E-sport stars are raising their game

E-sport stars are raising their game

E-sport's biggest stars are not so different from more traditional athletes

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In the US, gaming teams like Fuse can win millions of dollars playing at major events.
In the US, gaming teams like Fuse can win millions of dollars playing at major events.
Photo: Associated Press

Fans scream their names, they train for hours each day, and millions watch them compete to be the best in the world.

But these sport stars aren't sweating it out in the sun like traditional athletes. Instead, e-sport stars shine in front of the computer screen.

The world of competitive gaming, or electronic sport, has turned playing video games into an increasingly popular spectator sport. In 2003, the mainland's General Administration of Sport declared it an official category.

More recently, video game streaming website Twitch has brought e-sport to a wider audience. Popular e-sport games, like Counter-Strike and Dota 2, require teamwork, practice and a lot of skill to master.

"In Hong Kong everyone plays computer games, but they just don't speak up" about doing so, because they're worried about being called a nerd, says Derek Cheung, head of Hong Kong E-sports Limited, a company which hosts e-sport events in Hong Kong.

"We want to build a positive image for e-sport - that it's a career, it's a sport, and people watch it for fun."

While Hong Kong lags behind South Korea and the United States when it comes to e-sport participation, Cheung is hoping to change that.

This weekend Hong Kong E-sports Limited will host its second E-sports Tournament. It will feature finals in games including League of Legends, Starcraft II, Hearthstone and Street Fighter VI.

There will also be a cosplay competition and a performance from local singer Ken Hung.

Because last year's competition was unexpectedly popular, with all 1,000 tickets sold out a week before it began, this year's event is moving to Kitec's Rotunda 3, in Kowloon Bay. There will be room for 3,000 spectators, and the event will be live-streamed online to a potential audience of almost three million.

This year will also see the launch of a university league, with almost 300 students from around 10 institutions already signed up. 

But despite a growing presence, e-sport is still struggling for acceptance.

"Parents won't look up to you for [playing e-sports]," says Kurtis Lau Wai-kin, 22, a retired professional League of Legends player known as Toyz

"As a pro gamer, you don't have a stable career path, income, benefits or promotions. Parents still think studying is the best way to a good future." 

That may change, though. This year's winners in Hong Kong will share a prize pool of HK$1.5 million.

The prize money for the very best e-sport stars is increasing. Last month, Chinese team NewBee took home a US$5 million prize after winning a Dota 2 tournament. Compare that to the US$3 million tennis player Novak Djokovic won at Wimbledon just three weeks earlier.

"We need a certain amount of money so star players can really make it their lifestyle," says Cheung. He adds that with generous sponsorship, e-sport champions can earn more than their equivalents in sports like Thai boxing, badminton and table tennis.

With this in mind, Cheung is looking to recruit more e-athletes to train in a gaming house in Fanling. Those already living there must stick to a strict training routine.

Cheung says physical exercise is an important part of their training, because it keeps gamers' reactions sharp - just like a more traditional athlete. 

Check out our photo gallery of the Hong Kong E-Sports Tournament!

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Raising their game

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