September 22, 2021

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Will the crackdown on teen games affect Chinese esports? – Roce Today

Shenzhen, China – A steady crowd of 20-somethings roam the Tim Hortons and Tencent Esports Cafe, a recently opened venue to showcase professional video games in the heart of Shenzhen’s Nanshan tech district.

Grabbing coffee, donuts and sandwiches, some curious visitors pose for photos with virtual images of pro gamers on a big screen or watch esports tournament replays on another screen from the same cushioned chairs players often use.

China is the largest esports market, with over 400 million fans and viewers, according to the most recent numbers quoted by the state-run People’s Daily. With numbers like that, placing bets on a place like this seemed like a no-brainer several months ago.

The problem is that, while local and national governments in the past have supported building the gaming industry, competing to host tournaments and even allowing college courses on esports, the new rules that went into effect on September 1 have restricted children under 18. years of playing. only three hours a week or one hour a day at 8pm from Friday to Sunday.

With state media and other government agencies describing video games as “spiritual opium,” the new restrictions look set to inflict both short- and long-term damage to China’s gaming industry, with those long-term impacts likely the most. painful. for professional esports.

This week, the Chinese government reported how serious it is to enforce the new rules after state news agency Xinhua reported regulators had summoned gaming companies including giants Tencent Holdings and NetEase to discuss the new restrictions. .

Tim Hortons and Tencent Esports Cafe in Shenzhen, China [Courtesy of Michael Standaert]

Regulations have been in place since 2018 requiring real name identification, and the number of hours of childrens play per day was limited to 1.5 a year later. But the latest rules are stricter and go much deeper in terms of potential teens weaning off their interest in games.

“With real name authentication a must, new players who want to try games anonymously before deciding to be a regular player may not try,” Eason Zhang, a Shenzhen-based game developer who got involved in the field for over a decade, he told Al Jazeera.

Those previous restrictions three years ago have already prompted game titans like Tencent and NetEase to further expand overseas instead of focusing primarily on the Chinese market. This trend should continue.

“It meant that many game developers in China have shifted their priorities to themselves, developing games only for the domestic market or trying to reach the global market industry, with localized titles or specialized titles being launched worldwide first. , and then back to the mainland, “Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at Niko Partners in London, told Al Jazeera.

China’s latest rules limiting the amount of time teens can play video games are stricter than previous measures and go much deeper in terms of potential weaning teens from their interest in games [Courtesy of Michael Standaert]

Earnings from the latest restrictions are unlikely to dent profits for the largest gaming companies, with only about 1 to 5 percent of revenue coming from the roughly 110 million teenagers playing online video games in China, Ahmad said. With about 97 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 participating in the games in some way, the short-term impacts are unlikely to be large.

“Gaming is part of the culture and China is the largest gaming market in the world,” he said. “It’s not something that suddenly disappears overnight for minors, even if the limits are extremely strict. It is still part of the culture. Parents of minors today have grown up with games, so they will have a more liberal mindset and may be more open to letting their children use their accounts to play. “

The backlash online among teens has been strong, with comments on the Weibo social media network observing how unfair politics is and wondering how teens will be able to “relax” now, and even if it will affect their creativity.

Some have jokingly pulled out other recent top-down government political moves like the three-child policy, with one person posting on Weibo: “For all adult gamers, don’t make too much fun of minors now, because who knows if there will be a policy that will one day require you to prove that you have a spouse and at least three children before you can access your games. “

A Weibo user with the “Betty” handle questioned the impact the rules would have on the esports industry.

“How will it affect eSports? The players are usually younger and have been ‘practicing’ for years. High school kids who just finished Gaokao [college entrance exams] he won’t be able to play as well. “

Start young

“Betty’s” prediction that youthful enthusiasm for the game is waning may turn out to be correct.

Scanning biographies of pro esports players that people can pose for virtual photos at the Tim Hortons and Tencent Esports Cafe reveals that most of them started playing in their early teens. Some turned pro at just 14 or 15, honing their motor skills and tapping with nimble fingers.

People can pose for virtual photos with professional esports players [Courtesy of Michael Standaert]

“The age restrictions will push many young professional players to not engage in esports, so I think it will be one of the biggest impacts,” said Cui Chenyu, an analyst at technology consultancy Omdia in Shanghai. “These leagues train players to improve their playing skills and start very young,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ahmad wonders if the harsh restrictions could mean that people turning 18 won’t have the same gambling habits developed over the past decade, meaning they may not play as much or spend as much or engage in games as their recent elders. Cui echoed the same concerns the gaming industry will face.

“As they get older, they are not used to playing[ing] games and they might prefer to watch videos or live streams, so as they get older games may not be a big part of their entertainment, “he said.” So that’s the long-term impact on revenue growth for these companies. “

Johnny Chen, a former Shenzhen game developer who has now switched to online novel production, said previous restrictions had already begun to change teens’ habits and that the latest rules will only further cement those changes.

“It will have a big impact on the user base,” Chen said. “There won’t be as many players as before.”

Long-term questions

While both Ahmad and Cui thought short-term impacts would be minimal, questions remain about long-term impacts, particularly for professional esports.

“There will certainly be some questions floating around about what this will mean for eSports in the future,” Ahmad said.

Overall support for the industry has been strong since China recognized it as a sporting event in 2003, he said.

Recent concerns about gambling addiction and more conservative leadership under Chinese President Xi Jinping, particularly related to the education of Chinese youth, have led to a rethinking among senior officials.

Ahmad said esports operators have already begun to raise the minimum ages for which players up to 18 can compete as part of a self-regulatory measure, although it is likely that the government will later set that rule in stone.

“If you are between 16 and 18 and are competing in an eSports tournament, you will no longer be able to do that,” Ahmad said.

Most players start to see eSports as a profession at 14, 15 or even earlier, he added. They are explored at that age and any restrictions on their training could be a significant setback for anyone under age.

“There is a possibility that it will essentially reduce the talent pool that esports organizations can choose from,” he said. “It may be more difficult to recruit the right people or the best people, and there may be a loss of talent from the development stage.”

Treat or feed a habit?

Much has been done on gambling addiction in China, with special camps set up to wean confused minds from the spiritual pollution of gambling, as well as softer approaches in youth mental health clinics across the country.

Attempts to speak to staff and potential teens who have problems with playing time management at a clinic in the Bao’an district were rejected on a recent visit. Various brochures around the center openly discussed the problem of internet addiction, and staff said they were working on a major report on the problem of online gaming addiction. They declined to comment on the extent of the problem or anything from the next report.

While it might be a problem for some students, others just want to play and might convince their parents to let them, Ahmad said.

“It is worth noting that there are loopholes that children can use to play for longer, whether it’s using their parents’ account and their parents breaking up.[ting] they play longer or if they want, for example, they use a VPN [virtual private network] playing global gaming systems or even buying a fake ID to pretend to be an adult. “

A worker in his 20s at a gaming bar counter with about two dozen high-powered computers buzzing in the background on a weekday afternoon said he currently plays about three to four hours a day and started playing when he was about. 13 years.

“I think it’s a good policy for children, though, because they should focus more on their studies,” she said, perhaps questioning their own life choices.