did very well, with JDG claiming the most sponsors with 15. While some team sponsors are long-standing, many hopped on just before or even during Worlds, with deals closing as teams advanced. Highlights include:
SG added 9 sponsors on its march to the finals, including Nvidia, Logitech, Huya, Skyworth, Yep Yipai, TUMI, and Alibaba’s Ele.me (which could be viewed as Alibaba backing one e-commerce competitor against another). Upon advancing to the finals, SG landed a new partnership with KFC, and for the final battle alone picked up a $1M USD sponsorship with Shanghai automaker Roewe 荣威.
TOP Esports attracts Beats Electronics jersey sponsorship. TES also signed non-endemic sponsors PUMA, yogurt brand An Mu Xi, and FAW-Audi.
LGD Gaming Partners With Hisense, Bixin, and DearBoyFriend. LGD also picked up sponsorships with ThundeRobot and ride-sharing service Didi Chuxing.
KFC, which sponsors both LPL and Worlds 2020, partnered with G2 for a promo where K1上校 [Colonel K1] interviews G2 star Rasmus Borregaard Winther [ID: Caps]
Nike airs first major e-sports ad in China ahead of League of Legends World Championship. The ad promoted the LPL and featured former RNG legend Jian “Uzi” Zihao and LPL host Duan “Candice” Yushuang. Nike is the exclusive official apparel and footwear partner of the LPL, and ahead of Worlds 2020 released an apparel series celebrating SG, JDG, LGD and TES, the 4 LPL teams that qualified for Worlds 2020, and several new sneakers including a beautiful new Air Jordan 1 High Zoom.
Mastercard Thanks Fans With Worlds 2020 Activations, Giveaways. LOL Esports has a multi-year global partnership with MasterCard, which was the presenting sponsor of the Worlds 2020 opening ceremony.
Mercedes-Benz signs global partnership with Riot Games ahead of Worlds 2020. Mercedes-Benz was the trophy sponsor, and its logo was featured in-game on banners throughout the Summoner’s Rift map.
For an excellent overview of how Riot activated brands like Oppo, Red Bull, Bose, Alienware, Secretlab, Mercedez-Benz, Mastercard, and State Farm during the broadcast, check out this article from TEO.
One Last Thought
What Riot and its partners have pulled off in the midst of a global pandemic is nothing short of incredible, but it is also a reflection of Shanghai’s dedication to “building the Global Esports Capital.”
Back in February, with China in complete lockdown due to COVID-19, despite widespread fear and uncertainty, the Shanghai municipal government held a press conference to affirm its support for the local esports industry, and to more specifically affirm its commitment to finding a way to hold Worlds. It was not clear how that was going to happen, especially when many around the world incorrectly considered COVID-19 a “China problem”, and the WHO had not even declared it a global pandemic. In June, despite the full blown global pandemic, Shanghai officials came out and once again declared that Worlds 2020 would be held on schedule. And they were right.
Worlds 2020 was always meant as an opportunity for Shanghai to shine, but it is remarkable how it played out, and will likely be considered a historic milestone in the global development of esports. Keep in mind that Worlds 2021 will return to China for the bigger multi-city tournament format that was originally planned!
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or question below if you have one!