South Korea: Birthplace of eSportsMarch 30, 2018 11:11 am
South Korea is recognized as holding a dominant position in the eSports industry, with many of the world’s best players originating from the wealthy East Asian country of 51 million people. In fact, 25.3 million South Korean’s enjoyed gaming in 2016, half of whom were aged between 21 and 35 years, with 75% of them male.
Therefore, it should come as little to surprise that the country is viewed as the birthplace of eSports, with video gaming deeply enshrined within its sophisticated culture.
Origins in 1990s
In the 1990s, South Korea’s government decided to give its then ailing economy a boost by investing heavily in technology, and in particular its internet infrastructure. Before long, broadband internet became readily accessible throughout the country, followed later by smartphones, while TV networks and stations started springing up everywhere, some of which decided to focus their programs on video gameplay and tournaments.
This then led to the rise of eSports, with subsequent partnership arrangements between the government and game developers such as Blizzard eventually helping to fill gaming rooms, hotel ballrooms and even stadiums with thousands of enthusiastic fans.
These days, South Korean’s consider professional gaming as a dream job, offering numerous perks, including national pride, celebrity status, as well as attractive earnings for those able to play games to a very high standard.
Video Gaming Voyeurism
Another unique aspect of video gaming in South Korea is the fact people seem as contented to watch others playing games as they are taking part themselves, with visits to gaming clubs showing tournaments just as common as a trip to the cinema.
Amongst the games with particularly strong followings are real time strategy titles such as StarCraft, League of Legends, and Dota, with first person games traditionally proving less popular in the country. More recently, however, Blizzard’s multiplayer shooter called Overwatch has also started attracting a huge audience.
More than a decade ago, recognized brands started investing in eSports, and nowadays the likes of Samsung, Red Bull and Coca-Cola all sponsor teams of professional gamers who live and train together in the same houses, often providing them with free accommodation, utilities, food and coaching.
Moreover, it’s not unheard of for players to practice for more than 12 hours per day as they attempt to give themselves the best chance of capturing huge purses at national and international tournaments. Dota 2’s The International 2017, for instance, offered a record breaking $24,687,919 prize pool, while lucrative sponsorship deals also await those players giving good accounts of themselves at such competitions.
In addition to scooping huge prizes, players are also believed to receive between $25,000 and $30,000 in paid salaries, not including the other benefits already mentioned such as free housing and food.
With gaming so widespread in South Korea, it is easy for people to become too caught up in the activity to the detriment of all other social activities. In fact, it has been estimated that as many as one in ten South Korean teenagers are addicted to gaming, with numerous government-run addiction centers having now been set up to provide treatment for addicts.
Chae Chan Woo, for example, attended the National Centre for Youth Internet Addiction Treatment, and reflecting upon his addiction the teenager told Dateline’s Dean Cornish: “I feel like the game is controlling me, and when I lose it, I lose my temper.”
In 2010, a particularly shocking case also captured the public imagination after a three-month-old baby died of malnutrition due to her parents’ being both gaming addicts, with a media report noting:
“Her death attracted international attention once police revealed its cause: Sarang had slowly starved due to negligence. Her parents, both unemployed and living in relative poverty, would leave her alone for six to twelve hours at a time while they visited local PC cafes to play Prius, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game that was popular in the country at the time.”
Like many activities in life, however, extreme behavior can lead down a destructive path, while a more measured and scientific approach can lead to hours of enjoyment, and in some cases a path to success.