On July 12, 2023, Tencent and Riot Games finally launched the highly anticipated first-person shooter title, Valorant, in mainland China. The launch comes three years after the games international debut in June 2020, with the delay attributed to a long process for getting a Chinese license (ISBN) required for local operations. This game licensing process had a setback in 2021 with a one-and-a-half-year freeze on foreign game approvals, impacting Riot and other overseas developers. Nonetheless, Valorant was included in the first batch of foreign games to receive a license in December 2022, when approvals resumed. Niko Partners maintains a positive outlook for foreign game approvals in 2023, projecting a higher number of licenses issued this year than in 2021 and 2022, signaling greater opportunities for overseas developers and publishers in the China market.
Valorant is launching at an opportune time in China
Valorant is launching into the largest PC games market in the world where established shooters such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive and CrossFire have built robust communities and esports ecosystems. Even PUBG and Apex Legends, neither of which have an ISBN to operate in China, are very successful through the international version of Steam. Despite launching into a crowded field our preliminary data shows Valorant is already off to a strong start in China for a few key reasons.
Valorant‘s successful launch has been heightened by its association with Riot Games, who also created League of Legends (LoL), the most popular PC game in the country. Riot has capitalized on this by offering exclusive rewards to players who link their LoL account with their Valorant account. At the same time, the timing of Valorant’s launch notably fills the void for Chinese PC gamers and esports enthusiasts left by the closure of Blizzard’s Overwatch, a similar title which had a large esports ecosystem in China and shut down at the beginning of this year.
We forecast that Valorant will contribute to growth in China’s PC games market, which notably resumed growth in 2022 after 5 years of decline, according to Niko Partners’ market model in our 2023 China Games Market & 5-Year Forecast Report.
Valorant debuted to high player and viewer demand
Data from Niko’s China Games Streaming Tracker, which tracks over 700 games and 144,000 channels across DouYu, Huya and Bilibili, shows that Valorant was the #2 most viewed PC game across those live streaming platforms in its first week, behind League of Legends. Total viewers for the game in its launch week were nearly 3x higher than the #3 PC game, CrossFire. An average of 8,000 channels have streamed the game each day during its launch week with an average of 44,000 hours of gameplay streamed each day across the three platforms.
The launch day itself witnessed incredibly high demand, which led to long queue times and server issues, prompting Tencent to publicly announce an increase in capacity. Niko’s Streaming Tracker showed that viewership of the game on live streaming platforms had been increasing rapidly prior to the launch of the game, since the title first received its license in December last year. Closed beta tests, the marketing ramp up, Chinese team participation at international esports tournaments and the launch of the game itself were the main drivers of viewership. In particular, the start of the VCT 2023 Masters Tokyo led to a notable boost in viewership, peaking on days when Chinese team Edward Gaming were competing.
Valorant offers a tailored experience for Chinese gamers
Tencent and Riot Games have held numerous closed tests this year to obtain player feedback and ensure they can meet the expectations of players in the country. Not only does the Chinese server incorporate numerous features from the international version, it also includes unique local characteristics. The developers have communicated a plan to synchronize updates between the international and China server over time. Niko Partners observed that the strategic plan for the China market is further evident in reduced prices for skins, comprehensive guides for agents, weapons, and maps, and the benefit of low ping local servers, thereby enhancing the overall player experience.
There is also a large esports focus built into the game launcher with a dedicated esports section for players to view Valorant esports tournaments and find data on matches, talent, and teams. Niko Partners Esports in Asia & MENA Report shows that China has the world’s largest esports market by both revenue and users, with 69% of PC gamers engaging with esports in some form. Moreover, PC gamers that engage with esports spend 77% more per month on gaming compared to those that do not engage with esports, underlining the potential for Valorant as an esports title.
China will boost Valorant’s global esports ecosystem
Tencent has already committed RMB 1 billion ($138 million) over the next 3 years to further the development of Valorant and its esports ecosystem. Even before that commitment, Chinese esports organizations such as Edward Gaming (EDG) had fielded their own teams. EDG competed in the VCT Masters Tokyo this June, becoming the first Chinese team to reach the quarterfinals at an international Valorant tournament, demonstrating the potential of Chinese esports participation in Valorant.
When excluding China, data from our Asia & MENA esports tracker shows that Valorant was the #2 esports title by total prize pool in H1 2023 across the two regions, behind Mobile Legends. The game ranked #1 for total unique tournaments, accounting for over 12% of all esports events.
Domestically, tickets for the inaugural Valorant Champions Tour (China Qualifier), which was held between July 3-16 with 12 Chinese teams, sold out quickly. EDG, Bilibili Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix are the three Chinese teams that will progress to the Valorant Champions 2023 tournament in LA this August. China is set to get its own professional league in 2024 and Riot has already spent RMB 2 million developing a grassroots esports ecosystem.
Given these indicators, Niko Partners expects Valorant to become a mainstay title in the FPS genre on PC in China. Niko Partners will continue to track the performance of Valorant through our China Streaming Tracker, China Games Market Database, China Esports Tracker and China Value Added News Analysis Service, which provide ongoing data and insights to our clients.
Since 2002, we’ve delivered local strategic planning for development and go-to-market actions for developers aspiring to publish and succeed in China. Contact us to learn more and subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay up to date on developments in the market.