- League of Legends
- Starcraft: Brood War
- Arena of Valor
- FIFA Online 4
- Starcraft II
- Heroes of the Storm
- WarCraft III
The gaming industry in Korea has been on fire over the last decade. Esports has been embraced in Korea, unlike any other place on earth. Walking along the streets of Seoul, you will surely see multiple “PC bangs” (computer game rooms) near every main metro station. Esports is now a worldwide phenomenon; however, the Korean market is slightly different from the global market. While DOTA 2 is the biggest Esports game globally, this is not true in Korea. It is essential to know which games the Korean gaming community embraces when trying to understand the typical gaming consumer in Korea. Esports in Korea will continue to grow as they hold more world-class Esports tournaments.
The South Korean government allocates $60 million of its national budget to the gaming sector. Furthermore, Korea continues to televise Esports on many of its channels. It is unsurprising to hear from a young Korean male that his dream is to become a pro gamer, and the number of Esports fans in Korea has continued to grow. It increased even further with the news that Esports was a part of the Asian Games starting.
So this list is based on what these young Koreans play in PC Bangs, what they watch on TV, and which are Esports games.
League of Legends
The most popular Esports in Korea is League of Legends or LoL. It is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game that Riot Games developed. Players control “champions” who have special abilities and battle against other teams. The goal is to destroy the other team’s “Nexus” (main base). As the game is played, the champion’s strength level is increased through kills and experience. The game is very similar to DOTA 2, yet LoL is more prevalent in Korea because it came out first (2009 compared to 2013).
LoL Champions Korea
Korea has a league called LoL Champions Korea (LCK). South Korea’s ten best LoL teams face off during the season in the LCK. LoL is the most-played game at PC bangs in Korea, having a 50% play rate which is insane. If you walk into an average PC bang in Korea, half will be playing LoL. Ask most Korean gamers, who will say they aim to be professional LoL pro gamers. Professional League of Legends players is paid an average salary of $200,000 annually and prize money and sponsorship deals.
With most top gamers playing LoL and dominating, many did not transfer over to DOTA 2 even though it offers a bigger payout for pro gamers. This could change when DOTA 3 comes out. This is why LoL keeps coming up with incentives to play. For example, “Teamfight Tactics” has been very popular on LoL. It brought in a new set of champions, origins, and classes.
Top 3 League of Legend Pro Gamers in Korea
- Faker (Lee, Sang Hyeok)
- Duke (Lee, Ho Seong)
- Wolf (Lee, Jae Wan)
Faker the Unkillable Demon King
Faker plays a major role in the popularity of League of Legends in South Korea. Thousands of gamers want to be the next Faker. Since his debut in 2013, he has been regarded as the best LoL player in the world. He led SKT to multiple world championships before taking a hit in 2018. However, they were able to make the top 4 at Worlds in 2019. In 2020, Faker turned down an offer from China estimated to be $10 million yearly. Instead, he signed with SKT for much less to show his love for South Korea. However, it is said that he is now a part-owner of T1 Entertainment and Sports. Having a Korean pro gamer like Faker as the all-time greatest makes League of Legends the top Esports game in South Korea.
Starcraft: Brood War
Starcraft: Brood War (remastered) is still very popular in Korea. It is still played on TV, and some of the most famous pro gamers, like Jaedong in Korea, come from Starcraft: Brood War. You might say that Starcraft is Korea’s national pastime. One might say Starcraft is what started Esports altogether! They birthed professional StarCraft leagues, pro-StarCraft players, and televised matches on cable. Therefore, this was because the game tests the gamer’s ability to think and react rapidly, which Koreans love. The game is so popular in Korea that it has become a part of Korean culture. When Blizzard launched StarCraft in the late 90s, Korea already had a strong online infrastructure and a high-speed internet connection. Therefore PC bangs started to spring up across Seoul, which introduced a lot of Korean youth to online gaming.
