News Roundup: December 14, 2020 - Trouble for Huya+Douyu, Uzi Bodywash, and other news
Vol 3.38 | Dec 14, 2020
Hello Esports Enthusiasts!
I was not expecting such varied and interesting news in China’s esports scene this week. This issue is a bit longer than the usual 5 minute read, but much of it exemplifies what I think makes the esports industry in China fascinating. Let’s get to it!
As always, feel free to:
Leagues & Tournaments
League of Legends
The 2020 LPL All-Star Event was postponed after a new COVID-19 infection was discovered in Chengdu, where the event had been scheduled to run from December 10–12. The LPL still plans to host the event, “under conditions of guaranteeing the health and safety of all participants”. TEO suggests that the upcoming KPL (Honor of Kings) Fall Split Final in Chongqing could be affected, given the two cities’ proximity. At least the LPL has left us with a catchy bop to enjoy, performed by LPL All-Stars Jackeylove, Baolan, Doinb, SwordArt, and LvMao:
The Crossfire CFS 2020 World Final was held in Seoul, South Korea, at VSPN's V.SPACE arena, hosted by Smilegate and Tencent. The “international” crossfire tournament was a 6-team, 4-day affair, with 2 teams from each of China, Brazil, and Russia competing for a $820K USD prize pool. Only the Chinese teams made it to the final, where Qingjiu Club (Q9) triumphed over 2019 CFS champion Vici Gaming (VG).
The CFS 2020 World Final was followed by the inaugural Crossfire HD (CFHD) Champion's Cup Finals, in which Kaixin beat EDG 3-0, both Chinese teams.
The 2020 CFML Champions Cup, hosted by Tencent and VSPN, also came to an end with Reciprocity.LGD beating Super Valiant (SV). The CFML is the mobile game companion league to the Crossfire Pro League (CFPL), in which all of the franchised teams field parallel CFPL and CFML squads.
Two competing Dota2 events kicked off in China this weekend: the 2020 Huya Dota2 Winter Invitational, hosted by Huya, the China Dota2 Professional Association (CDA), and Fuming Wenhe, and Perfect World Dota2 league Season 3, hosted by Perfect World, Dota2’s publisher in China. The CDA includes all of the top teams, and only 2 teams decided to participate in both events, so it appears that the official publisher ended up hosting the second tier event. Awkward!
Team Queso of Spain won the 2020 Clash Royale League World Finals in Shanghai, competing remotely in the final round against China’s SK Gaming. While there was a top arena in Shanghai for the competition, only two of the teams competed there, while the other 6 competed online in a mixed remote/live production.
The 2020 QQ Speed Mobile Asia Cup commenced, hosted by Tencent and VSPN, with 24 drivers from China, HK, Macau, Taiwan and Thailand. The finals will take place Dec 27 in Guangzhou.
A short history: In early 2019, Auto Chess [多多自走起] emerged from a Dota2 mod by Drodo Studio and became an overnight hit in China, spreading globally and giving rise to a new esports “auto battler” category, not to mention many successful clones due to the loose IP grounding of the original game. Auto Chess was originally supported by Tencent, but Tencent dissolved the partnership after launching its own auto-battlers as mini-games under existing League of Legends and Honor of Kings IP. Inconsistent developer support further plagued the original game’s fortunes. Now, Auto Chess is set to be removed from Tencent's Wegame platform, and while it has devised a method of migrating player data, the game may very well fade into obscurity. A wild ride for what was once the "next big thing" in esports, and a sobering reminder of the volatility of titles.
The 2020 Shanghai Esports Masters (ESM) concluded with strong total viewership of 40M and peak viewership of 2.2M. Bilibili hosted the multi-title event and is hoping to develop ESM as Shanghai’s annual capstone year-end esports event. Some industry press expressed hopes that its success would lead to more third-party events, with Esports World lamenting an increasingly oligopolized ecosystem in which “many electronic competitions are actually just appendages of game products” for marketing by the publisher (a not very veiled reference to Tencent), and third party events are risky because of the uneven quality of production.
The 2020 Winter Netease Esports X Tournaments a/k/a NeXT, is underway, with 23 titles including popular titles Westward Journey [梦幻西游], Onmyoji [阴阳师], and Identity V [第五人格], as well as core esports titles from Blizzard, including StarCraft II, Hearthstone, and Overwatch.
The town of Zhongxian will host the fourth annual “China Mobile Esports League” (CMEL) finals on December 30, fully online, in partnership with Datang Networks and Qingdao-based Tiantian Esports. Located near Chongqing, Zhongxian is one of the original "esports towns" and has managed to hold on to a major recurring competition despite the shift in esports investment to major cities.
