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For any international company, expanding its business into another country is logistically hard. On Nov. 9-10 ESL hosted the $250K USD Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Beijing-Haidian. Although no Chinese Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) teams qualified for the main event, that didn’t stop a massive number of Chinese fans from filling out the venue: the Beijing University Student Gymnasium.
ESL has been running esports event in China for ten years, starting from 2009 in Chengdu—back when ESL’s official brand name was the Electronic Sports League. With ten years of experience behind it, ESL eventually made its first step to hosting a full stadium-level tournament in China.
“Running an event for the first time [Stadium-level] in a country is always a calculated risk,” Mark Cohen, chief relationship officer of ESL, North America global SVP brand partnerships, told The Esports Observer. “The local partners Social Edge, 5E Play, and Beijing Haidian government helped a lot channeling their experiences and combining it with ours to deliver on the ground.”
Compared to some of ESL’s signature annual events such as IEM Katowice or ESL One Cologne, the number of sponsors for IEM Beijing-Haidian were comparatively small. These included the Beijing-Haidian government itself, as well as delivery service DHL, energy drink Mountain Dew AMP Game Fuel, Acer’s gaming brand Predator, and long-term global ESL partner Intel. Whereas IEM Katowice receives significant support from the local Polish government, including advertising budget, ESL One Cologne—one of the largest annual Counter-Strike events—still lacks government backing.
“We are very thankful for all the support the Beijing Haidian government has assisted during the tournament, providing funding, but also local authority support for pushing through regulations and approvals that were essential in being able to realize this tournament,” said Cohen.
In esports, the Chinese market is in a world-leading position. Not only does China have a huge player and esports audience, but more importantly, the Chinese government has endorsed esports as an official sport since 2003. Even today, sports authorities in many developed countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, or the United States have not recognized esports.
Zhang Dongxu, the vice director of Beijing-Haidian’s media department, spoke about the IEM-Beijing partnership in an interview with People Esports, the esports division of Chinese publication People’s Daily.
“We [the Beijing Haidian government] have provided venue and infrastructure for IEM Beijing-Haidian, and we had a high return on investment,” said Dongxu. “We gained experience from this event and the international image of the district has improved from the promotion.”
In addition, Dongxu confirmed that ESL and the Haidian government will co-host another esports tournament in 2020. He noted that next year’s event would see decreased funding from the government, but would “reinforce” commercial partnerships, ticket selling, and revenue sharing.
After the event, the Haidian government announced multiple benefit-based policies for developing esports. These include a maximum ¥5M RMB ($710K) in allowances for a Haidian-hosted esports tournament. According to Dongxu, the government took only six months to publish those policies, from the decision to release.
In June, the Chinese island province of Haidian announced a ¥1B ($145.6M) esports development fund. In August, the Shanghai Pudong District also unveiled that it would bring in ¥5B ($710M) from the central government to directly support gaming and esports in the region. Meanwhile, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Xi’an, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou have also released their plans for developing esports. For any international esports company looking to expand their business into China, it is significantly important to learn how to partner with the local Chinese governments and fit into Chinese culture.
For example, the language difference between English and Chinese could be a challenge for international tournament organizers, but ESL and the government made a wise choice on selecting a venue located in a high educational area, with most of the attendees being university students.
Mr. Mi (full name not disclosed), a student from Beijing Capital Institute of Physical Education, told The Esports Observer that having English commentary and hosts at the event was not an issue for him and his friends. “I don’t think the English had any major negative impact for me, even with some English words I don’t understand. I loved the crowd and the highest CS:GO level play. On the other hand, I can also learn some English, can’t I?”
For both ESL and the Beijing-Haidian government, this tournament was a key start for not only bringing high-level international CS:GO to China, but also a learning process for both parties.
“We learned a lot from this event, which gives us the perfect platform to continue to grow [in China],” said Cohen.
Editor’s note: People Esports journalist Lu Wenzheng contributed comments from the Beijing-Haidian government in this article.
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