COMMENT: China's online gaming ban for kids is an opportunity for SEA esports

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 31: People play online games at the booth of Huya, a Chinese live-streaming platform for video games and e-sports, during the 19th China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference (ChinaJoy) at Shanghai New International Expo Centre on July 31, 2021 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
People play online games at the 19th China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China. (Photo: VCG via Getty Images)

Following its crackdown of the edtech sector, China's making regulations again to "protect" its youth. This time, it's limiting them to just three hours a week of online gaming.

The move is staggering. Previously, China had already restricted kids to just 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours on the weekend.

Now, anyone below 18 will only be able to play one hour from 8pm to 9pm on Friday to Sunday. I suppose, the assumption is kids will all turn to studying full-time now they have no more video games to play. Of course, most of us know that's not how things work.

Beyond that, this move doesn't just affect China's gaming companies, who have already seen their share prices dive.

It will also limit the amount of talent scouting for esports, especially since most kids won't be able to actually know how good they are with just three hours of playtime a week.

Other countries, being able to tap on a younger talent pool, will likely leapfrog ahead of China's esports industry, which has traditionally been one of the powerhouses on the global stage. For example. five Chinese teams have made it to this year's The International Dota 2 Championships in Bucharest, the most among the regions.

While I think the ban is a stupid one — restricting screen time should be on parents, and not a government mandate that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever — it's a great opportunity for gaming companies to refocus efforts on markets that show potential for growth.

They should see this as a sign that their home markets are untenable, because look, if you can't hook them while they are young, it's going to be almost impossible to get them once they reach the age they can legally play. So instead, they could turn their focus outwards, marketing their online games such as PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang to markets where such restrictions don't exist.

And Southeast Asia is perfect.

Places like Indonesia and the Philippines, where they already have a core group of players, will see even more events and promotions designed to get them invested in their game of choice. There could be more local hires who understand and grow the market, investment into franchises, and more.

Given the recent moves by Bytedance-owned Moonton in SEA recently, I'm guessing they anticipated such a move.

The company has increased its efforts to grow the SEA market, creating more local leagues, such as the recent one in Cambodia (MPL KH). It's a good sign that Moonton wants to stay in SEA, and highly regards the region as one to further grow.

Another key player could be Tencent-owned Riot Games. It has the perfect game to go big in the region: Wild Rift, the mobile version of its popular League of Legends title, which was open to SEA early on during closed and open beta.

With LoL possibly losing its younger Chinese user base, getting a new engaged player base outside of China is a strategy worth exploring.

It will be interesting to see what big moves Riot Games will make as it goes head to head with Moonton in SEA.

Of course, I could be wrong, and game companies could figure out loopholes and create single player games that don't need to connect online, or if they do, develop online events such as raids just for the time period where minors can play.

Sure, it may not be as addictive, but it's a way to survive. Older players, who face no such restrictions, could continue to be a core market.

However, these companies will see growth slowed, and possibly their markets shrinking, as the newer generation of players do not materialise thanks to the ban. Older players will also sometimes move on, and further add to the decline.

But it could also mean the return of single-player story driven games, or games that you can play locally over Bluetooth or a LAN.

It could mean content that isn't designed to keep you trying to open loot boxes and or purchase pointless cosmetics to show off online.

That's also a win, in my books.

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at

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