Former Newbee Players on Not Getting Paid for 2019 Fortnite World Cup, the State of Fortnite Esports in China

“Fortnite esports is dead in China,” a 17-year-old Chinese player told The Esports Observer, “Now I’m playing VALORANT, but I have not reached a professional level.”

Reading the above conversation, you wonder how this young man is qualified to define the Fortnite esports scene in China. His name is Li “XXM” Ming, a former Chinese Fornite professional player from esports organization Newbee, and one of the players who accused the organization of not paying him and his teammate Hu “xMende” Wenchen $100K USD in prize money from the 2019 Fornite World Cup.

In fact, after reporting this news in July, TEO has reached out to Newbee and game developer Epic Games multiple times, but neither has responded, as of this writing. Newbee was one of the more influential esports organizations in China, and Fortnite World Cup was a significant esports tournament in history. 

How Newbee Allegedly Stole $120K Prize Money from Ming and Wenchen 

Ming summarized three key points to TEO:

  • Before the 2019 Fortnite World Cup in New York, Newbee General Manager Zhang Jinwei asked Ming to give his Fortnite account, password, and email, to create an Epic virtual bank account (Where the player can receive prize money from Epic Games), called “hyperwallet.” Ming said that he did it because he “had to obey the team management.”
  • Ming is not an adult, so the “hyperwallet” is actually controlled by his father.
  • After the tournament, Ming alleges that Jinwei took his prize money from “hyperwallet” ten times by using Ming father’s name “Ren hao,” and moved it into a China Merchants Bank account called Shanghai Jinghe Sports Management Center, which is owned by Newbee CEO Xin “CU” Tong.

Wenchen told TEO that Newbee used the same method to take his prize money as well. 

Age is an essential factor in this case. Both Ming and Wenchen were 16 years old when they played at the 2019 Fortnite World Cup in New York. Under Chinese law, they are under the age of 18 and not adults. Therefore, all their income has to be managed by their guardians, in this case, their parents. However, most of the parents do not understand how the esports industry works, while Ming and Wenchen do.

Ming said that he reached out to Epic Games customer service multiple times, but the company said they do not get involved in disputes between players and esports organizations. Ming also filed an arbitration to Shanghai Huangpu arbitration court. The arbitration failed because “prize money is not salary.” Ming is currently suing Newbee and its CEO Xin Tong in the Shanghai Huangpu Intermediate People’s Court.

“I’m hopeless and don’t know what to do,” Ming said.

Esports outlets have reported that Newbee failed to pay $100K, but Ming said the amount was more.

“The total stolen prize money was $120,300 including $62,425 from me, and $57,875 from Wenchen,” Ming told TEO. “We won the $100K prize money at the final round of Fortnite World Cup, but we also won $20.3K prize money at the previous rounds, Luxe Cup, and World Cup Warm, all hosted by Epic Games.

“Actually, since I joined Newbee in 2018, they never paid [me] my prize money,” Ming added.

Neither Epic Games nor Newbee have commented. 

What Big Prize Money Means in Esports

For a long time, prize money has played a significant role in esports. For most players, the prize money can be life-changing. Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen, OG’s Dota 2 professional player and his teammates won The International twice with a net worth of $5M. Before Taavitsainen won his first TI, he only had $3K in his pocket. 

In this case, Ming could receive around $434K (¥300K RMB) after subtracting 30% for taxes. According to the newest report by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the annual average income of 1.4B Chinese people is ¥30.7K ($4.42K). Ming’s prize money is equal to what a Chinese worker earns in 10 years. 

The first $1M esports event, 2011 Dota 2 TI, changed the image of esports.

Now, we’ve entered 2020, and esports has become mainstream in entertainment and sports. During the COVID-19 pandemic, esports, for a while, became the “only sport” because it could be played remotely. That acceptance by society is based not only on the amount of prize money players can earn, but by the commercial and sponsorship earnings for players, teams, and leagues.

Fortnite and Dota 2 are both two major esports titles that have huge prize pools. In TEO‘s’ TOP 10 Esports Games by Total Prize Pool of 2019, Fornite took the first place with $64.4M, while Dota 2 took the second place with $46.7M. Riot Games’ League of Legends had $9M in total prize money.

However, neither Fortnite or Dota 2 are comparably sustainable to League of Legends. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, League of Legends regional tournaments ( LEC, LPL, LCS, LCK etc), and League of Legends World Championship have kept operating, while Dota 2 and Fortnite both canceled their annual events (Fortnite World Cup, and The International) this year, with only a few unofficial events, which are not sanctioned by Valve or Epic Games. 

In addition, Newbee also faced multiple match-fixing accusations from the Chinese Dota 2 community since May, which Valve has not responded to at the time of writing. Newbee was at one time one of the best performing Dota 2 teams in the world. The organization won the 2014 edition of TI, and placed second in 2017.

“Newbee has disappeared, and no team in China is operating the Fornite professional scene,” Ming explained to TEO on why he believes its esports is dead in China. “Otherwise I will keep my career in China’s Fortnite esports as a professional player.”

Speaking about the next phase of his life, Ming said he is not going back to school or college. 

“I’m now trying to become a professional player of Riot Games’ VALORANT,” Ming said. “I like playing shooting games, and they [Riot Games] did well in [the] League of Legends esports ecosystem.”

For esports players, a sustainable ecosystem should be more important than the prize money. If teams can not receive enough sponsorship and commercial value from the ecosystem, prize money will become the major but uncertain income. However, even the best esports team is not guaranteed to win all the time. It will lead the team to cut a large share of players’ prize money. Eventually, It will hurt players and the community.  

In July 2019, Leaders hosted an esports forum in Shanghai, discussing esports ecosystem sustainability with former Head of Riot Games China Johnson Yeh and Eric Wei, marketing vice president of Nike China. 

Johnson explained why Riot Games and League of Legends Pro League (LPL) did not apply a crowdfunding strategy to increase prize pool money like TI.

“We’ve considered a lot in LPL, and we decided not to do that,” Johnson said, the LPL teams could receive more value from sponsors and other approaches. Simply increasing the size of prize pool money would create economic bubbles in the market.”

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