Alibaba relocates e-sports arm, aims to build out international presence

Alisports Group, the sports affiliate of Alibaba Group, is relocating its e-sports unit to Chongqing. Currently based in Shanghai, the move is a continuation of the "1+2" partnership agreement that Alisports signed with the Chongqing Sports Bureau, Chongqing High-Tech Zone and Jiulongpo District at the Smart China Expo last month, the Chongqing Economic Times reported.

As part of the latest agreement, all four parties will work closely on e-sports tournaments and projects in the health industry, to help develop a strong platform of resource for Chongqing's e-sports scene, the media report stated.

The report added that Alisports will also launch a Chongqing sports bank, a big data-driven service platform for residents to encourage them to keep fit. Additionally, the sports affiliate of Alibaba Group will also work with Chongqing High-Tech Zone to build an international e-sports street in Jiulongpo District.

Multiple media reports earlier this year stated that Alisports completed an approximately US$191 million series A round of funding led by Yunfeng Capital, an investment firm co-founded by Alibaba's chairman Jack Ma. The sports affiliate was established in 2015, with former Shanghai Media Group's vice president Zhang Dazhong serving as CEO.

Alisports aims to boost the sports industry and benefit more partners and consumers through e-commerce, media, sales, TV broadcast, smart technology, cloud computing, big data and finance service. Additionally, Alisports also organises the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG), an e-sports championship which AirAsia came on board for this year as the official airline partner.

According to Alisports' website, the "1+2" partnership agreement sees Alisports drawing from domestic and foreign experiences and knowledge of building a smart city to improve its sports offering and provide sports data monitoring tools. This will be done through its integrated big data service platform, to obtain relevant information and offer a smart city solution to Chongqing's Jiulongpo District.

Additionally, Alisports will also organise large scale sports events and networking sessions to boost the cooperation of foreign and domestic companies within the local sports industry. This comes after the group partnered with the Chongqing Liangjiang New Area this January to construct a smart city within the area, reported China Daily.

Alibaba Group also deepened its partnership with Chongqing by signing an agreement with the municipal government to partner on 14 projects around big data, cloud computing and technology finance to build a "Smart Chongqing", China Daily stated.

Building out Alisports' international presence

Separately, Jason Fung, head of e-sports, Alisports said among its list of short term goals include building out Alisports' international presence and having more competitions worldwide. He added that Southeast Asia is one of the company's focus regions for 2018, and that Alisports will eventually focus on South America, Africa, Western Europe and India. According to Fung, Alisports aims to build out its "relatively weak presence" in those regions.

It also plans to continue expanding its offline presence in each Southeast Asian country by having more offline events. "That's the best way to build competition intellectual property," Fung said, adding that while Alisports will make "best efforts" to ensure it gets most popular games on board for WESG, while investing resources to build out less popular titles and categories. Alisports is also looking into other forms of e-sports such as robot fighting and drone racing.

"[Alisports] is very much a start-up at heart and we are allowed to try the different things and are given flexibility to do so," he said.

For example, Fung said one of the things that took off in China was its e-sports café business. The sports affiliate of Alibaba Group built a turnkey solution, including the backend software system, to empower individuals who wish to build an e-sports cafe to do so. According to Fung, there are currently 68,000 internet cafes in China associated with Alisports.

It also began dabbling in online to offline retail experiences and opportunities. "We are able to try all these different things because in the end, what we want to build is a platform for e-sport users with a commerce focus. And we keep asking ourselves what does that platform look like? Is such a platform even possible?" Fung said. He added that while Alisports has yet to find a perfect solution, it is willing to invest time and resources into figuring that out.

So, what is the push needed for e-sports to take flight? Fung said it markets e-sports as a sport rather than just a form of entertainment. It reached out to the Chongqing Sports Bureau, for example, to explain that e-sports is an activity that can get the community involved, drive retail and boost the economy of local provinces.

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