Forbes came out with its annual estimate of the world’s most valuable esports companies, which evoked some controversy in the industry, including in China where it was noticed that none of the teams listed were from China, despite China’s advanced esports ecosystem and standing as the largest esports market by users and revenue. Of course the answer may be as simple as regional purchasing power and cost differential and the lack of transparency of Chinese organizations to Forbes reporters. However, one commentator suggested that the difference was due to high franchise fees as a major cost item in the top Chinese leagues (China’s pro leagues for LoL, Honor of Kings, Crossfire, and Peacekeeper Elite are require franchise fees) and low prize money relative to franchise fees, in addition to a limited selection of titles to compete in internationally due to censorship and regulation (such as the former console ban), which hinders clubs from diversifying title risk and competing on bigger international stages.
Cheating scandals are all too common in esports this year, but this one is different: SG’s Tang Huan-Feng [ID: huanfeng] was sidelined from the LPL All-Star Event after his hometown girlfriend caught him being less than faithful during Worlds 2020, and took it to Weibo where it went viral. I’m sure he appreciates the extra time back home to make amends.
City's Young Professionals Meet Legislators. As part of the Shanghai Esports Masters, young esports professionals met publicly with local officials to advocate “better policies in social security insurance for freelancers, relaxed talent policies for professionals from out of town as well as more career consultation and training options.” One area of concern identified was the uncertain career path for young people who leave the academic track for pro esports careers and generally retire in their 20s.
Illegal Chinese esports betting sites creep into Korea, affecting pro players in their solo queue climb. According to Inven Global, heavy gambling on Chinese and Korean pro players’ solo queue incentivizes cheaters to throw games. One Chinese industry commentator was a bit indignant, suggesting that Riot and the South Korean media are looking to LPL to clean up the issue, and notes that Chinese esports players have migrated to South Korean servers for years due to its superiority as a training ground for budding pros, in the process posing as South Korean players. 点进世界 has some good background on this issue and esports betting in China, but its concluding proposal to curb illegal esports betting in China seems impractical.
With the national vocational skill standards for “Esports Professionals” [电子竞技员] and “Esports Operators” [电子竞技运营师] soon to be released (see last week’s newsletter), the China Cultural Management Association (CCMA) [中国文化管理协] Esports Management Committee Chairman Wang Guoji previewed the new ranking system for Esports Professionals, which are “personnel engaged in different types of esports competitions”, such as players and coaches. At the bottom of the 5-level scale are “junior”, “intermediate”, and “senior” ranks classified by the number and type of skills mastered. The highest ranks are “technician” and “master technician”, focused on analysis, commentary, strategy, and management. It will be very interesting to see how the ranking system is applied to current esports athletes, coaches, and hosts.
The national vocational standards are related to a professionalization process set in motion in early 2019 after China identified the need to train 2 million people for jobs in esports. This projected labor gap, recently raised to 3.5M, was called into question by 电竞世界, observing that recent graduates of esports major programs appear to have difficulty finding placements. The gist of the article is that China's esports market is already oversaturated with players, team operations staff, and streaming hosts, and what the industry actually needs to advance are high-quality leaders with event and business operations experience who can improve the state of the industry.
The pending merger between Tencent’s Huya, Douyu, and Penguin Esports has been caught up in China’s sudden antitrust scrutiny of top tech companies, according to Ma Rui of TechBuzz China. For an excellent explainer on China’s new antitrust regulations and how they wiped $280B USD from the market cap of China’s tech titans, see Rui’s write up in Tech Buzz Extra (subscription required).
China orders live streamers and gift-giving fans to register with real names. The rules also ban gifting by users under 18. While primarily focused on the booming e-commerce livestreaming industry, the new rules could deal a significant blow to Huya-Douyu’s livestreaming revenue.
Worlds 2020 was unsurprisingly the most-watched esports competition to date, with more than 1B hours watched through the tournament. The Finals, broadcast in 16 languages across 21 platforms, hit a combined average per minute (AMA) viewership of 23.04M, exceeding the 2020 NBA Finals and the 2020 MLB World Series. Even the Play-In rounds did well, with an average 3.6M AMA. (中文版)
Complexity-Limit Signs Chinese Media Rights Deal with DouYu for Race to World First, which will allow Douyu to localize the club’s stream. Race to World First is an esport based on World of Warcraft, and for an explainer here is a great one from TEO.
Hisense partnered with LGD Gaming and Fnatic, another non-endemic brand looking to esports for global marketing.
Shampoo Raclen Signs Endorsement Deal With RNG Esports Player Uzi. Despite retirement, Jian Zihao’s [ID: Uzi] legendary status continues to attract deals like this co-branded shampoo and body wash partnership.
Honor of Kings [王者荣耀] ascended to the top of Sensor Tower’s worldwide mobile game revenue rankings for November, followed by PUBG Mobile, demonstrating the durability of these two core esports titles and their primarily Chinese revenue base. (Note also that the top 6 games in the app store by revenue are from Chinese developers.)
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