The head of snooker's governing body believes the inclusion of a record number of Asian players in this year's world championship will have a significant impact on the development of the game.
Barry Hearn, chairman of World Snooker, is delighted to see Ding Junhui, Marco Fu, Liang Wenbo, Liu Chuang and Cao Yupeng competing in the British-dominated tournament, which got underway in Sheffield, England, on Saturday.
"There are five Asian players in the last 32 and that's the biggest number we've ever had," Hearn told Reuters. "It's a sign of the times, I suppose.
"I don't think it's going to look back from there. The game is huge in China and I think we're going to see more and more Asian involvement, particularly Chinese.
"If you take a global view, it's extremely attractive to the sport. As far as the English game is concerned, it's a little bit worrying.
"My personal view is that we welcome players from everywhere in the world, based on ability."
China's Ding, who is from the Jiangsu Province, would appear to have the best chance of becoming the first Asian player to win the title.
Ranked 10th in the world, the 25-year-old reached the semi-finals in last year's tournament.
World number 81 Cao is the second lowest ranked player in the tournament. He had to win four qualifying matches to set up a first-round meeting with Mark Allen.
"It may well be that in 10 years' time we're saying that it's another game we've invented in England which has been taken over by the world," Hearn added.
"The challenge is there for the UK-based players to make sure that they can compete with this influx of players.
"There are tournaments in China, Australia, Thailand, all across Europe and more international events in the pipeline. I'm loving the chance to make snooker a truly global game.
"It's a very good time for the game. It looks as though it's on the upturn and that's exciting for people who love snooker because it's clearly going to get more competitive."
YOUNGEST EVER PLAYER
Another record will be set when teenage Belgian Luca Brecel plays in his first-round match against Stephen Maguire. At the age of 17 years and one month, Brecel will be the youngest ever player to compete at the Crucible Theatre.
Last year's beaten finalist, Judd Trump, began the tournament as the favourite to win it ahead of fellow Britons Mark Selby, Ronnie O'Sullivan and defending champion John Higgins.
Australia's Neil Robertson, who won the title two years ago, is fancied to improve on his first-round exit at the hands of Trump 12 months ago.
Stephen Hendry, winner of a record seven world titles, compiled a maximum 147 break in his first-round match against Stuart Bingham on Saturday.
It was the third time Hendry, who had to qualify for the tournament, has achieved the feat in Sheffield.
Hendry's performance was all the more remarkable given it came just a day after he returned from a 10,000-mile round trip to China.
Mark Williams, who won the title in 2000 and 2003, caused controversy on the eve of the championship when he criticised the Crucible Theatre and urged World Snooker to switch the event to China.
Hearn, however, launched a strong defence of the venue.
"I'd be happy to keep the event at the Crucible until the day I die," he said.
The tournament is played over 17 days and the winner will be handed a cheque for 250,000 pounds ($402,900). ($1 = 0.6205 British pounds)