By Yang Jie
In June, armed young men with the latest high-tech gear are
expected to descend on Beijing to shoot at their rivals.
Fortunately, the event is just a game with play guns. But it's
also a thriving business that stands to grow and change with the
addition of fifth-generation mobile connections.
Esports are videogame competitions played before live and online
audiences -- sometimes totaling in the tens of millions -- in which
experienced contestants vie for cash prizes. Companies ranging from
Intel Corp. to Ericsson AB say they see esports as a natural
application for ultrafast 5G networks. With much faster speeds than
fourth-generation technology, 5G can make a critical difference in
the realism of game scenes and the action. Fast networks are needed
to transfer the huge amounts of data that allow players to respond
to one another's actions and keep simulated environments
With faster connections, there also will be potential to involve
more players from different venues in a single esports competition.
The higher speeds made available in mobile devices, meanwhile, will
give a big boost to competitions in virtual-reality games -- both
in how such games are played and how audiences experience such
In virtual-reality games, headsets made by companies such as
Facebook Inc.'s Oculus unit allow players to immerse themselves in
simulated environments. In shooting games, for example, players see
themselves moving through the virtual environment, and when they
pull the triggers on their faux guns to shoot at virtual enemies,
bursts of gunfire appear.
Previously in virtual-reality esports, contestants at the venue
could move around some, but they had to wear bulky backpacks
stuffed with computers to manage data transfers and ensure
uninterrupted play. 5G frees competitors to move around more,
without wires or the burden of a heavy backpack containing computer
The technology "is revolutionizing the industry as mobile and
cloud-based gaming is set to take precedence, powered by 5G
connections and higher bandwidth," Kevin Murphy, an Ericsson vice
president, wrote in a blog post in March.
Chinese entrepreneur Qi Xiao, who focuses on applications of
virtual-reality technology for entertainment, is one of those
working on the next generation of esports. Mr. Qi says he was
inspired to take his business in this direction by the dystopian
science-fiction novel "Ready Player One," in which players of a
virtual-reality game in the 2040s hunt for treasure. The 2011
novel, by Ernest Cline, was adapted by Steven Spielberg into a 2018
The 40-year-old Mr. Qi started developing his own story lines
for virtual-reality videogames a few years back. In 2018, his
startup, Sky Limit Entertainment, received a multimillion-dollar
investment from Intel -- the exact amount wasn't disclosed -- and
the two companies started to work on applying new technologies such
as 5G to virtual reality.
One of the problems in virtual-reality esports up to now has
been that contestants often experienced a sense of vertigo due to
blurred images in their headsets caused by slow bandwidths. Mr.
Qi's 5G connections are designed to fix the vertigo problem. He and
Intel are also working on faster processing using cloud computing,
in which central servers do the heavy-duty data crunching rather
than computers or devices held by the players themselves.
"The trend is to bring everything onto the cloud so even if
people are far away from each other, they can still be in the same
space via 5G networks for real-time battles," says Mr. Qi.
When virtual reality is used in esports, the action is more like
a traditional sporting match, in that players are physically
active, roaming around a stage in a real arena, ducking down and
emerging to shoot enemies. Mobile sensors in the play guns, gloves
and headsets track the players' actions -- their movements and
shooting -- and that data is transmitted and processed into the
virtual environment. The contestants see that world in their
headsets. So does the audience. Spectators at the actual event can
both watch the contestants as they move about the stage and follow
the battle occurring in the virtual environment shown on giant
screens. Online viewers can also watch the virtual action.
In earlier esports, such as the "League of Legends" world
championship, spectators mainly were shown the in-game action.
Occasionally fans would see the players sitting in front of their
PCs. The new ability to see the players actually moving around and
testing their physical abilities provides an extra thrill, says
J.C. Kuang, managing director at the U.S. research firm Greenlight
Intel has had a hand in esports for years. It sponsors a
long-running professional videogame-competition tour called Intel
Extreme Masters and started to experiment with virtual-reality
games in 2017.
Sky Limit, Mr. Qi's company, and Intel are co-hosting a series
of VR competitions using 5G. Their plan calls for tournaments in
China, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore, although a recent
flare-up of Covid-19 cases may cause disruptions in the events
The market for dedicated cloud-gaming services is estimated to
be a $6.3 billion opportunity by 2024, growing from $640 million in
2020, according to New York-based research firm ABI Research. ABI
estimates the Asia-Pacific region would account for 45% of the
market, followed by North America with 26%.
Within Asia, China is at the forefront both of esports and 5G.
The leading esports platform is operated by Wuhan-based DouYu
International Holdings Ltd., a publicly listed company backed by
Chinese internet heavyweight Tencent Holdings Ltd. VR videogame
tournaments are scheduled this summer in cities such as Beijing and
Arenas for esports are even part of the economic development
plan in Beijing's Haidian district, the country's closest
equivalent to Silicon Valley and home to several of China's leading
universities. The district government's plan calls for roughly
$1.55 million in subsidies for companies hosting local esports
events using 5G, virtual reality or other technologies.
Tencent Vice President Cheng Wu said in a public speech last
August that the company was "hoping to bring a new, more
future-oriented experience in all aspects of esports." Next up, he
said, could be virtual characters serving as tournament
commentators and artificial-intelligence trainers for esports
Ms. Yang is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo. She
can be reached at email@example.com.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 26, 2021 10:14 ET (14:14 GMT)
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