Game on for sea change in esports scorn

| Prof Hui Kai-Lung 26 Sep 2018

Deputy Head of Information Systems, Business Statistics and Operations Management, HKUST

The recent success of the Hong Kong esports Team at the Asian Games has ignited public interest in the genre.

While late to the game, we have tried to catch up since last year to remake the SAR as a player in esports, by organizing regional tournaments and with a special budget designated to promote and groom local players.

There will be another mega esports event in November at AsiaWorld-Expo to drum up enthusiasm.

Similar to professional sports, esports generates economic value as entertainment via viewership, participation, company sponsorship, advertising and even betting.

Advances in internet and technology, together with the availability of streaming and viewing on PCs and smartphones, have made esports a viable business model for many, with some researchers predicting annual revenue this year will hit close to US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion).

Whereas there are many entry barriers to professional sports, such as physique, training grounds and stadiums, esports' barrier is much lower: any one equipped with a powerful PC or smart device with fast internet connection can begin competing inside his or her own apartment, and often against the very best from around the globe instantly, since everything is done online.

As the number of tournaments rises steadily for popular online games, it is only natural that our youngsters see gaming as a viable way of living, however absurd that may sound to people from older generations who tend to think video games are a waste of time or the content of which usually advocates violence or pornography.

Calling esports a "sport" is also a polarizing matter: it requires no physical activity other than fingers hammering the keyboard, and when addicted, players might develop a gaming disorder, a mental health condition classified by the World Health Organization this year.

But one must not overlook the options it brings. The budding ecosystem provides an alternative to those whose interest and skills are not addressed by current careers, and fills a need society in the past has overlooked.

In this perspective, esports is really not different from performance professions - the players are willing to hone and refine their craft via vigorous training, and are rewarded for their effort when they perform well.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge to make esports a success in Hong Kong would be a cultural one.

Are parents ready to let their kids pursue a vastly different career path than they did?

Is our city ready to cheer esports players as local heroes, just as we do their traditional sports counterparts, and provide adequate support via facilitation, new policy implementation and education? It is perhaps time for us to put our skepticism aside.

HKUST experts have their fingers on the pulse of a new age of science, technology and innovation

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