Top 3 Starcraft: Brood War Pro Gamers in Korea
- Rain (Jung, Yoon Jong)
- Last (Kim, Sung Hyung)
- Light (Lee, Jae Ho)
PUBG, also known as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, is an online multiplayer battle royale game developed by PUBG Corporation. It was inspired by the Japanese film Battle Royale and is the Korean version of Fortnite. Up to 100 players parachute onto an island and must search for weapons to kill one another while trying not to get killed. The map area decreases as time passes, forcing players to fight each other. The last player or team standing wins the game.
When PUBG launched, Koreans embraced it. Therefore when Fortnite came out, Koreans stayed with PUBG since most of their friends were on it. PUBG was able to corner the Korean market first, and it is a Korean product. Recently, PUBG came out with a new map set in Korea (Taego).
Korean consumers and gamers will support Korean gaming companies over global ones. Furthermore, PUBG Corporation spent a lot of money marketing the game in Korea. There is even a PUBG Korea League (PKL). Lotte’s Hot6 energy drink is the main sponsor of PKL. The Nations Cup was held in Seoul, South Korea…of course.
PUBG Mobile Korea
PUBG Mobile Korea is the most popular alternative version of PUBG Mobile. It is available in the Play Store in Korea and Japan. Many gamers in India are playing on PUBG Mobile Korea since the Indian Government banned 118 apps. There are many online articles on how players in India can play PUBG Mobile Korea India.
Top 3 PUBG Pro Gamers in Korea
- Loki (Park, Jung-young)
- Esth3r (Go, Jeong-wan)
- Taemin (Lee, Tae-min)
For a while, PUBG was Korea’s top multiplayer first-person shooter game. However, for a short time, Overwatch surpassed it. Overwatch was developed by Blizzard in 2016 and is described as a “hero shooter” game. Players are put into two teams of six, each selected from a group of over 30 characters (heroes). Players must work together to secure and defend control points on a map or escort a payload across the map. Overwatch was a big hit during the beta testing phase and got global praise when it came out. Overwatch generated over $1 billion in revenue during its first year and has over 40 million players. However, Korean pro gamers are currently not dominating the Overwatch Esports circuit.
Could Overwatch overtake PUBG in Korea once again? Could it even overtake LoL? LoL sometimes forces players into roles they don’t want to play. It also puts teams together from all skill levels, which can be frustrating. Overwatch matches are shorter as well. The average LoL game lasts 30 minutes, while an average Overwatch game lasts 10 minutes. Since PC bangs charge by the hour, you can get more Overwatch games for your money. Furthermore, Overwatch offers a wider range of heroes.
Top 3 Overwatch Pro Gamers in Korea
- Gesture (Hong, Jae-hee)
- Profit (Park, Joon-yeong)
- birdring (Kim, Ji-hyeok)
Arena of Valor
Arena of Valor is one of the top Esports in China. However, South Korea is catching on to this MOBA-style game for mobile. The game offers multiple modes. The three most popular are the Grand Battle, Valley Skirmish, and Abyssal Clash. A player wins by removing turrets on the map and destroying the core. An average Arena of Valor game lasts for 15 minutes. Players control heroes who each have their own set of skills and abilities. The goal is to level up your heroes throughout the match. Out of the three modes, the most popular is the 5v5 Grand Battle mode (Ranked). Tencent holds the inaugural Arena of the Valor World Cup, where South Korea has performed very well.
Top 3 Arena of Valor Pro Gamers in Korea
- JJak (Shin, Chang Hoon)
- Sun (Kim, Sun Woo)
- Rush (Lee, Ho Yeon)
FIFA Online 4
FIFA Online 4 is a multiplayer online football game developed by EA. Their previous game FIFA Online 3, was a massive hit in Korea. It was the #1 online sports game based on traffic and revenue in Korea. Koreans are crazy about soccer, which shows their passion for FIFA Online. EA partnered with Nexon to launch FIFA Online 4 in 2018. The game focuses on re-creating real-life soccer matches in a computer game setting. Players of FIFA Online 3 were able to transfer their game data and assets onto FIFA Online 4. Therefore, it should take off where FIFA Online 3 ended.
