China Continues to Censor Esports

Esports in China are booming. Estimated 300 million people will be involved in the segment by 2022, so why is the government so restrictive of the gaming sector?

A Clamp Down on Video Games

Despite their soaring popularity, video games and esports are coming under scrutiny in China. Recently, the national broadcaster failed to air the Asian Games, which featured esports as a demonstration sport.

It was the Chinese team that won in one of the most distinct virtual discipline, League of Legends (LoL), but fans couldn’t watch as the government had shaken its head in disagreement. However, a pair of streamers from the United States offered an alternative on Twitch, a popular streaming platform owned by Amazon.

The government was quick to respond, banning Twitch completely from the country. Another interesting development which has been introduced recently is the decision of the Chinese government to filter language in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) developed by South Korean company Bluehole.

As a result of increasing social tension and, of course, politics, the Chinese government has filtered the word “Taiwan” in the popular battle royale esports. The ruling party is getting even more daring in its preferences, ordering one of the largest game developers in the country, Tencent, to add age identification as part of its filtering policies for users who participate in any of the company’s products.

In other words, esports fans will need to identify themselves with their legal names on the Internet to continue playing. And while this may appear intrusive, which it is, to outsiders, in the daily order of Chinese life, the measures are not new.

Buffeting the Local Champions

The restrictive measures undertaken by the censorship authorities in the country have not only been bad for esports in their purest form. They have also led to a decline of the stocks of Tencent, which lost value in 2018 for the first time since 2005, ending a 13-year growth period.

But beyond just imposing restrictions on existing products, the government is now also dictating which games make it to the market and which products falter at the assembly line. As a result, Tencent and others are setting up companies in places like Hong Kong to build platforms similar to Steam, a digital marketplace for games, and sell their products in the West.

NewZoo, a marketing intelligence, firm, has recently reduced its expectations about the overall reach of the esports segment, precisely prompted by the recent changes in the Chinese approach to it.

China’s approach to esports has not seemed to stem the tide of the segment’s popularity however, with the country’s teams conquering certain segments, such as MOBA titles, including Defense of the Ancients (Dota) 2 and League of Legends (LoL).

As China shapes up to lead the future of digital innovation, one significant aspect of this will be competitive video games. However, introducing restrictions every step of the way could potentially discourage the country’s own game developers from bringing around the next big competitive title, and this would be a loss.

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