Discussions in Taiwan are underway to better recognize the gaming industry and its serious economic impact.

The Executive Yuan on Oct. 26 announced a plan to classify the gaming industry under a specific category, which will provide Taiwanese professional gaming teams government support and lift the teams’ rankings in the booming gaming industry, also known as electronic sports - “eSports.”

Taiwan's “Digital Minister” Audrey Tang (唐鳳) was tasked with leading the discussion with the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Culture (MOC) to decide the classification of eSports. The MOE would be responsible for eSports if it is classified as a legitimate “sport,” or the MOC would be in charge if it is a "new culture," while Tang will be responsible for the development of the industry, Liberty Times reports.

On Nov. 1, a meeting regarding the issue was held and included representatives from the MOE, MOC and Tang, a minister without portfolio.

After the meeting, eSports has yet to be defined as a specific industry but the MOE will allow certain schools to provide eSports courses and the sports administration under the MOE will provide subsidies for these schools, Tang told The News Lens International.

The MOC suggested that eSports should be classified within the "digital content industry," which is regulated by the Department of Economic Development under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). Further discussions with the MOEA on detailed regulations for the industry will follow, she said.

More than 40 countries have classified competitive online gaming as a legitimate “sport.” The countries support their players by providing financial resources and some have created new laws to ensure teams and players remain competitive in the global arena. For example, the National Assembly of South Korea enacted legislation for the promotion of eSports and the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has medium- and long-term plans to advance the industry. China, Malaysia and France are also the latest to implement eSports-related legislation.

eSports in Taiwan

According to Newzoo, the leading source for information on the gaming industry, there are 12.8 million gamers in Taiwan. And there are more than 600,000 serious competitive players, according to Taiwan Business Topics.

Local eSports tournaments attract more than 150,000 viewers and approximately 1.5 million people watched a three-day tournament of a local League of Legends (LoL) tournament, LoL Master Series (LMS), according to online game platform Garena.

Taiwan has set remarkable eSports milestones. In 2012, Taiwanese eSports team Taipei Assassins (TPA) won the 2012 LoL Championship, with a grand prize of US$1 million. Hsiang Yu-lin (向玉麟), aka “GamerBee,” placed second at the Ultra Fighter 4 2015 Evolution Championship Series. The 37-year-old now makes about NT$1 million (US$30,000) a year, according to Taiwan Business Topics.

Despite its popularity, eSports in Taiwan has not been recognized as an official industry by the government. Therefore, unlike countries such as Korea, China and Malaysia, there have been complaints it does not receive sufficient government support. Local teams and players often struggle to attend global competitions because they do not know which government department they should turn to for help.

This March, the MOE Sports Administration said it would not classify eSports as sports due to its “static nature” and the fact that it is not included in the Olympics. The announcement was in response to a proposal by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) to move to classify eSports as a sport last year.

eSports teams in countries such as Korea are usually sponsored by large corporates. However, teams in Taiwan often have financial issues since they have to cover expenses on their own.

There is also a significant difference between the earnings of Taiwanese eSports players and international players. A player’s income includes cash prizes from tournaments, wages from the team, and payments from streaming games on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. U.S. player “UNiVeRsE,” who has the highest overall earnings among international players, has earned more than US$2 million since 2013, while Taiwanese player “Bebe,” whose salary is the highest among gamers in Taiwan, has earned US$280,000 since 2011, according to esportsearning.com.

Despite its popularity, eSports lacks support not only from the government but also the public. On Oct. 14, Deputy Minister of Education Tsai Ching-hua (蔡清華) said one-third of the people surveyed see eSports as an official sport; others do not think eSports should be included in the sports industry and only see it as entertainment, Liberty Times reports.

Taiwanese professional eSports player “HULK” believes gaming has a bad public perception. For example, parents believe playing video games has a negative influence on their children. The negative perceptions limit the growth of the gaming industry, but HULK believes that public perceptions of gaming could be changed if the government sets up proper regulations.

A chance to shine

Taiwanese artist Jay Chou (周杰倫) has supported the industry and established the eSports team “J-Team” in April. Chou hopes to provide the team with sufficient resources and help revitalize the local eSports industry.

According to international accounting firm PwC, the eSports industry is on the rise and could possibly earn more than US$500 million revenue in 2016. According to Newzoo, the industry is expected to earn US$1 billion in 2019.

Several Taiwan companies already have a major focus on the eSports industry. Equipment designed by Taiwanese brands, such as ASUS, MSI and HTC, is often seen at international tournaments and will be showcased in an eSports tournament Taiwan is hosting in Turkey on Nov. 13. Turkey has more than 20 million gamers.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White