Amid esports boom, China introduces new restrictions to regulate the industry

While most international sporting events like the Olympics were canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, last month China hosted the League of Legends annual World Championship in Shanghai. 

A total of 600 players from around the world underwent three weeks of quarantine to compete in person during the monthlong, team-based esports competition. 

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The Korean team DAMWON won first place, but China takes the prize for most esports fans in the world. Amid this esports boom, China has recently introduced new restrictions to try to regulate and support the growing industry — and curb internet addictions. 

Halleigh Liu is a huge esports fan who hopes to get a job one day in the online gaming world. When she was a kid in Beijing in the 2000s, she played team-based computer games like these. Her mom hated her hobby. 

“My mom doesn’t want me to play [these games],” she says. “She just wants me to focus on my study. That’s like Chinese parents.”

Later she went to the US for high school. She started playing League of Legends, a popular esports game, with her friends back in China. It helped her keep up her Chinese, she says, but her mom still disapproved.

“She was so angry because she thinks why am I playing those instead of reading books.”  

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On visits home, Liu secretly stayed up late gaming after her parents went to bed. And she and her friends watched League of Legends tournaments together online.

“When I play those games, I feel very [excited] and like, you can forget about other things [that] happen in your daily life.”

Halleigh Liu, esports fan

“When I play those games, I feel very [excited] and, like, you can forget about other things [that] happen in your daily life.”

Back when she was a kid, it was common to see news reports and documentaries about the dangers of computer games. In one, teenagers wearing military fatigues were shown going through group therapy to cure them of their internet addiction.   

A decade later, so much has changed. 

Today, China is a country of gamers: half the population plays some sort of online game — that’s more than 600 million people. And professional esports leagues are booming. 

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At the League of Legends World Championship held in Shanghai last month, more than 3 million people entered to win a ticket to attend the finals. Only 6,000 were allowed in because of social distancing rules due to the pandemic. 

Outside the stadium, almost everyone in line looked to be under 30 years old.

A young engineer named Siyan scored a ticket. She traveled over 500 miles to be in the live audience. 

“I’ve been playing…

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