China's in the game for E-sports
A giant creature - green skin, long tentacles, crooked arms - battles a group of soldiers. Lightening bolts strike. Weapons explode. Spells are cast.
League of Legends (LoL), like many video games on the Internet, sends players to a virtual world where they fight against each other using keyboard and mouse clicks.
Fighting in the virtual world by professional LoL players is attracting more and more fans in China.
One day earlier this month, every attack and counterattack by two five-member LoL teams received cheers from thousands of spectators at a stadium in Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
The contestants were gunning for a piece of the 200 million yuan (28.8 million U.S. dollars) prize money at the 3rd World Cyber Arena, which concluded Sunday.
More than 300 players from over 20 countries and regions joined this year's competition final, attracting more than 200 million spectators on the Internet and TV.
China's gaming industry is turning its ambition to the lucrative business of professional video game competitions, widely known as e-sports.
As broadband Internet access and free-to-play games increase, e-sports are on the rise.
More than 2,000 organizations and agents in China held e-sports contests in 2016. VSPN, one of China's famous e-sports contests operators, held more than 10 contests and 1,500 games this year.
The number of professional e-sports teams totals 500, and amateur teams joining online e-sports contests surpasses 10,000.
"The e-sports industry is blossoming in China," says Teng Linji, CEO of VSPN.
"With 100 million players, China is now the world's largest game market. We should consider how to tap the huge market potential as the industry is developing very fast," said Lai Chunlin, CEO of STNTS, an Internet operating platform in China.
In 2016, China's e-sports games sales are expected to surpass 50 billion yuan, up 50 percent year on year, according to a report released by data provider IDC.
The total prize money of global e-sports competitions in 2016 will reach 560 million yuan, with China accounting for 54 percent.
"China's e-sports industry is entering prime time," the IDC report said.
BIG PUSH FROM LIVE-STREAMING
The widespread application of live-streaming websites added momentum to the growth of the e-sports industry in 2016.
There are currently about 300 live-streaming platforms with 200 million users in China, with half registered to watch live-streaming game programs and contests. The number is expected to hit 180 million in 2018 after almost doubling last year.
To attract more viewers, many live-streaming platforms spend big sums of money buying broadcast rights of major e-sports contests.
The sale of the rights for League of Legends, a popular multiplayer battle arena game, is expected to reach 100 million yuan in 2017.
Four years ago, e-sports contests received almost no revenue from rights sales.
"Live-streaming sites offer a window to get to know e-sports players and video game knowledge. E-sports players can also interact with their fans," said Ma Zhe, a professional e-sports player.
When not competing in front of thousands of fans, Ma sharpens his Crossfire skills with his teammates for hours almost every day.
The club Ma belongs to, Vici Gaming (VG), won almost every Crossfire contest this year.
"Our team has had a stable performance this year. We were champions in almost all Crossfire contests and each player in the team won hundreds of thousands of yuan in prize money," Ma said.
Founded in 2012, VG is one of the top Chinese professional e-sports clubs, attracting top game players from across China.
The Republic of Korea leads the world in e-sports development such as professional player training, tournament organization and e-sports commercial operations.
In China, most e-sports players and teams cannot focus on matches and training as there is not a systematic commercial operation to guarantee their income, said Shen Guoding, deputy president of the 9th Computer Technology Consulting company, an online games developer.
"China's e-sports industry needs to learn from the Republic of Korea, and it needs time and government support," Shen said.