Hong Kong is in a strong position to excel in esports
This article appeared originally in the CHINADAILY on 20 July, 2020.
Authors: Amy Liu, Managing Editor at Our Hong Kong Foundation
The arrival of the wireless 5G technology in Hong Kong has provided further impetus to the esports and computer-gaming sectors, which already has gained further popularity as a result of social-distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s games are well beyond the realms of games arcades and “Street Fighter” arcade cabinets. In addition to strategy games that keep many middle-class players glued to their screens, some games now have art elements that appeal to an even wider audience. For instance, although the pandemic forced the J. Paul Getty Museum in the United States to close its physical buildings, it offers games that allow players to live their dreams by decorating their virtual homes with famous paintings by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn, among others.
Hong Kong has always made “East meets West” work. In the future, the city can make use of its creativity in arts technology to go with its unique cultural background to produce groundbreaking esports events.
Unlike the old-school games that individuals played alone or in pairs, esports is an activity that connects many people across cities and even continents, requiring speed, intelligence, stamina, decision-making skills and improvisation. It is also a spectator “sport” that generates commercial opportunities. Benefiting from new technologies in the creative sectors, esports keeps the audience entertained with animation, lighting, sound, and 3D graphics, involving stage design and audio-visual technologies. According to Newzoo, a research firm on games, global revenue from esports in 2019 reached US$1.13 billion, up 26.7 percent year on year.
Earlier this year, Hong Kong got a glimpse of what the future brings in the world’s first ever esports-inspired digital art exhibition in Cyberport called Visioning Esports in Art. But Hong Kong actually stands in good stead in this regard, as it is already equipped with the attributes needed to excel as an esports hub. In addition to the super-fast wireless 5G connection, the city’s internet coverage is comprehensive, with fixed-line broadband speed ranking No 2 worldwide. Established by former players, Hong Kong has the largest esports stadium in Asia, with the HK$30 million (US$3.9 million) Cyber Games Arena in Mong Kok opening 24 hours a day. Hong Kong’s soft power also helps, including its creative freedoms, relative lack of censorship, and linguistic advantages in being bilingual in the two most popular languages in the world. It is estimated Hong Kong has more than 300,000 active game players, mostly males, but the number of females is rising. With hundreds of millions of esports audiences worldwide, the business potential is tremendous in areas such as game development, advertising, sponsorship, ticket sales, media broadcasting and webcasting, software engineering, game management, live broadcasting, directing, and marketing. Traditional economic sectors can also benefit, including tourism, hotel, food and beverage, retail, entertainment, and real estate. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has been holding esports festivals for three years since 2017, bringing in billions of dollars every year.
In a report titled “Innovating Creative Cultures — Arts Tech” released in June, we proposed that Hong Kong should actively promote arts technology, especially in computer games, software, and interactive media. Government data shows that these three sectors make the biggest difference in terms of added value. The total added value from the cultural and creative industries is on the rise, from HK$106 billion in 2013 to HK$111.7 billion in 2017, but the cumulative growth rate of the computer games, software and interactive media sectors accounted for 24 percent during the period, compared with just 5 percent from cultural industries. The growth in employees in the computer games, software and interactive media sectors was 13 percent, far higher than the 3 percent of the cultural sector. It is clear that esports, based on computer games, is ready to be the growth engine for cultural and creative industries.
The success of Hong Kong’s Lo Tze-kin, who won the gold medal in the first demonstration esports event in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, has helped to partly nullify the negative image sometimes associated with computer games. Lo won in a strategy game called Hearthstone after beating opponents from countries such as India and host Indonesia. We believe Hong Kong players are practicing hard to get ready for the contest in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, which will see esports become an official “sport”. The Chinese mainland has demonstrated it is possible to combine culture and esports, with Xi’an hosting a 2018 event involving the popular game League of Legends (with some 100 million online players) and a backdrop theme of the renowned Terracotta Warriors. Frequented in Hollywood blockbusters including “Batman” and “Transformers”, Hong Kong has always made “East meets West” work. In the future, the city can make use of its creativity in arts technology to go with its unique cultural background to produce groundbreaking esports events, which will also showcase its soft power.
Despite our strengths, experts pointed out the lack of a comprehensive strategy for esports in Hong Kong. Training venues are lacking, with the contestants having to pay the travel expenses themselves when attending international games, and there are no cash prizes for winners. Hong Kong should have a blueprint for developing esports, so that the creative and cultural sectors can work in sync with their technology counterparts. In the 2017 budget, the government allocated HK$100 million to develop esports, while Cyberport invested HK$50 million to set up a 4,000-square-foot esports center that can accommodate 500 people. Through its Esports Industry Facilitation Scheme, it pledged to provide support including free venues. But there is no road map or blueprint. Many young people will be more than happy to turn their hobby into a “sporting” career, while esports also provides plenty of commercial opportunities for businesses. With talented players such as Lo, state-of-the-art telecom infrastructure, as well as our competitive tech arts and digital entertainment sectors, Hong Kong is equipped with the ingredients to become a major player in the esports industry — as long as stakeholders, including the government, do not waste the opportunity to win this game.