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    Hit Mobile Game ‘Honour of Kings’ Inspires Celebrity TV Show

    Fans delight in TV-video game crossover, but critics warn that viewers’ IQs are at risk.

    Everything from ancient legends to fan fiction is proving fair game for TV adaptations, with the latest example from China repurposing one of the world’s most popular mobile video games.

    “Kings Attack” is a new celebrity game show that debuted Friday on video-streaming service Tencent Video. The format is lifted directly from “Honour of Kings,” a mobile battle arena game with more than 200 million registered players operated by the gaming division of internet giant Tencent.

    Thanks to the game’s extensive fan base and an A-list cast featuring actresses Angelababy and Lin Chi-ling, the show has already gained 220 million views — though some unimpressed online commenters have called it “IQ-lowering” programming.

    Emulating the video game, “Kings Attack” pits two teams of five contestants against each other to battle in arenas made from movie sets. In each match, the two teams scramble to destroy the crystal at the heart of their opponents’ fortified base, assisted by minions who can be killed for gold. To amplify the video game feel, magic effects and laser blasts are added in post-production, and during fights, graphically rendered health bars float above players’ heads, tracking their life as they aim to hit sensors on their opponents’ bodies. A mini map shows the real-time location of each player.

    The star-studded roster of celebrity contestants includes Ming Xi, the Chinese model who famously tripped on the runway at the recent Victoria’s Secret fashion show in Shanghai, and Zhang Dada, host of the singing competition “The Coming One.” Each player is costumed in the familiar attire of one of the characters from the game, and even gains some of the character’s superpowers.

    Donning cartoony ears and a tail, Angelababy assumed the identity of Daji — a legendary imperial concubine popularly depicted as a fox-demon sorceress. One of her in-game powers is spell-casting: With a shout of “Let Daji see your heart!” she can control male enemies for up to 10 minutes. Other players’ powers include instant death and compelling opponents to dance.

    In a country with over 600 million gamers and even university courses in esports, the show has a ready audience. Tencent also went into promotional overdrive for the show, with offline advertising and tie-in digital content, including a chat sticker collection of celebrities’ facial expressions from the series. But many viewers left scathing critiques on video previews of the show.

    “This is the most awkward show in history,” read one of many danmu — user-generated comments that scroll across the screen during playback.

    As well as milking the hype around Tencent’s game, “Kings Attack” also features heavy-handed product placement. After his team teleports into the game, Zhang suggests taking a quick selfie using the newly released mobile phone from Honor — a domestic brand whose name echoes “Honour of Kings.” Money the celebrity contestants win by defeating minions and other enemies can be spent within the game at a shop sponsored by online retailer, where they can buy souped-up weapons and armor. Even death presents an advertising opportunity: After her character dies, Angelababy sits in the time-out area with a display of hair care products from Clear, another domestic brand.

    Yet some fans have come out in full force to support the show. During the intro sequence, the screen is flooded with danmu from Angelababy devotees eagerly awaiting the appearance of their idol, whom they affectionately call “baby.”

    Chinese officials, however, aren’t always amused by celebrity-driven entertainment, and have recently reprimanded stations for popular but vapid content. In response, television producers have made efforts to insert socialist values into their shows — or at least add a convincing veneer over their celebrity-centered ratings bait. The Baidu Baike online encyclopedia listing for “Kings Attack” says that the show’s core values include that “everyone is a champion.” Even “Dog Trainer,” a new Hunan TV series that trains celebrities alongside police dogs, describes itself as a show that promotes dogs helping the nation’s soldiers “maintain stability and uphold peace.”

    Editor: Qian Jinghua.

    (Header image: A promotional image from the TV show ‘Kings Attack.’ VCG)