A young Brazilian makes a place for himself in the video game industry
By Magdalena Rojas  ·  2024-06-25  ·   Source: NO.26 JUNE 27, 2024
Heitor Santos poses for a photo against the backdrop of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai (COURTESY PHOTO)

At just 28, Heitor Santos has managed to make his way in an industry with a great prospect for future growth, serving as a link between Brazil, his country of origin, and China, where he currently resides.

Like many expats, Santos' connection with China developed gradually and, at first, with little idea of what the future would hold.

It all began when he was a senior-year student of biological sciences at the University of Pernambuco in the Brazilian city of Recife. The university had a special cooperation program with the Confucius Institute, giving students the opportunity to study Chinese for free for one year.

Confucius Institutes, named after ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551-479 B.C.), serve as nonprofit public institutions to help people better understand China by teaching the Chinese language and culture at universities overseas.

"Learning languages, especially Asian languages, had always caught my attention," said Santos, who is from the historic town of Olinda in Pernambuco State, northeast Brazil.

So he enrolled in the course and quickly started researching the Chinese language and culture, fueled by his curiosity. He found himself enchanted by his first class, especially by his teacher's stories about his travels in China.

"I started to spend a lot of time learning Chinese, which was very rewarding," he said. At the same time, he began to participate in different Chinese-language competitions and extracurricular activities, like singing and dancing.

Santos explained one of the reasons that had led him to take his language studies so seriously was that he wanted to be able to better communicate with his teachers at the Confucius Institute. In class, they maintained a formal relationship between teachers and students, but outside of the classroom, they were friends. "I wanted to lift my language levels to speak directly to their hearts," he said.

All of these experiences eventually motivated him to apply for a study abroad scholarship, so he arrived in Beijing in mid-2018. For Santos, Beijing was the most convenient option as his university in Brazil had a partnership with the Central University of Finance and Economics in the Chinese capital. Several Brazilian students had already gone there before him and their positive experiences inspired him to take the leap.

Home away from home

Santos, now residing in Shanghai, spent his first four years in China based in Beijing: three as a student and one employed at a company.

This distant place soon became a space of comfort. Beijing offers a deep sense of history and culture. Reflecting on the city, Santos remarked, "Walking through the hutongs (the city's typical narrow alleyways) or exploring the Summer Palace (an imperial garden created during the Qing Dynasty spanning from 1644 to 1911) offers an enriching connection with the past."

Many of his friends and acquaintances still reside in Beijing, adding an extra layer of familiarity.

One of his most memorable experiences as a student occurred in 2019, during the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. Santos had formed a close bond with his first Chinese teacher, who was still living in Brazil at the time. Even so, the teacher invited Santos and another student to celebrate the holiday in his hometown with his parents.

"It was such a special and unique opportunity that we accepted it immediately," he recalled. "We stayed at his parents' house for five days, had dinner together on Chinese New Year's Eve. In the days that followed, we even visited some of his other relatives and friends, which allowed us to learn first-hand about Chinese traditions and customs."

For the love of games

Santos currently works for miHoYO, a Chinese video game development and publishing company known for creating a wide range of products, including merchandise, music, comics, novels and animated series. But the love for video games goes back to his childhood.

"I started playing video games when I was 5 or 6," he said. "I had a Super Nintendo and played a lot of classic games, like Super Mario World, Mortal Kombat and Contra. Later, I got a PlayStation One, which sparked my interest in role-playing games."

Video games not only transported Santos to a virtual world inhabited by assorted characters, but also taught him some important life skills. "I would say that 80 percent of my English proficiency stems from playing video games. I learned by trying to understand game plots and interacting with online gaming communities."

Santos joined miHoYO, valued at approximately $7 billion, in June 2022. As part of his role managing content creators for Brazil and Latin America at large, he serves as a liaison between the company and these creators.

Most of them are avid miHoYo game enthusiasts, with whom he works to lift content quality and quantity. To achieve this, they maintain a detailed calendar and organize planning sessions to determine optimal content promotion strategies. For instance, when new characters are introduced, extensive online content like fan art, songs and cosplay are encouraged.

The video game industry is rapidly expanding in popularity and market value, projected to reach $95.51 million by 2029.

Santos sees great potential for the industry's growth in Latin America for three reasons.

First, the increasing accessibility of mobile phones and the Internet is expanding the gaming audience.

Second, the rise of content creators in the continent reduces dependence on English-language content and fosters more direct engagement.

Third, esports' soaring popularity, especially among Gen Zs, presents new growth opportunities, boosting community participation and attracting sponsors.

In daily life, the young Brazilian communicates with the content creators under his supervision, coordinates regional online content creation events and gathers feedback.

"Working with aspiring content creators and established ones, talking to them, hearing their life stories and goals, helping them expand their social media presence, creating monetization opportunities... Seeing the impact I can have on their lives is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job," he said.

Though he misses many things about his native Brazil, especially his family and friends, the local cuisine and the more relaxed lifestyle, his experience and work have solidified his calling as a cultural bridge between two countries and two peoples. He intends to continue working in China, with a specific focus on the Brazilian market and, in turn, help close existing communication gaps.

"The tech-related opportunities in China, the area I am most familiar with, are virtually endless. Both my personal growth and professional evolution depend on how I can take advantage of them," he concluded. BR

(Print Edition Title: A Virtual World)

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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