On-Screen Athletes: Overnight at An Esports Marathon

Fans supporting a Chinese team in an international final experience euphoric highs and knuckle-biting lows.

JIANGSU, East China — It’s 10 p.m. in Nanjing, but for some, the night is only just beginning. As shoppers head home, a stream of excited young men trickles into a mall café, hoping to secure good seats. Outside, a man wearing a black “World of Warcraft” T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Never Surrender” smokes in silence.

These are esports fans, and they’re gearing up for a long night.

Around 100 spectators have gathered to support a Chinese team in the final games of The International, an annual five-day tournament of strategic fantasy video game “Dota 2,” played between two teams of five. Across China, there are hundreds of similar meet-ups in cinemas, bars, and internet cafés tonight, all held to support competitors some 9,000 kilometers away in Vancouver, Canada, where the day is just starting. Though esports still doesn’t attract the fandom of traditional sporting tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, viewing events — which barely existed 10 years ago — are increasingly common.

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“It’s just like supporting China in football or basketball. This is a sport we love, the feeling is just the same as a sporting event or the Olympics,” the event’s main organizer, Qian Lei, tells Sixth Tone. The 22-year-old’s life is esports: By day he works for a company promoting esports education, and he gets goosebumps watching replays of former Chinese esports victories. “If we win tonight, I’ll be happy for a year,” Qian says. Read the full article here.

– This is original content by Sixth Tone and has been republished with permission.