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e-Games: Dealing with a ‘reverse pyramid’ in the land of the Great Wall!

Aug 8, 2018

It is always fun enhancing and embellishing a presentation till the very last minute! It can get a bit stressful though. So, there is never a final ‘final’ script. Onboard an Air China flight to Beijing recently, I spot this feature in the China Daily. Gamers: New era dawns for China in e-Sports arena. It fits so well into an exploration on who is your customer – a part of my presentation to be.

  • According to the League of Legends Pro League, live broadcasts of its games were viewed more than 7 billion times by Chinese fans in the first half of this year.
  • By 2020, the market value of e-sports is expected to exceed 20 billion yuan. Last year, there were 250 million Chinese gamers which is expected to go up to 300 million by 2020.
  • North America and China are the two major pillars of the global e-sports industry, accounting for 37 percent and 15 percent of the market respectively.

Watch-out the yo-yoing of the potential customer:

Will the PlayStation and Xbox generation age into a very different profile as they metamorphose via the e-Sports? Mind you, we are looking at very large numbers of Gen Y and Z. How will these impact the ‘real’ sports? As they enter the mainstream would the traditional sports be marginalized? e-Sports seems  all set to enter the Olympics! Last but not the least, will any such engagement not only delay the behavioral ageing of digital natives but also witness a reversal in the lifestyle of ‘oldies’ who get hooked on to e-sports at some stage of their life?!

Once at the venue hotel in Baoding, Hebei (literally north of the river – Yellow river: cradle of Chinese civilization going back to 4000 BC) to attend the China International Conference on Insurance and Risk Management (CICIRM 2018), I am just in time for the inaugural dinner. No sooner I exchange greetings with the gracious host Dr Bingzheng Chen of Tsinghua University, his first question is what brings me to the CICIRM year after year. Starting with Kunming, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Xian, Guilin (could not present in person) and now Baoding!

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Three things, I tell him. First, volunteering into an ‘uncomfort zone’ – constant each time. Second, refine understanding on the subject of my presentation this year: “The Cyber March of Human Civilization Puts Insurers at Cross-Roads: Potential Threats & Opportunities!” Third, is to meet the ‘Buddha of Insurance’. He is certainly not one who fishes for compliments. My reverence stems from his dedication to drive change by lifting the intellectual bar of the industry-academia partnership and applying it with full intensity at the grass root levels of the societal needs. One look at any of his event agenda will tell you what I mean.

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Dr Chen ushers me to an English speaking table and I end up in the most fascinating company of an Israeli couple from Haifa and a group of Professors from Mongolia.  The first being a charmed pair of silk route explorers and the other literally at the heart of where it all originated. However, both at two sides of the digital silk route divide.

‘It’s not the economics, stupid!’

The keynote address from Professor David Blake, Professor of Finance and Director Pensions Institute, Cass Business School – the following morning, is a wakeup call and sends me scurrying to ensure that my presentation for the next day factors this new onslaught. David graphically demonstrates how It’s the demographics, stupid! at the very root of stagnating productivity in the developed world.

  • Longevity risk: Systematically underestimated 1840 onwards, life expectancy has gone up by 2.5 years per decade.
  • Rise in life expectancy + decline in fertility = Ageing.
  • Politics of underestimating life expectancy: Thereby passing on taxes to the next generation.
  • A third of babies born in UK will live 100 years and retire at 60!
  • Japan already the oldest; Korea will be second oldest; UK 20 years behind Japan; US witnessing the beginning of the population problem. China: Lucky and unlucky generation – effects of public policy. From an ideal situation where more young people would support less old ones, lesser and lesser younger ones supporting more and more ageing. Thus the Inversing Pyramid!
  • Consequences of an ageing population: Automation; gig economy; products and services for the elderly ; one third of the jobs in developed world by robots; New tech versus the previous.

