- Services & Benefits
- Alumni Stories
- Donate to HKUST
- About Us
Jia Xiaodong (Left)
Zhan Peixun (Right)
Jia Xiaodong (Left)
Zhan Peixun (Right)
Playing to win
For billions globally, sport offers a chance to blow off steam. For HKUST alums Jia Xiaodong and Zhan Peixun, it’s part and parcel of their lives. The success of their online gaming company GALA Sports proves that life is indeed a game – and they are playing to win.
New frontiers in sport
Founded in 2013, GALA Sports focuses on a variety of games including its flagship mobile football action simulation game Total Football, standing out for its state of art 3D gameplay scenes driven by advanced AI technology and user experience. With more than 300 employees in Shenzhen and Chengdu, GALA Sports is now the 2nd largest mobile sports simulation games developer in China, responsible for titles such as Football Master, NBA Basketball Master, Football Master 2, and the aforementioned Total Football.
“Before studying at HKUST, I worked for a sports video game company in Mainland China, this got me thinking about pursuing my own entrepreneurship while I studied,” says Jia. But it was almost not to be: In 2013, Jia joined an international start-up competition for a logistics project, but subsequently investors persuaded him to return to the video game industry.
Gaming powered by AI
The success of GALA Sports, which became the first publicly listed mobile sports games developer in Hong Kong, is driven by AI. This allows players' attributes to be meticulously sculpted using data from thousands of actual matches, including information about the players' physical strength, running speed, shooting accuracy, and field habits.
“We are fortunate to be equipped with Asia’s most significant motion capture space for video games, with more than 2,000 hours of professional football players’ on-field motions and movements,” says Jia.
Zhan, later joined the company as the independent non-executive director. He met Jia in the HKUST Mainland Alumni Association. Zhan himself had a background in tech, as a co-founder of Unity Drive, a manufacturer of self-driving unmanned vehicles.
Friendship in their Arsenal
But the reason they really hit it off was personal. “We were both Gang Piao 港漂 (Hong Kong drifters)”, says Zhan with a laugh. “Actually, we both shared a love of English Premier League team Arsenal as well”. From this serendipitous start, GALA Sports has gained success in China, both in terms of market share and success.
Yet at the very beginning, Jia faced difficulties in getting a license from European football clubs, many of whom found it hard to trust a start-up. Eschewing agents and contacting clubs directly, Jia overcame the clubs’ lack of confidence in him, along with cultural and language barriers. “Gaining their trust has been one of my greatest achievements,” he says.
Listing begins a new phase
Later on, Zhan assisted Jia to develop his external investor network and helped GALA Sports file for an initial public offering in Hong Kong. “My approach is to insist on the quality of what we have, and to achieve success in phases. There is no destination, we always want to improve,” says Zhan. They intend to use proceeds from their listing to strengthen competitiveness, especially to renew and obtain IP licensing from international sports leagues and associations.
In addition to this, the next phase of their project involves developing a system similar to Hawk-Eye, a camera system that traces the ball's trajectory during the game. For GALA Sports, while you are breathing, you are playing to win. “Don't just think, take action. Failure does not exist in entrepreneurship. The road to success is always paved with setbacks. This is only the question of stop or continue,” Jia says.
“And with any luck, you will always be continuing,” he adds.