Since the closing of the 2008 Olympic Games, the hulking, awe-inspiring Bird’s Nest has become a new landmark for Beijing. This November, the 90,000-seat stadium will be hosting the 2017 world championship of League of Legends, one of the most popular online video games in history, marking the first time for China to host this prestigious e-sports competition.

Competitive video gaming, known as e-sports, have been taking off all over the world. Each year tens of thousands of fans fill giant stadiums to cheer on their favorite professional players. A bigger crowd—43 million viewers in the case of League of Legends 2016 Final—watch via live stream at home or internet cafes. In China, where the state media has slammed the world’s top grossing mobile game Honour of Kings for its “poison” effect, it seems absurd that a video game competition would make it into the arena for national pride.

The Chinese government’s attitude toward e-sports has long been ambivalent. As early as 2003, China led the world to become one of the first countries to recognize e-sports as an official sports program (in Chinese). Shortly after the encouraging news, however, the main media regulatory body, State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), banned the broadcast of video gaming programs on TV, long popular in neighboring South Korea. E-sports quieted down in China before its growing economic returns became too hard to ignore. A recent report by Penguin Intelligence and China Tech Insights (CTI) shows a surge of 170 million new fans came into China’s e-sports market in just 2016, thanks in part to an increased penetration of smartphones and Tencent’s blockbuster title Honour of Kings.

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Rita Liao

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.