LPL Brings the Hammer Down (and other, lighter news)

Vol 4.2 | April 27, 2021

Hello Esports Enthusiasts!

Here are a few items that caught my attention this week. For those interested in a broader sweep of recent esports news, I have posted links to news sources on the landing page that regularly cover the esports and gaming sector in China. For English-language coverage I recommend starting with the weekly recap from PanDaily and Hongyu Chen's dispatches in TEO.

If you're interested in learning more about any particular facet of China's esports industry, give me a shout.

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John Oliverius
Twitter: @ChinaEsportsBiz
Wechat: @oliveriusiam

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LPL Spring Finals

Hopefully you heeded my advice last week to watch this epic showdown! Old guard RNG were generally considered the underdog to 2019 Worlds winner FPX going in, but behind an MVP performance from RNG bot laner Chen “GALA” Wei, came out on top in 3-1 victory. [Links: English, Chinese] RNG will go on to represent the LPL at the Midseason Invitational in Iceland. I’ve included a link to the LPL English broadcast below, cued up at the opening teaser and ceremony at the 1:15:00 mark, just past the English language analyst desk setting up the day’s action.

LPL Brings the Hammer Down

Last week I mentioned that the LPL had suspended FPX jungler Zhou “Bo” Yangbo and temporarily shut down the LDL, LPL’s development league, due to rampant match-fixing. This week LPL released the results of its investigation, and it was a stunner. After investigating all LPL and LDL clubs, a total of 40 players, coaches, and staff were punished for match-fixing (including some who had already retired or were under suspension). 13 were banned for life. LDL club SJG was banned out of existence. [Links: English, Chinese]

In the LPL, players Xiang (“Bless”) Yitong, Wang (“Teeen”) Yaoji, and Zhou (“Bo”) Yangbo were banned for 12 months, 6 months, and 4 months, respectively, largely seen as minor punishments for serious infractions. The LPL addressed this point head-on in its announcement, noting that leniency had been granted proportional to these players’ confessions and cooperation with the investigation. The incentive for “reporting” was formalized in hopes that it will be an effective tool going forward, and the short average career span for esports pros does in fact make a ban of even a few months significant. In addition to the fines and bans, LPL announced a series of new initiatives designed to shore up confidence in the system, including resources for prevention and monitoring, dedicated personnel, rule changes, on-site management, training, and a certification system for staff. [Link: Chinese]

It was an unprecedented disciplinary action, both in scale and aggressiveness, and yet there was no shortage of concern for the health of the LDL, particularly among China’s esports commentariat. EcoSports noted that while the action should be seen as an indication of LPL’s determination to ensure integrity in its esports system, it also gave esports fans serious pause as to the depth and complexity of the problem. [Link: Chinese] Meta Esports did a deep dive, looking into the complexity of match-fixing gangs and likening them to spider’s webs. [Link: Chinese]. Independent Esports Industry Review was disappointed in what it saw as light punishments for serious legal infractions, but also noted in an interview with lawyer Wang Ruhua that while match-fixing may be relatively easy for a league to determine and punish under its rules, the underlying crime of illegal gambling, fraud, or extortion is much more difficult to prove. [Link: Chinese]

The LPL is a cutting-edge esports league, and here too the LPL’s approach to cleaning up its development league may prove instructive as global esports markets grow, and cheating becomes more lucrative. One development that I have yet to see raise alarm is the growing prominence of offshore bookmakers and betting platforms in esports, to the point where betting has become a standard sponsorship category for esports clubs. The esports betting market is growing rapidly, turning over an estimated $14B in 2020. [Link: English] Combine that heat with esports organizations that are highly dependent on sponsorship revenue and thus sensitive to reputational risk, and an ecosystem that generally looks to game developers to fill the role of governing bodies, and I can’t help feeling that this whole area is about to become much more important.

Hangzhou 2022 Esports: Pick Your Fighter

The Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games released artwork for esports, which as I’m sure you know is an official medal event this year.

  • On the left: the mascot logo design

  • On the right: the official icon

What’s your take? Personally, I’m okay with the mascot icon, although it reminds me of Max Rebo from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I’m less enthusiastic about the icon, which looks to me like a 5G ad, or maybe a sign for a wifi charging station. Still, progress for esports!

Here Comes Esports-Ready Naraka: Bladepoint

One of the most popular titles on Steam this weekend was an open beta of Naraka: Bladepoint《永劫无间》, from Chinese developer 24 Entertainment and publisher NetEase Games, hitting over 140,000 concurrent users [Link: English]. This comes a week after its test in Asia, where it became one of the top 20 games livestreamed in China, according to Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad. [Link: English] At the end of the test on each of the Asia, NA, LATAM, and EU servers, the top 100 players were invited to compete in a “Koi Cup” mini tournament.

The melee-based online game sits in a novel space between battle royale genre and fighting games, with an “easy to learn, difficult to master” gameplay that seems like a natural fit for esports. Of course it is extremely premature to be talking about esports for a game that has not yet even been released, and would still need to cross the milestones of developing a community, working balance and support issues, creating a tournament system, etc., etc., before becoming a viable esports title … but then again, here we are in an world where Riot’s Valorant did all of that in less than a year and will have its first global tournament next month.

Get hyped with the gameplay trailer below:

Thanks for reading! - John

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