Alibaba’s Taobao to livestream Tencent’s ‘Honour Of Kings’ in rare partnership of China’s top tech giants

By Ann Cao

Taobao and Tencent are jointly launching an invitation-only video gaming competition, with the finals to be aired on Taobao Live next month. The move marks Taobao’s debut in the esports live-streaming sector, which has been dominated by Bilibili and Tencent-backed Huya and Douyu. — SCMP

Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings are joining forces to promote their flagship brands in a rare collaboration between China’s two largest technology companies, as the local race to attract eyeballs online heats up amid a slowing economy.

Alibaba’s ecommerce platform Taobao and Tencent’s hugely popular mobile game Honour of Kings are launching an invitation-only competition, with the finals to be broadcast on livestreaming service Taobao Live on August 5, according to a press release by Taobao and Tmall Group on Thursday.

Taobao, whose parent owns the South China Morning Post, said it is calling on “gamers from all walks of life” to start streaming on the platform.

The move marks Taobao’s debut in the esports livestreaming sector, which has been dominated by a handful of video platforms including Bilibili, as well as Tencent-backed Huya and Douyu.

An ad for a shopping event on Alibaba e-commerce platforms in Shanghai, China. Photo: Bloomberg

Alibaba’s China commerce business, which accounts for a large part of the group’s total revenue, has suffered under weak retails sales nationwide. During the March quarter, sales in that segment fell 3% year on year, Alibaba’s financial statements showed.

In that same quarter, Tencent – operator of the world’s largest video gaming business by revenue – saw its domestic gaming sales rise 6%, the Shenzhen-based company reported.

China, which has eased its years-long crackdown on the video gaming industry, has been promoting esports to boost its soft power ahead of the coming Asian Games, where esports will become a medal event for the first time.

Honour Of Kings, which is one of the seven esport titles to be featured in the Games, has operated an official Taobao store for more than four years, but it has never sponsored any video gaming live streams on the Alibaba platform until now.

Esports has become “an emerging sport with truly global influence” and has entered a critical “shaping period” in its development, said Mark Ren Yuxin, Tencent’s chief operating officer, earlier this month.

A bird’s eye view of the esports arena for the Hangzhou Asian Games. Photo: VCG

The new partnership between the two tech giants comes as Taobao and Tmall fight to retain their user base and search for new growth. The subsidiary will be the only one of six business units to remain wholly owned by Hangzhou-based Alibaba after an ongoing restructuring announced in March.

In an informal meeting in May, Alibaba founder Jack Ma advised the company’s ecommerce executives to refocus on Taobao and its consumers to survive brutal competition and weather China’s economic slowdown, Chinese media LatePost reported last month.

Ma reportedly said that Alibaba could not take its dominant position in China’s ecommerce market for granted and must stay alert to business failure risks.

The cooperation with Honour Of Kings has helped Taobao accelerate the pace of its content transformation by pushing its live streams to focus on not just online shopping, but also esports, the company said in its statement.

User numbers on Taobao Live have grown 70% year-on-year so far this year, while the growth of small and medium-sized live streamers has sped up, the firm added. – South China Morning Post

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