Presented by: DW Documentary by Mathias Bölinger
Alice Zhang is living her dream. She earns money playing computer games. But to survive in China's booming gaming scene you have to keep winning, and attract sponsors. And, in this male-dominated industry, that's far from easy.
Alice Zhang is a young star in China's thriving gaming scene. The industry is worth millions, and it's dominated by men. Alice is one of the women challenging that she's living her dream, but it's a risky business if you want to survive you have to win.
Alice has been playing professional eSports for almost two years. Along with her teammates, she competes in the game League of Legends.
-I like the competition. You can reach different levels. And each time you do, it gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Each day Alice has to practice for 10 hours or more, behind the scenes the team's manager Pan Jang Shing takes care of everything else.
-To get a place on the team. The players have to have reached a certain level a certain score in the game. That's the most important thing then we look at their age the younger they are the greater their potential.
League of Legends is a team game the five players in the LLG team win or lose together. They picked the name for love laughing girls, girls who love to laugh.
-This life makes me happy being able to do what I love most professionally is the greatest motivation for me to improve. Most people have to do something they don't like but I can do what I enjoy.
Two teams compete against each other. They both have five fighters each with different features and powers. The parts from your base to the opponent's lead through a jungle full of monsters, together the team has to defeat the monsters and their enemies before they can conquer the opponent's base. Chen Jin Young trains the LLG girls, he used to be a Pro Gamer himself.
- I helped them improve their fighting skills and look at how they do him one-on-one battles, but what's most important is how they work together as a team.
Today is a training match against another all-female team LLG are the the blue figures on the top right hand corner of the map. Their opponents are the red figures at the bottom left. Both teams are connected through the internet. The game's all about speed and cooperation each individual has to play to their full potential the opponent will exploit any weaknesses they find, they're under attack and the mood gets tense in the flurry of battle it's hard to keep an overview of who is where.
This time they escaped unharmed, but the opponents are tougher than expected. Next door the trainer and the assistant are nervously following the action. They're clearly at a disadvantage, after an hour the opponent's managed to take LLG's base.
- You suffered too many casualties on the middle path and you let yourself get cornered. You have to get better at judging when to attack don't just strike as soon as you see your opponent, you felt too safe.
- It's fine it was just a training match if it had been a real competition that would have been bad but it sure was a wake-up call.
The following day they head out to an important tournament Alice and her roommates wake up once lunch is ready.
- We stay up late playing so we wake up late.
Alice shares an apartment with her teammates, LLG is one of China's top 10 an investor pays for the apartment food and the players salaries. To make her dream come true Alice ran away from home.
- My parents often got angry they'd scold and hit me when I played too much when they hit me I cried but I'm quick to forget after a while everything would be fine again and I went on playing then they'd hit me again, and I played again and so it went on and on.
Now she's 19 and has been here for 2 years, in China young people like Alice are often considered internet addicts problem cases in a society that expects discipline and performance. Professional leagues for gamers only emerged in the past few years, but mostly for boys, the women's league is just getting started.
- In many sports men are stronger than women, but I don't think that has to be the case with eSports. I think we're also pretty strong.
- I'm not nervous. We're stronger in competitions than we normally are. We really want to win.
At the tournament the winners from each of China's regions compete for the Chinese championship title.
Then a message arrives from the manager, they've had a car accident two players and the trainer are injured they're at the hospital. The final is cancelled.
Six months later, the players are back on their feet, but the team has split up. Alice is staying with her former manager Pan Jang Shing in an apartment block near Guangzhou.
- After the accident our motivation sank, the club had been making losses for a long time and was only kept alive in the hopes that the market would eventually pick up again.
But it didn't, while men's professional leagues have generated over 100 million Euros in China alone women's clubs have had to do with low prize money and a lack of sponsors. Pan Jang Shing bought this apartment a year ago. She lives with her parents in Guangzhou but comes to visit Alice on the weekends. Mostly they just hang out at home.
- As long as someone gives me a small room and food every day doesn't really matter what as long as it fills me up and I have a bed and a computer I don't really ever have to leave the room. That's all I need.
-And a toilet;
- True, I do need a toilet.
Today they've decided to venture out, a neighbour has invited them for dinner. They live in a new residential area that sprang up from what was just a field not long ago many of the residents are young. There's an activity center that offers a little entertainment.
- If I go out to go shopping or get food, I always come here. It's my only change of scenery and it helps me unwind...done, shall we go?
While Pan Jang Shing stays out with the neighbour Alice returns home. She'll have to be online that evening. Alice needs to build a new life for herself while she does Pan Jang Shing's apartment has become her retreat.
- I had another fight with my mother two days ago she blamed me for never coming home, but I don't want to live there anymore. I don't want to work in an ordinary job and my parents don't like me playing video games when I was competing in the team they tolerated it, but as soon as they found out the team had broken up they just started pressuring me again to get a normal job.
Two weeks ago, she received a fixed term contract a games distributor pays her to play online and live stream the games.
She has to stream online at least 4 hours a day while she plays and talks to the viewers. She's paid a modest amount.
Her life isn't about winning games, but the hearts of her fans. She has to entertain her followers by playing music telling stories answering questions and giving advice.
- I have very quick hands that helps if you're not good enough or show up to rarely the others will quickly throw you out of the game. It's not a bad job. But when I think back I feel a little melancholy it was a great time living in playing with the others. But what can you do? Nothing lasts forever.
In the coming weeks Alice Zhang really needs to build up her fan base then, hopefully she can carry on working as a gamer after all.