Esports and China

TLDR : China is shooting itself in the foot with its 3 hours of games per week rule.

Team Spirit lifting the Aegis of the Immortal after winning The International 10 ( TI10 )

Many people have never heard of “esports”, although an older generation may know them as video game tournaments. However, unlike playing in a back alley arcade or in a friends house, these days some of the more larger tournaments are played in stadiums, reminiscent of cricket or football stadiums from the outside. And out of all these tournaments, none is as big as “The International”.

The International (TI) is a Dota 2 tournament that has been held every year except 2020 (because of Covid). It has had 10 iterations so far, succinctly called TI1, TI2 and so on till TI10. It has a prize pool in the millions, with each successive iteration of the tournament breaking the record for the highest prize pool with TI10 having a $40 million prize pool, with the winner getting $18.2 million.

The game is a match between two teams of 5 players each, where the ultimate objective is to destroy the enemy’s ancient (a large tower in their base). The gameplay primarily involves taking towers (destroying the smaller towers outside an enemy’s base), farming (collecting gold through various means to buy items that make heroes stronger) and taking fights (killing enemy heroes to advance objectives like taking towers). Each game usually takes up to an hour.

A banner for The International

For those who don’t watch TI or for those who recently got into it, here’s a fun fact. There used to be 2 TI curses.

  1. Every even TI (TI2 , TI4, etc) would be won by a Chinese Team. Every odd (TI1, TI3, etc) TI would be won by a non Chinese Team.
  2. No person who won TI will win it again.

For 7 long years the curse held, with those who followed it getting fame and riches. Bets were made on it. Predictions were made on it. No one would dare oppose the curse.

Team OG would break both these curses in 2 consecutive TIs. In TI8, they would win and break the first curse and in TI9, they’d do it again and break the second. The story of their triumph and greatness is an inspiring one but not the focus of this article. The focus of this article is the first curse.

A table showing all the chinese teams currently active in Dota 2
List of active chinese teams in Dota 2

The fact that the first curse divided the winners into Chinese and Non Chinese should tell you how strong the region was. During the initial TIs, China was an incredibly dominant region. While people may have complained about how they always farmed during their games and rarely took fights, they were powerhouses that could steamroll through other teams.

Ehome came 2nd in TI1. IG won TI2 and came 4th in TI10. Newbee won TI4 and came 2nd in TI7. Wings won TI6. PSG.LGD has gone twice to the finals of TI8 and TI10. The highest number of players by region in TI is from china, with the total number of players in TI over the years from this region being 223, followed by Malaysia at 64 and the US at 61. (Repeated appearances included in this, but even accouting for each year individually the chinese players are the highest by a significant margin).

There are often jokes in gaming forums that if in Starcraft 2 should you encounter a South Korean opponent you might as well surrender. The Chinese are to Dota 2 what the South Koreans are to Starcraft 2.

In almost every sport, professionals players usually start from their childhood. Grandmasters in chess start playing from the time they are children and Olympic athletes are usually picked from high school and colleges, working their way up through regional and national qualifiers. This is no different in esports.

The youngest TI winner was 15 at the time of his win and most esports players are in their early 20s. While the oldest are in their 30s, the average would likely be 23–26. The reason this is significant is because many of them started playing dota 2 in their teenage years before they started to play competitively when they’re older.

MoOz, or Joel Mori Ozambela from Team Thunderpredator started playing at 16. Dendi from B8 used to play games as a kid before he eventually started playing competitively at the age of 17. The esports world is littered with such examples of players who started playing from the time they were children and became incredibly skilled at the game.

There are studies that show that the older players get, the worse they become at a game. This is true for athletics in general and even more so for esports, where the mental state of young players can keep up more than that of older players. This articles shows numbers, but even intuitively this is true.

A dragon representing china. It is made of gold but is seen to be crumbling.

These days, to call China authoritarian is an understatement. With tweets by official Chinese diplomats being used for wolf warrior diplomacy, the brutal quelling of protests in Hong Kong and current hostility towards Taiwan, aggressive maneuvers in the South China Sea, border disputes with most of its neighboring countries, quelling of political rights, Orwellian systems of governance and literal concentration camps, it all adds up to a country that seems to be haywire. A fascinating discussion for another time, let’s put most of these issues aside for today. Out of all of these strands of China, let us look at only two.

The One Child Policy

In 1979 the CCP thought that China’s population was growing too fast and instituted the one child policy, imposing harsh penalties on couples that had more than one child after the policy went into effect. The effects of this on a conservative chinese society that preferred men over women?

Devastating. Sex selective abortions during the one child policy caused an imbalance in the sex ratio, which has manifested in around 30 million men in China than women. For any economists here, the laws of economics holds true. The demand was greater than the supply and drove the price up. To put it in less demeaning terms, less men are married because there are less women to marry and lots of men cannot find a bride.

While not the only problem for China’s demographics (the others being housing bubbles and work life balance issues), the one thing this does demonstrate is that having poorly thought out schemes leads to poor and destructive results. The chinese government did eventually realise their mistake and these days signal in the opposite direction, encouraging couples to have 3 kids.

The lesson to learn is this. For countries, bad decisions echo through generations.

3 Hours of Games a week

Talking about lessons that haven’t been learnt, lets look at the recent decision to limit online gaming for minors to 3 hours a week. Given the fact that esports players usually start playing when they’re young and that it is their youth that propels them to the top of their game, what are the effects that this policy will have?

It took 30 years for the one child policy to manifest in quantifiable numbers that showed how bad it was, but let’s go out on a limb here since I have no wish to wait that long.

While we have discussed only Dota 2 for now, think of how many other games there are. Counter Strike, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Valorant, Fortnite, Apex, Overwatch, Team Fortress 2 and more. The amount of money that these tournaments will raise are no joke now and will only get bigger. As a budding industry that is growing every year and a generation that is growing up on them, this will soon be a billion dollar industry. In some countries, professional players are being classified as professional athletes, highlighting shifting attitudes of people and countries.

And China doesn’t seem to care. By limiting the amount that kids can play now, it is destroying an entire generations capability to compete in an industry of the future.

Imagine a law that said children could play only 3 hours of chess a week. You wouldn’t have any chess tournaments. You couldn’t have industries that revolve around chess. And you most certainly will not have any grandmasters.

If you think that this isn’t a big deal, think about the chess diplomacy that happened between the USSR and USA. Two countries that hinged reputations on a game. Ideological battles fought over a chessboard. Political repercussions for losing chess matches.

It is worth pointing out that during those days, chess acted as a symbol for intellectual capability. There could be a similar situation in the future regarding esports. And China has lost before it has begun.

Note : While I wish I could delve into the history and politics of China, it has already been done better and more comprehensively than I could. While the title may not seem like it, the youtube video I am linking below is incredibly informative and could give you a new perspective of geopolitics. Click here to view it.



I do stuff. Like stuff about policy. And book stuff. And gaming stuff. And stuff about life. And stuff about stuff.

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Aditya Sujith Gudimetla

I do stuff. Like stuff about policy. And book stuff. And gaming stuff. And stuff about life. And stuff about stuff.