NEXON to fix FIFA Online 4
South Korean gaming company NEXON said they would fix FIFA Online 4. There was a huge backlash after the release of Loyal Hero players that lowered the value of their game characters. NEXON has promised to adjust the payroll system for Loyal Hero game characters and compensate users who have already bought them. Hopefully, this will stop the potential boycott of FIFA Online 4 in Korea.
Top 3 FIFA Online 4 Pro Gamers in Korea
- tosnide (Lee, Sang Tae)
- Ding (Jeong, Jae Young)
- SHINSTEALER (Shin, Bo Seok)
StarCraft II is still not as popular in Korea as StarCraft: Broad War. However, many pro-starcraft players are now playing Starcraft II. It is a sci-fi/real-time strategy video game developed by Blizzard. The original StarCraft was, for years, the top game in Korea during the 90s. Therefore there was great anticipation for Starcraft II to come out. The game has three species the gamer can choose from. Terrans are the human race, Zerg is the insect-based creature race, and Protoss is the technologically advanced alien race.
Furthermore, players must gather resources and build their armies against their opponents in real-time. Their tournaments in Seoul attract thousands of fans and can fill stadiums during tournament matches. Furthermore, like with Starcraft: Brood War, Starcraft II has gotten big Korean corporations like Samsung and SK to sponsor Esports teams.
Top 3 Starcraft 2 Pro Gamers in Korea
- Dark (Park, Ryeongwoo)
- Trap (Cho, Sung Ho)
- Classic (Kim, Dowoo)
Heroes of the Storm
Heroes of the Storm had their official tournament circuit canceled, so don’t expect to see Heroes of the Storm on this list for long. It is a crossover MOBA video game developed by Blizzard. The game features playable heroes and battlegrounds based on Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft, and Diablo universes. It has a broader playstyle than a traditional MOBA; it is classified more like an online “hero brawler.” Koreans love MOBA video games which are why Heroes of the Storm succeeded in Korea. Therefore, many pro gamers are succeeding in Heroes of the Storm. Furthermore, the success of Heros of the Storm in Korea shows how much Koreans embrace Blizzard games more than many other games.
Top 3 Heroes of the Storm Pro Gamers in Korea
- sake (Lee, Jung Hyeog)
- KyoCha (Jeong, Won Ho)
- Rich (Lee, Jae Won)
Warcraft III is a fantasy real-time strategy computer video game developed by Blizzard. It is set several years after Warcraft II and focuses on four races, Humans, Orcs, Undead, and Elves. Players must collect resources, then train units and heroes to defeat the enemy player. The Korean Warcraft Scene has been dying for some time now. In addition, many pro gamers have left the game altogether. Furthermore, there are almost no WC3 tournaments going on in Korea anymore. Chinese players dominate the WarCraft 3 scene, and many Korean players have moved on to other games.
Top 3 Warcraft III Pro Gamers in Korea
- Moon (Jang, Jae Ho)
- Lyn (Park, Joon)
- ReMinD (Kim, Sung Sik)
Dota 2 might be the most popular Esports worldwide but not the most popular in Korea. It is a MOBA video game developed by Valve Corporation. DOTA 2 is very similar to LoL; it is played in matches between teams of 5 or fewer players. Each player controls a “Hero” who has special abilities. The hero’s strength level is increased through kills and experience as the game is played. To win the match, a team or player must destroy the other team’s “Ancient” (main structure).
It is considered one of the greatest video games ever and is currently the most-played game on Steam. It does not rival LoL in Korea; however, that might change. Furthermore, Nexon, the top Korean gaming company, has invested much into getting Korean pro gamers more involved in DOTA 2 and the upcoming DOTA 3.
Top 3 DOTA 2 Pro Gamers in Korea
- March (Park, Tae Won)
- DuBu (Kim, Du Young)
- MP (Pyo, Noah)