Challenges Arise for South Korean League of Legends Esports League in Mainland China Following Taiwan Controversy and Halted Broadcast

Although Korea is still considered a powerful force in global esports, the LCK league appears to be starting off on the wrong foot in 2024, despite the strong proof of Korea’s status as a global esports powerhouse.

Despite Beijing’s strict policies, Chinese teams were the dominant force in esports matches at the Asian Games

Just last week, LCK began its spring season, which saw that a video game streaming platform in China, backed by Tencent Holdings, the owner of Riot Games, decided to stop the official Chinese-language broadcasts of the new season. This marks the first time that LCK has experienced a suspension in mainland China since 2018, when Huya became an exclusive streaming partner with Riot Games for the regional tournament.

Riot Games Korea informed local media that the discontinuation was a result of the absence of a broadcast rights holder in the country. Although the company did not provide further details, it was suggested by some industry insiders that the problem is linked to the recent controversy surrounding Generation Gaming (Gen.G), one of Korea’s leading esports clubs.

In December, Gen.G sparked outrage in China after referring to Taiwan as a country in a Facebook post. The situation worsened after issuing an apology that “reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to respecting and upholding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and then retracting it, stating it remained neutral on political views, leading to widespread criticism from both Chinese and Korean fans.

Earlier this month, Ke “957” Changyu, a former professional gamer turned LPL commentator, stated on his personal streaming channel that the halted broadcast was due to the recent issues with Gen.G.

An insider working in China’s esports industry also confirmed with The Korea Times on the condition of anonymity that Gen.G was a significant reason for the suspension.

Both Riot Games and Huya did not respond to requests for comment on the broadcasting issue.

With strong government backing for esports-related policies and infrastructure, South Korea is at a critical point for the global esports industry. The country has developed an extensive talent pool across the world’s major esports games, including Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the renowned League of Legends player. The professional teams are supported by some of the largest business conglomerates in Korea, including SK Telecom, KT, and Samsung.

The suspension came as a surprise for many Chinese esports fans, who expressed their disappointment on social media following the incident.

Wang Ruiwen, a 22-year-old LCK fan in Shanghai, stated she was “extremely saddened” to find that the Huya channel was only replaying previous matches from the previous year instead of streaming the new season. As a result, she has to turn to the English-language streaming channel for LCK on YouTube, which is not accessible under China’s Great Firewall unless via a virtual private network (VPN) service.

Wang mentioned, “It’s unfortunate that the actions of a single team have impacted the access of the entire Chinese fan group to the tournament.”

The suspension will undoubtedly hurt LCK’s profitability through the loss of licensing fee revenue, amid the regional league’s struggle to secure revenue growth.

02:32

China’s Xi Jinping opens Asian Games with calls for solidarity and inclusiveness through sports

China’s Xi Jinping opens Asian Games with calls for solidarity and inclusiveness through sports

A coalition of teams affiliated with the league released a joint statement on January 17, the opening day of the LCK Spring season, to express their concerns about financial sustainability under Riot Games Korea.

“The league’s viewership, performance and fandom have continued to grow. However, despite this continued growth, the LCK League Corporation has not been able to grow the league’s business value over the past three years,” the teams said in the statement, which was originally written in Korean.

The financial predicament is not just LCK’s problem, but a concern for the entire global esports industry. An analyst with CBJ Think Tank, Zhang Shule, mentioned, “The profitability of esports events is often limited to sponsorships by game studios and hardware makers, and has a weak relation to companies with other product categories. Also, possibilities outside the competitions have barely been explored.”

In light of these obstacles, Dylan Jadeja, CEO of Riot Games, announced on Monday that the US-based developer is going to eliminate 11 per cent of its workforce, or about 530 jobs, as the company trims less-profitable businesses and focuses on core titles.

“We’re changing some of the bets we’ve made and shifting how we work across the company to create focus and move us toward a more sustainable future,” Jadeja said in a letter published on the company’s website. While it’s yet unclear how the Korean unit will be affected, the new battle is just beginning.

The Korea Times initially published this story in partnership with the South China Morning Post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *