SHENZHEN: The growth of e-sports and competitive gaming in China has been driven mostly by private companies so far, but now the Chinese government wants to get in on the act.

China’s official sports body, the State General Administration of Sports, which also administers the Chinese Olympic Committee, is keen to regulate the growing industry and promote its development.

Not only are there huge commercial opportunities, but a regulated system could help to develop talent that mirrors China’s gold medal success in the Olympics, the South China Morning Post reported.

“E-sports has grown organically to a ‘wild west’ growth stage,” said Tang Hua, director of e-sports at the State General Administration of Sports, in an interview. “For the next step we need to put regulation and sustainability of e-sports on the agenda.”

It is not clear yet how e-sports in China will be regulated or to what extent the government will dedicate resources towards its development, but Tang said the authorities are open to consultation with companies operating in the sector.

However, the South China Morning Post said central government’s support is already clear, not least because it was the lead sponsor of last month’s China Top 2017 event in Shenzhen.

The international competition featured teams from China, the Philippines, Poland, Russia and the US and the organiser reported that more than 40m people watched it via live-streaming platforms in China.

E-sport has been recognised officially as a sport in China since 2003, but it has taken off recently because of smartphone penetration, improved broadband internet and the popularity of internet cafes which encourage team-based game playing.

“There are 150,000 internet cafes and many are perfectly designed to be the venues for amateur play of games used in e-sports, such as team-based games,” said Lisa Hanson, Managing Director of Niko Partners, a US-based research firm that tracks gaming in Asia.

And to give an idea of the market’s potential, Newzoo, a specialist market intelligence provider, recently forecast that the global e-sports market is expected to generate $660m in 2017, or 34% growth year-on-year, with China and North America accounting for half (52%) of the total.

Sourced from South China Morning Post, Newzoo; additional content by WARC staff