Following a somewhat unremarkable week, the Chinese esports industry has since observed some big moves entering April, witnessing two automobile brands sign partnership deals with esports organizations and other important developments.
Among the top stories in China’s esports industry: Bilibili Esports signed a strategic partnership with Activision Blizzard; the Overwatch League announced the return of live events in China; Chinese esports organization LNG Esports partnered with Geely Holdings’ Lynk & Co, while Edward Gaming partnered with Hycan, a joint electronics brand of Guangzhou Automobile Group and Nio.
Bilibili Esports Signs Strategic Partnership With Activision Blizzard
Bilibili Esports, the esports division of Chinese live streaming platform Bilibili, and US game publisher Activision Blizzard are set to engage in a long-term strategic cooperation to enhance the production, distribution, promotion and commercialization of the Overwatch League (OWL) in the Chinese market. Announced in a joint statement, the multi-year partnership will allow Bilibili Esports to replace Chinese firm Banana Culture as the league’s new production partner, in addition to receiving the exclusive media rights to live-stream and on demand content for the OWL.
As one of the most recognized video sharing platforms for millennials and Generation Z in China, Bilibili has long been capitalizing on the rising popularity of esports, obtaining media rights to broadcast professional esports competitions such as the League of Legends (LoL) World Championships and the Overwatch Contenders.
Bilibili is not satisfied with being a mere content creator or media coverage provider. To embrace the full potential of the esports industry, Bilibili has made significant investments in professional esports teams since 2017 and has even established a dedicated esports division in 2018. The company acquired the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL) team I May (IM) and rebranded it as Bilibili Gaming (BLG). It also took full ownership of the OWL team Hangzhou Spark, which is one of the world’s few city-based esports franchises.
Ostensibly, Bilibili plans to double down on esports in pursuit of its vision to become the headquarters for competitive gaming. By assuming multiple roles in the esports ecosystem including team owner, tournament operator and content provider, Bilibili seeks to boost its clout in the industry, further catering to a growing global fan base that views esports as a lifestyle.
Bilibili filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in 2018, with its shares first traded on Nasdaq. Its price performance has been phenomenal over the past year, soaring more than 400% despite three consecutive years of net losses since going public. In an attempt to further tap investors who are more familiar with the Chinese business landscape, Bilibili recently joined a group of US-listed Chinese firms to launch a secondary listing in Hong Kong.
Overwatch League Brings Live Events Back to China
After a long suspension of offline competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OWL recently announced that its season four competition would feature a limited return to live events, given the improved public health and safety conditions in China. The OWL stated that it would strive to comply with the country’s pandemic-related regulations, and prioritize the health and safety of players, fans and staff members. Competitions in North America, Europe and South Korea will still be played remotely.
The five OWL teams based in China – the Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Shanghai Dragons and Los Angeles Valiant (relocated to China temporarily by signing an all-Chinese roster) – will participate in three on-site events with reduced capacity in Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Prior to the OWL’s return to live matches, the 2020 League of Legends World Championships final was the first international esports event staged live since the beginning of the pandemic. A total of 6,312 fans attended the culminating event held at Pudong Stadium in Shanghai, China.
City based franchises and live audiences are key parts of OWL’s business model, which aims to attract high-profile investors and sponsors. Coronavirus restrictions have taken their toll on the league, which has been criticized for high entry costs and a strategy to pursue mainstream audiences and core esports fans at the same time. Although the OWL is honoring its commitment to reintroduce offline events, the future of the league is still up in the air since there is little the OWL can do to get the pandemic under control and accelerate a return to normal in other parts of the world.
At the time of writing, China confirmed 165 COVID-19 cases and 4 deaths in the past seven days according to Johns Hopkins University data. Meanwhile, the US has reported 498,974 cases and 5,113 new deaths in the past week.
Other esports business news:
- Chinese esports organization LNG Esports reached a sponsorship deal with Lynk & Co, a joint automobile brand of Geely Automobile Holdings and Volvo, owned by Geely. The partnership will elevate Lynk & Co to the position of the team’s official automobile partner.
- Hycan, a joint brand of Guangzhou Automobile Group and China’s biggest electronics company Nio, has signed a business partnership with Chinese esports organization Edward Gaming (EDG), according to Edward Zhu, the CEO of EDG. This exclusive automobile sponsorship will allow Hycan to act as EDG’s official designated partner.