China’s first degree course in professional video gaming has started admitting students as part of an increasingly lucrative multimillion-pound industry.
Xilingol Vocational College, in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, opened applications to the course last August, becoming the subject of animated debate online.
Students on the electronic competitive sports and management course have to answer exam questions about the hugely popular League of Legends video game. Many will be hoping to graduate and work in the video gaming industry, known as e-sports.
“Before the exam I spent one whole night trying to memorise all the theories and operating skills of the game,” He Jinduo, one of the first students to take the course, said. “Without systematic study, you can’t earn a good grade.”
Wu Hao, the dean of the college, said that the course was not just an excuse for students to play games all day.
“The mid-term exams for e-sports cover six subjects, mainly focusing on the most popular international video games,” he said. “Around 30 per cent of students failed the exams this time.”
E-gaming has been growing in popularity in China since 2003, when it was recognised as a sport for the first time. It has become a boom industry, with professional e-sports teams competing for enormous cash prizes in front of millions of fans in arenas and online.
China has an estimated 408 million online gamers, about half of whom watch e-sports competitions. Since the course was announced, the hashtag #E-sportMidterm has been used more than 2.2 million times on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, as users both celebrated and derided it.
“I can’t believe e-sports is a college major. Excessive attention to video games only saps students’ wills; playing games will not benefit their futures,” one person wrote.
Li Xiaofeng, who retired from the industry last year after earning about £100,000 a year playing Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, showed that e-sports could be a financially sound career.
“The moment I had dreamt about endlessly has finally come,” Mr Li said on hearing about the course.
The greatest e-sports players compete in international competitions. In August the five members of the Chinese team Wings Gaming shared the £7.2 million prize pot at the 2016 International DOTA 2 Championships e-sports event in Seattle.
Yang Shaohua, marketing chief for the online streaming platform Panda TV, which shows e-sports, said: “E-sport is different from traditional sport, which has many categories such as football and basketball.
“Schools with e-sport majors should first work as trials and the feedback from society still remains to be seen.”