A concentrated young gamer in headphones and glasses using computer for playing game. (Shutterstock/ESB Professional)
A stellar line-up of the world’s star online gamers has converged of the southern Chinese holiday island of Hainan this week where US$ 5.5 million in total prize money is on offer at the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) Grand Final.
Victory at the WESG will also ensure immortality in the eyes of the millions of eSport fans who will be watching on from around the world as six days of action kicked off Tuesday at the Hainan International Convention & Exhibition Center.
“The eSport ecosystem has grown through the love and passion people have for these games from all over the world. eSports are borderless,” said Jason Fung, global eSport director of event organisers Alisports.
More than 500 gamers from 46 countries and regions will clash in the WESG’s main competitions which feature Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Defence of the Ancients 2 ( DOTA2 ), the military/science fiction themed StarCraft II and the mystical Hearthstone, which is based on a card-turning game.
There are also exhibitions events showcasing the likes of the combat themed King of Fighters 14 and Vainglory as well as separate women’s Hearthstone and CS:GO competitions as WESG organisers Alisports look to promote youth culture both in China and globally.
Alisports – the sports unit of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd – has been a key driver in the rise of eSports in China and Fung said the WESG’s second edition further the company’s commitment to the growth of the sport across China and globally..
“Although eSports is growing very fast, it is an industry that is still in its infancy,” said Fung. “Alisports is in this for the long term. Ten years, 15, 20, we’ll be there as well and there’s just so much for all of us to be excited about in the future.”
Among the more famous teams to have played their way into the WESG Grand Final after seven months of qualifying are Fr0zen while the CS:GO competition features the return of last year’s champions EnVyUs.
Industry watchers Newzoo.com claim eSport’s global audience will top 380 million in 2018, while the global eSport economy will top US$ 905 million, a year-on-year growth of 38 per cent.
eSports are also flourishing across China with an estimated 560 million people being regular online gamers, a figure that accounts for around 70 per cent of China’s overall online community of more than 700 million people.
Such has been the continued growth of eSports in recent years that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has brought them into the fold and they will make their debut at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games before coming into consideration for future Olympic Games.
The WESG has styled itself as a precursor to such events, and the event kicked off with a gala opening ceremony Tuesday as gamers marched under their national flags, and dignitaries called on those involved to play with the “spirit of the games.” The WESG also follows the Olympic ethos in that it doesn’t limit itself to one specific code – or, in this case, game manufacturer – which significantly increases its playing field and its audience.
“Alisports is really focused on helping eSports become a ‘traditional sport’,” said Fung. “eSports is the pinnacle of gaming and the Olympics are the pinnacle of traditional sports so we have taken the Olympics as our inspiration.
“Everything we are doing is a mimic of what the Olympics does with one of those traditional sports and taking everything we can learn from traditional sports and applying that to eSports. But we are not sacrificing what is unique about eSports, we are celebrating its uniqueness, and people here and all over the world will witness that this week.”
The WESG Grand Final continues at the Hainan International Convention & Exhibition Center until Sunday March 18.