When The King’s Avatar animation (also known as Quanzhi Gaoshou) came out in 2017, it caused waves. All of a sudden, people couldn’t stop talking about The King’s Avatar. Adapted from a novel by Butterfly Blue, which is officially available in English, the series has since become a comic, an animated series and a live action series. The animation was released to massive success, with millions of views across YouTube and Bilibili. Since then, it has received a second season and a movie, with a third season in the works. So, the series is popular. People definitely like it, but why?
To begin with, the show takes place in a world where the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game “Glory” has taken the world by storm. In the fast-paced sphere of Glory’s competitive league, one player has risen to the top. His professional name is Ye Qiu, and he is nicknamed “The Battle God” for his performances as one of the best players in Glory’s esports league. The story of The King’s Avatar begins with an ultimatum. Due to a number of reasons, his team has decided to switch captains and support a new rising star. They tell Ye Qiu he has to hand over his character and give up his position on the team; they give him the option to either be demoted to a training partner, or retire. He chooses to retire. Suddenly kicked out of the team dorms and out onto the streets, Ye Qiu - now going by his real name Ye Xiu - manages to find work at a nearby internet cafe. Realizing his retirement coincided with the release of Glory’s newest server, Ye Xiu begins to form his team so that, in a year, he can return to flip over the whole competitive league.
A lot of the success of The King’s Avatar comes from its ability to capitalize on its setting. Video games have seen a massive surge in popularity, and while several shows have explored video games as a setting, very few have gone into the player-side of a competitive e-sports league. The first season focuses heavily on establishing the setting and systems of "Glory." We learn about some of the more unique aspects of "Glory," like its specializations, which are the game’s classes - and the fact that someone can play as an unspecialized character, which is basically a jack of all trades - and how the protagonist’s near-encyclopedic knowledge lets him do things that people consider weak or unplayable. Seeing the other characters react to what antics Ye Xiu gets up to is incredibly amusing, and a lot of the show’s best moments surround him shocking other players with his godlike knowledge. We see the old friendships and rivalries of long-term veterans, and we see the bittersweet growth of new talent replacing old. The King’s Avatar has a very long list of characters, which is eased a bit by their uniforms and dorms grouping them into teams - making it easier to see how characters relate to one another.
For MMO players, this show is immensely enjoyable. While it plays fast and loose with some mechanics of the game, it doesn’t hesitate to use its medium to its advantage. Characters fight seemingly in real time, mostly unbound by things like global cooldowns or area of effect circles, in favor of making the combat as cinematic and beautifully choreographed as possible. What it doesn’t ponder too much in mechanics, it makes up for by touching on some of the more common problems in multiplayer video games - namely toxicity and competition. Players try to kill other players for the pettiest reasons, and they aren’t afraid to take disputes to world chat. The King’s Avatar shows how Ye Xiu uses that behavior against those acting out. The author understands that a lot of this behavior comes from a place of passion, but they show that it doesn’t make the behavior excusable. People get called out for common issues like sexism, and when they get tilted, that just gets taken advantage of by the cool-headed and capable Ye Xiu and his friends. Honestly, it’s great to watch!
For people that don’t play MMOs, have no fear. The King’s Avatar is very watchable, even without any prior knowledge of the gaming sphere, as so much of its story hinges on the interpersonal character conflicts. When Ye Xiu rips someone off in-game and that person comes back with a party to try and kill him, you don’t need to play games to appreciate how funny that is. When Ye Xiu’s team kicks him out for being too old in favor of the egotistical rising star, you don’t need any prior knowledge to be angry at how shortsighted they were. While playing MMOs might help you catch some of the smaller inside jokes, or maybe give you a better understanding of the more common systems, Ye Xiu spends plenty of time teaching new players as he prepares a team for his return. The show does a good job of being understandable by everyone.
While both the animation and the live-action cover the same overarching story, the live-action makes more changes to best adapt to its medium. Where the animation enjoys copious amounts of very beautiful action work, the live-action plays up the human drama aspects of the series. Ye Xiu’s employer is more contentious in the live-action, and gives him a hard time for not knowing how to do anything but game. It makes for a much more comedic, human series than the fast-paced, game-oriented animation. While I highly recommend both versions of the series, the animation is probably more enjoyable to people interested in the game setting itself and the live-action for people who just want to enjoy the characters.
Overall, “The King’s Avatar” is a series that takes a refreshing spin on a popular setting and - much like Ye Xiu himself, does a lot very well.