Netease’s MOBA game launches open beta in China, but faces uphill battle in e-sports scene
C. Custer | On September 12, 2013 at 10:00 am
Netease’s Heroes of the Three Kingdoms, a MOBA-style game based on DoTA and League of Legends, launched its nationwide open beta yesterday after months of closed beta testing and hype-building. The game is Netease’s strongest push yet towards creating a domestic esports scene that it can play a role in.
As the game’s name implies, it was designed primarily with Chinese gamers in mind, and its heroes are mostly inspired by quasi-historical characters from the famous Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. (You would think Chinese gamers would be tired of Three Kingdoms stuff by now given that there are probably hundreds of games based on the story; however this is a topic I have ranted about before at some length and there’s no need to rehash it.)
Whether it can capture the Chinese public’s interest is still up for grabs; on Weibo I found people saying it was pretty good and a few people saying it was godawful, so the internet hive mind has not yet made a decision about the game itself. But as to it becoming a player in the e-sports scene, people are skeptical. One commenter on Chinese gaming site 17173 explained it like this:
You have to wait and see what the Koreans and foreigners think about it. Whether it gets popular in China doesn’t matter, it can’t get on to the international e-sports stage. Can its prize be bigger than the prizes outside China?
And indeed, even for China’s biggest MOBA gamers to pay attention, it’s going to need major cash prizes that rival international events like The International. And to sustain those kinds of prizes and build a long-term e-sports scene, it’s probably going to need international attention and sponsorship money. Otherwise it will become a China-only competition that’s probably not going to be able to attract the best players because they’ll be too focused on LoL and DoTA, which is where the money is.
But will foreign players be interested in the Three Kingdoms theme? Does Netease even have plans to localize versions of the game for other countries? I have to suspect the answer is no on both counts, and if that’s the case, then Heroes of the Three Kingdoms seems destined to become an e-sports also-ran, even in its native China.