On Dec. 10, South Korean game developer Smilegate and Tencent, in conjunction with tournament organizer VSPO, hosted the annual CrossFire global esports competition in Chengdu, China: the $1.42M USD CrossFire Stars (CFS) Grand Finals 2023. Hosted at the Chengdu Gaoxin Gymnasium, over 6,000 attendees witnessed Chinese esports organization BaiSha Gaming hoist their second CFS trophy following CFS 2022 Grand Finals, and take home $500K in prize money. The Esports Advocate attended the event as one of a few Western esports media outlets, and spoke to Smilegate Entertainment Global Operation Team – Manager Seong Hoon Lee.
“I was an esports enthusiast when I was young in South Korea, and I’m a huge fan of StarCraft esports,” Lee told TEA. “Smilegate is the developer and IP holder of CrossFire. Our role is to invest in and further develop [the] CrossFire central esports scene, including not just China, but also CrossFire professional competitions and events in Brazil, Vietnam, and the Philippines as well.”
To his point, there were 12 different international teams that competed in CFS 2023 Grand Finals, including three Chinese teams (BaiSha Gaming, ALL GAMERS, and XROCK), two Egyptian teams (3BL Esports, Anubis Gaming), two Vietnamese teams (CaraHouse.2L and RANKING ESPORTS, two Brazilian teams (VINCIT Gaming and Imperial), a North American team (Kungarna), a European team (LCK), and a Philippines team (Pacific Macta).
Lee told TEA that Smilegate now directly operates three CrossFire regional leagues: CrossFire Brazil League (CFBL), CrossFire Vietnam League (CFVL), and CrossFire Western League (CFWL). Tencent Games operates CrossFire Pro League (CFPL) in China as the only franchise league in the ecosystem. To maintain a sustainable ecosystem in CrossFire, Lee said that the company introduced the “Player Support Program.”
“Smilegate Entertainment invests a lot to provide a stable environment to China and other regions worldwide. For example, we directly provide the prize money, and we also provide a program called the Player Support Program, which is like monthly salaries to the international pro players directly,” Lee said.
Compared to other first-person shooter (FPS) esports titles such as Counter-Strike 2, Valorant, or PUBG, the CrossFire professional scene has over 10 years in China as 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of CFS. In the past 10 years of CFS history, Chinese teams have won eight championships, while Brazilian esports organizations BD and VG won the 2018 and 2019 editions, respectively. In some ways, the Player Support Program closes the performance gap between international players and Chinese competitors.
In 2019, Tencent first applied franchising mode in CFPL, and the franchising entry fee at the time was reportedly $1.5M, according to Chad Larsson, now former CEO of Reciprocity Corp. In 2019, the organization partnered with the Chinese team LGD Gaming and joined CFPL as REC.LGD.
Regarding the sponsorships, the CFS 2023 Grand Finals had two sponsors this year: Alienware and gaming chair company Morphling. Lee told TEA that the company is very open to brand sponsorships in CFS: “In the past, we didn’t aggressively try to make sponsorships. Now, we are trying to seek more opportunities and partners to join our esports scene,” he said. CFPL currently has six sponsors including automobile maker Buick, Chinese dairy brand Bright Dairy, Alienware, gaming chair company AutoFull, and Chinese shoe brand Warrior.
Lee didn’t reveal to TEA the cost of a CFPL franchise slot in 2023. Abner Chen, the assistant general manager of the K1 Cooperation Department of Tencent and publishing producer of CrossFire in China, mentioned at the Tencent Esports Global Summit in July that CrossFire has over 1B registered players, and CFPL had signed a 10-year partnership with Chengdu’s Gaoxin District.
Lee also confirmed that the 10-year partnership between CFPL and Chengdu Gaoxin District is also one of the reasons that Smilegate, Tencent, and CrossFire users picked Chengdu as the hosting city of CFS 2023.
On Nov. 28, the Chengdu government hosted a press conference, the “Chengdu 2023-2024 World Esports Competitions Launch,” alongside its iconic landmark Twin Towers. The government revealed that five global esports competitions including CFS 2023 Grand Finals, Honor of Kings International Championship, and Naraka Bladepoint World Championship would be hosted in Chengdu in December. In addition, the Chengdu Minister of Propaganda Department of Municipal Committee Gu Xuefu said at the conference that Chengdu aims to become the “Esports Cultural City” in China, and the Chengdu Gaoxin District expects to surpass ￥60B RMB ($8.36B) industrial scale.
Finally, during CFS 2023 Grand Finals, Tencent and Smilegate partnered with the Chengdu ancient temple Wenshu Monastery, setting up a special booth inside the landmark location. As one of the special brand activities of CFS 2023 Grand Finals and CFS teams, CF players and audiences could watch competitions at the booth and get merchandise. In addition, some Chengdu special costumes and food were also combined with CF teams at the booth.
“I’m a fan of Sichuan Chengdu food, and a hotpot addicted,” Lee said and made a joke. “Maybe we should get a hotpot sponsor or partner in Chengdu in the future.”