In the context of an increased will of control from the Chinese authorities over teenagers' video games addictions, the Guangzhou Daily published a long article about the Chinese Warcraft 3 star : TH000.
China was the first country in the world to register Internet addiction as a a clinical disease and has passed laws to control the access to online gaming.
The Guangzhou Daily is the third biggest newspaper in China with 1,85M copies sold every day. The article ended not being an interview but the opinion of the journalist on the subject, which obviously aligns with the Government's one. Aimed to break the dream of the "ideal life" of a pro gamer, it raises important subjects such as the player quality of life, struggle with studies and transition to another career.
TH000 reacted strongly to the article on his weibo and received a lot of support from the scene and his fans.
Beyond the TH000 controversy, I think we can expand this story to a larger general topic of online gaming addiction, renowned gamers and streamers quality of life. This is I believe, what guided the journalist in his writing.
One warning here : I do not pretend to have any answer, I am just gathering some facts inside and outside of the Warcraft community.
The fight against video gaming addiction or simply internet addiction is not recent in China. Since 2006, authorities have been opening military style rehabilitation camps for over-addicted teenage gamers. Placed there by their parents that lost control, the program set up by Colonel TAO Ran includes military exercises, medication, isolation and removal of all electronic devices.
An estimated of 24M Chinese would be internet addicts, many of them being minors.
You can check this 2015 article about the main rehabilitation camp of Daxing in the Telegraph .
This documentary is not partisan and has no narrative : it just illustrates.
You cannot watch without being touched seeing those families being unable to communicate. Hearing stories about cases of players dying out of exhaustion or thirst in cybercafes; about that one kid that wanted to jump out of a window after his father disconnected him right before he was about to finally level up; about that other kid that spent 50,000 RMB on item purchases; about that father that broke down and tried to stab his son.
We follow a couple of those teenagers and we get attached to them. Some escape what we can define as jail detention conditions, just to get caught at the nearest cybercafe 6 hours later. Some were drugged by their parents or lied to pretending to be going on skiing vacations to get there. Some threaten to kill their father. Some admit they have a problem and some do not. They all abandoned their studies to take refuge in the virtual world.
However, is "internet addiction" a disease or a symptom of a dysfunctional society? Even professor TAO still cannot answer the question. Go watch it and make up your mind.
Earlier this year, President XI Jinping himself announced a law to come about banning under-18s to have any access to online gaming between midnight and 08:00. Another article about this here.
Tencent, probably the biggest internet industry in China (owners of QQ and Wechat for example) announced a few weeks ago that they would limit the access to their popular game "King of Glory" to underage players from 12 to 18 yo to 2 hours per day.
Most of the gaming platforms now request identifications through ID card numbers (those are issued to all Chinese over 16 years old) and phone numbers. Noticed something on Netease lately?
In this context, TH000 probably understood that the article would not be a totally positive one and stated as such. He just did not expect it to be so gloomy. I did not have the chance to ask him the question, I only work here from the published article and his official statement.
The title of the article that was published in the Guangzhou set up the tone for the its full content. My friend Harvey was nice enough to provide us with a translation that I uploaded there.
The GD basically depicts the life of a 27 years old player that dropped from school at an early age and is so disconnected from the reality of students nowadays that he wished his fans success for their College entrance exams on the wrong date. He actually wished them success one day too early, enough for the reporter to make these type of comments.
Pursuing his "dream to have fun" as a professional career, GD insists on TH000 now alleged poor quality of life : eating snacks and carbonated drinks instead of real meals, waking up at 5PM, eating the main meal after midnight when the stream is over... TH000 would have looked haggard and exhausted during the interview. He would be over-weighed, being 171cm tall and 75kg heavy.
Haggard looking and over-weighted, the reporter does not go soft on TH000
The GD also insists on the humility of TH000's apartment in comparison of his dreams of "being a millionaire" through gaming.
They also touch on the subject of being a professional entertainer against being a professional gamer and on how his streaming channel would hurt his results in tournaments as he needs to always entertain his audience and this way, not playing optimal.
They finally quote him saying that the game is no longer fun to him, which he will deny having ever said.
TH000 made a statement on Weibo as after the publication of the article as he received widespread negative feedback from fans, his family and friends, his colleagues (other players?), sponsors or even brokerage firms. He explained he met with the journalist thinking it would be an interview and that the reporter changed the content of the discussion. He then insisted on 8 points that he felt were wrongly reflected :
TH000 in his apartment during a streaming session
The pyramid of Esport
TH000 concludes with advice to the youth generation of Esport : to dedicate a certain amount of time to reach the top but not to do it blindly. If after a while it appears that the dream of a progamer career cannot be achieved, then one shall pursue other goals. He points out that there are other alternative in Esports, like working backstage (what, some get paid for that? I feel conned right now!).
His last words : "I know that the mainstream media cannot make any hype around the pro-gaming career, but my life cannot stay depicted that black into people's textbooks".
I really was so fascinated by the whole controversy. Underneath a simple case of a reporter being possibly unfaithful to his interviewee, there is way more depth. There is the Government fight against Online gaming addiction, the origin of this addiction, the quality of life of progamers and what happens to those who fail to reach their goal.
Sky is the clear example in China of a successful transition from a progamer to a respected business man. I believe Tod or Grubby are living happy lives still centered on Esport. What of the many others?
This ad of Sky's company could be seen in Beijing subway last week
Maybe there is another pyramid to climb for players in their late twenties when the peak of their career is reached. Should they stick around or move on? When is the best moment to do so?
Do they always enjoy their job as a professional entertainer? We have seen cases recently of streamers fighting their audience or suffering from depression despite being very successful in doing so. This lead me to make some more research and to find this very interesting 15'mn documentary "streamers and depression" that will keep you thinking.
Woaw, I nearly feel sorry about writing all this but for once, I wanted to write something deep about a subject that can only be interesting to all Esport fans. It was probably written elsewhere before, but not through a Warcraft angle.
All this makes me just think that as the scene cares much about our favorite casters and players, we should keep supporting them and this, not only by donating!
I will write something lighter next time I promise, in the meantime go enjoy some Warcraft, and then go out hiking! Or study for that math college entrance exam. When is it exactly? I am a little disconnected from reality...