David cites a shocking case of a nonagenarian mother shooting dead her septuagenarian son who insisted on shifting her to an old age home! Suddenly, my profiling of the customer becomes convulsive! E-sports can be fun but David shuffled the tectonics rather vigorously. After him came Shaun Wang from Nanyang Singapore and he talks about disappearance of ATMs and enunciates his ‘peeling of onion’ theory – thereby unsettling my thoughts even further. I am transposed somewhere between Brave New World and Future Shock. Also wondering as to how Asimov might wish to adapt his Three Laws of Robotics to fit this situation?

The Discussant:

Frankly speaking, I was not aware of any such role till my first ever CICIRM experience! All presentations ought to follow a brief commentary by a discussant. And as a presenter you also end up being a discussant for someone else. Ze Chen, a bright young PhD student from Tsinghua turned out to be mine. What do I learn from him, with regard to my presentation, going forward?

  • Provide more background for the audience: e.g. insurance 1.0, digital insurance 2.0.
  • More detail about the survivor kit: Actions if insurers are to compete.
  • To be more specific with one or two illustrations, e.g. How Insurtech works as a solution?

Points well taken! My theme shall encompass these aspects in future, Chen San…


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The restaurant on the 18th floor has a Peking University logo and reads Baoding 1898WhatsApp Image 2018-08-05 at 1.37.26 AM Coffee. As I find out later, it was set up by someone who once studied at the same University. Here I am in the company of Frank, Jino and Joy my new found network of very smart young global Chinese. All a product of the one child policy generation and delegates at the event. Frank is the only one with with an older sister and lucky to have gotten away given his rural origin. We confer sipping the iconic Arctic Ocean yellow soda which has a huge following in north China. One of the several successful local brands with global scale but unknown to the rest of the world.

Baoding with a population of 10 million, I hear from my guanxi, is an outcome of the government’s attempt to decongest Beijing and move away the industry. From the window, against a setting sun, one can see the frenetic pace at which the city is under construction. I also hear them tell me how the younger a mayor taller are the buildings in his territory and about the upcoming five star jails! I am pleasantly surprised and swamped by their fascination for the IITs; it’s alumni who make some of the best Professors in the US; questions on family traditions and marriages. Including whether they could seek an admission at the IIMs? Here was, I thought, a breed which had transcended the colour of their passport – intense curiosity, hungry to grow and seek best in class stimulation wherever it could be found… At the end of the meal Frank volunteers to settle the bill. Within seconds the rest pay back their share via the hugely dependable WeChat!

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Dr. Imelda Powers, a PhD from Yale, is a global authority on CAT Modeling. Her husband Dr Michael Powers, a PhD in Mathematics from Harvard, is a Co-Chair at Tsinghua SEM with Dr. Chen. Following her insightful presentation I am very keen to hear her thoughts on modeling Cyber risks. My follow-on question would have been relating to lifestyles of the digital natives and resultant aggregates. Imelda reminds us that both liability and cyber classes are still in the baby stage of evolution! ‘Give them some time’, that we need more data and experience is what she alludes to.

Beating the retreat:

I decide to take a shuttle bus instead of the bullet train on my way back to Beijing. The three plus hour drive would give me enough time to build upon my exploration of last few days basis what I have imbibed. It turns out to be super smooth and visually very pleasant with both sides of the highway lined with thick green foliage.

On my rear seat is this playful child in company of his doting grandma. What impresses me is the strong bond between the two. As we advance towards the destination, traffic slows down and little Tim’s (that’s what I believe I heard) temper gets nastier. Maybe he is hungry, sleepy, bored – a child after all. It is then that a lady occupant each – on the seats ahead – give little Tim a mouthful. Silence returns. So, the young lady two seats in front turns out to be the mom, behind her is her mother. The boy is actually in the care of his great grandmother!

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Going back to David Blake’s hypothesis – Tim could sooner or later end up supporting all three women! A reverse pyramid seems more daunting than the Great Wall! In his blissful slumber, Tim is back to his angelic self. Perhaps e-Sports would be his moment of relief when grown up and whenever fully awake?! He could very well fuel China’s glory at the FIFAeWorldCup. Laced with some new perspectives and dimensions, I thought the presentation was future ready – for now!

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