China Reduces Gaming Time for Kids to Three Hours a Week
China’s history with gaming is a complicated one. The country is known for its pro-active video game censorship, preventing developers from including things such as ghouls, skeletons, and politics in their games in order to prevent works that “endanger social morality or national cultural traditions.” The limits placed on video games by the Chinese government go beyond in-game content, but the ways Chinese gamers can play. Now in China the latest gaming restriction in this arena is the limitation of playtime for kids, resulting in a three-hour total for the week, down from 90 minutes of play per day with three hours on the weekend and holidays.
Three Hour Prime Time for China’s Kids
According to a report from Bloomberg, the China gaming restriction for kids will be just three hours a week, which represents an incredible escalation of restriction in the two years since its previous legislation on game time back in 2019.
This legislation means that “platforms from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to NetEase Inc. can only offer online gaming to minors from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, weekends, and public holidays.” These new limitations could severely impact games like League of Legends, Honor of Kings, and Teamfight Tactics which are properties of Tencent that have established or growing competitive scenes, as well NetEase’s Identity V and Project M, which have the potential to develop competitive play at both the pro level and amateur level.
The new restrictions are “too tight” according to Steven Leung, an executive director at global investment firm UOB Kay Hian (Hong Kong) Ltd., “I thought regulatory measures would take a break gradually but it’s not stopping at all. It will hurt the nascent tech rebound for sure.”
Other measures in the new ruling include anti-addiction initiatives linked to all online games as well as mandatory, real-ID registration, industry-wide regulators to check and enforce restrictions on playtime and in-game purchases, and increased resources and education for parents, guardians, schools, and other stakeholders to hedge youth gaming addiction.
While developers may be feeling most of the brunt of these new restrictions, there are trickle-down effects that could harm the esports scene in China, especially aspiring rookies.
The Developmental Pool: Adult Swim
In China, the latest restriction could have a severe impact on many developmental gaming teams and rising kids who will no longer be able to get the necessary game time they need to improve their skills. Looking at Leaguepedia’s list of Chinese players by age, we can see many players at the developmental level for League of Legends being as young as 16 years old, the cut-off age for China’s new gameplay restrictions.
While unfortunate, the reality is that many pro players often have to neglect their academic responsibilities to develop their skills as players. In his personal blog, Chinese Dota 2 player LanM describes his journey into gaming as such:
“In high school, in the face of many ‘fail’ marks, I rode an uncle’s connections into a specialized high school art program. As someone who had never had any interest in art, plus coveting more time to play, I gave up on school and dropped out on an impulse, rationalizing it by noting the program’s high fees and costs. Because my parents weren’t nearby, and my grandparents couldn’t really stop me, over time it became accepted in the family. After soaking in the internet cafe for a month, mom feared me falling in with the wrong people and influences, and so she borrowed money to buy me a computer, knowing that I’d always loved playing games. From that day on, I officially began my recluse lifestyle (otaku-style).”
As a player, LanM has never seen outside of 7th-8th in many major events, taking 2nd with EHOME at Dota 2’s inaugural International and 7th at The International 2019, earning his team, Royal Never Give Up, around $858,000 of the tournament’s prize pool. LanM could be considered a contemporary legend in the Chinese Dota scene as he rose to international acclaim and recognition when he signed to Team DK’s legendary roster of Mushi, BurNIng, iceiceice, and MMY! back in 2014. However, LanM’s career as a Chinese Dota juggernaut would not have taken place under the current gaming restriction we see in China today.
Esports organizations and leagues will have to actively work with the Chinese government to provide concessions for their growing players, and the likelihood of that seems slim. Based on government crackdowns on private tutoring, state media calling video games ‘spiritual opium,’ and shutting down celebrity social media pages, the Chinese government looks to involve itself in the development of Chinese youth for the long term.
In his statement to The Guardian, Chinese censorship expert Lokman Tsui said that Beijing’s leadership “see themselves as moral authorities – not just the authority on the truth, but also the authority on morality.”
As long as video games are seen as a blight on public morality in China, esports will follow that same condemnation.