What is it like to be an elite esports player in China? #SOCIOLOGY


Lin, Z., & Zhao, Y. (2020). Self-enterprising eSports: Meritocracy, precarity, and disposability of eSports players in China. International Journal of Cultural Studies,.


Twenty years since the Internet transformed gambling products and services, the convergence of online games and gambling has initiated a new means of consuming Internet-based media. Gambling specifically connected to eSports is a significant development, not only oThe emerging realm of eSports has become an inescapable part of overall sports and game culture. However, this study investigates eSports beyond sports and games, regarding it as a meta-change in the context of neoliberal Chinese society. In particular, this study focuses on the practices of Chinese eSports players to explore research questions of why and how eSports practitioners, especially professional players in China, have transformed themselves into new, self-enterprising subjects. Based on data collected from our fieldwork and interviews, this study demonstrates that Chinese eSports players pursue meritocracy, suffer from precarity, and face disposability in the future. The study finally proposes questions for sports ontologies and the challenges that eSports have created for the games empire.

The Data

This article uses ethnographic participant observation and in-depth interviews; fieldwork was conducted in “Shanghai, Guangzhou, Suzhou, and Chengdu for one year (1 July 2018 to 1 July 2019 with 15 top eSports clubs” and “completed 35 in-depth interviews “with different practitioners in the industry, including players, coaches, managers, and commentators”.


“This article…uses a micro approach to analyze the eSports industry and, more specifically, the practices of eSports practitioners, to explore the research questions of why and how professional eSports practitioners in China have transformed themselves into new self-enterprising subjects in China’s neoliberal context.”

“this study develops an analytical framework to illustrate eSports players’ practices that are situated in a neoliberal context and underpinned by meritocratic discourse; yet they are precarious jobs that lead to disposable futures.”

“this article…regards eSports as a meta-change in the specific context of Chinese neoliberal society”

“eSports practitioners, especially the professional players, transform themselves into new self-enterprising subjects by pursuing meritocracy, suffering from precarity, and facing disposable futures”

“eSports players should be aware that the myth of meritocracy is a false consciousness misleading them into voluntarily suffering through precarity and disposability, one which also hides the true power relations between eSports players and the state of the eSports industry regarding the exploitation of eSports players.”

Our Take on it

“What is it like to be an elite esports player in China? Tough, is the short answer. This powerful article gives a comprehensive answer and is a remarkable insight into how esports is evidencing ideological change in Chinese culture.  It argues that the Chinese esports community shows how esports elevates a meritocratic world view, which is at odds with the dominant Chinese ideology elsewhere in social, economic, and political life. Yet, it also describes how precarious the pathway is for a Chinese esports player and how knowledge of this may lead to a degree of self-delusion that players may be the ones to break through the system. It’s a powerful piece of work” Professor Andy Miah

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