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A Realm of Mere Representation? “Live” Esports Spectacles and the Crafting of China’s Digital Gaming Image

This article addresses the proliferation of images and appearances in the realm of e-sports culture in urban China. The author’s findings are based upon ethnographic research and participant observation of e-sports audience members, teams, and tournaments, including the 2010 Esports Champion League tournament in Beijing, the 2012 and 2013 World Cyber Games Festivals in Kunshan, and a 2014 Starcraft II tournament in Shanghai. A comparison of these events leads the author to argue that live esports events in China are less about spectatorship than they are about creating a spectacle that presents a carefully crafted vision of Chinese politics, nationalism, and capitalist consumer culture. In these cases, the participants and audience members are not only commodities to be sold but also a means of masking contradictory and highly ambivalent discourses about China’s role in technological production, digital game culture, and the promotion of the discourse of Internet addiction.