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Cyber Athletes Earn Millions a Year in China
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Twenty-one-year-old Li Xiaofeng can champion himself as one of the highest-paid athletes in China.

You will never see Li competing at the Olympics or in the NBA. He's a professional E-game player, or cyber athlete who works out just as much as other athletes.

"I play 70 hours a week, just to keep my 'skills' from dropping," Li said, "I have to arrange my time really carefully so I don't spent too many consecutive hours in front of the computer - that's to protect my eyes and my hands from getting too exhausted."

A cyber competition organizer says, "Top players who win cyber game competitions are rewarded with huge bonuses ranging from 100,000 to 1 million yuan (US$12,660). The players also earn a lot from sponsorships from game producers. So it is easy for them to earn 1 million yuan a year.

Li agrees the hard work is worth. "The pay is good," he says.

Warcraft III, Counter Strike, Starcraft: Broodwar, and Winning Eleven are the four most popular cyber games at competitions.

Li said he has taken part in seven competitions this year, and won the Chinese finals of the Lenovo International Electronic Sports Tournament (IEST) 2006.

China now has 23 million on-line game players, surging from 13.8 million in 2003. The China State Sport General Administration declared in 2003 that electronic sports were the 99th ranked sport activity.

Professional cyber athletes in China are almost all born in the1980s, according to Wednesday's Beijing Morning Post.

Revenue from the country's on-line gaming sector alone is expected to reach nearly 7 billion yuan (US$886 million), with further predictions that it will double to 14.3 billion (US$1.8 billion) in 2010.

The government seems to be aware of the growing trend too, as it has given the green light to more game related activities.

The country started to host its own premier digital entertainment expo, China Joy, in 2003, drawing established game producers such as Sony to demonstrate their latest games.

The All-China Sports Federation issued a document in September officially permitting cyber game competitions to be operated commercially.

Lenovo IEST was sponsored by the leading IT enterprise Lenovo Group, who provided 1.2 million yuan (US$15,200) in prize money.

(Xinhua News Agency October 25, 2006)

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