When people think of South Korea, Kpop, Kdrama, and Kbeauty come to mind. But you know what else comes to mind? Esports! Esports is almost synonymous with South Korea, and if you look at the top pro gamers in the world, especially in MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games, you will find that the top players are Korean. Pro gamers in Korea are some of the biggest celebrities in Korea and are symbols for the younger generation to do what they love.
Esports is the Most Popular Sport in Korea
Esports has been particularly popular in South Korea due to several factors. One reason is that South Korea has a high-speed internet infrastructure, which is necessary for competitive online gaming. Additionally, the government has supported the growth of esports in the country, recognizing it as a legitimate form of sport. As a result, there are many professional esports teams in South Korea, and the country has hosted several major international esports tournaments. Finally, esports has a strong cultural presence in South Korea, with many popular streamers and professional players becoming celebrities in their own right.
Esports events in Korea get the most views on TV, and it is not even close. Korean baseball and football games will fill stadiums, but Esports events have the whole country watching. Esports players in Korea are treated like celebrities. For example, League of Legends T1 is seen as rock stars wherever they go in Korea. Faker of T1 is estimated to make over $6 million a year!
Why are Koreans So Good at Video Games?
After the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. However, a decade later, the South Korean government decided to push heavily into industrialization and supported companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. Add this to support from the United States through foreign aid, and South Korea started to export goods faster than ever before. By 1980 their GDP had increased 100x.
Then after the mid-90s Asian Financial Crisis, South Korea decided to pivot and focus more on investing in high-technology industries such as telecommunications. This was the same time the internet was formed which was perfect timing for South Korea. This is why the internet is so fast in South Korea.
With more investment into technology, computers and video games were becoming more available than ever. Families could now afford personal computers, and PC Bangs (Computer Cafes) were being opened all over South Korea.
The PC Bang Culture
Soon tens of thousands of PC Bangs sprung up. This attracted people of all ages due to their comfort and low price (1,200 won per hour). At PC Bangs, you don’t have to play video games; you can surf the internet, socialize with friends, and even order food and drinks. This is a perfect recipe for youths looking for an escape from school studies.
This is why gaming has been prevalent in South Korea for many years. There is a large pool of players to draw from. Additionally, the country has a strong culture of education and a high value placed on hard work, which may lead to a higher level of dedication and practice among Korean gamers. Finally, as mentioned earlier, South Korea has a high-speed internet infrastructure. This is necessary for competitive online gaming and may give Korean players an advantage in terms of latency and connection stability.
The Birth of Pro Gamers in Korea
MMOs became the games of choice for Koreans, from Maple Story to Lineage, until Starcraft’s real-time strategy game burst onto the Korean gaming scene. Soon everyone was playing Starcraft. It was so popular that it was being televised, and tournaments were being held in stadiums, attracting tens of thousands of fans! Now youth were putting in the time to be the best, much like Koreans did with schooling. Korean competitiveness was now being channeled into gaming. Therefore, Korea produced some of the top pro gamers in the world.
Pro gamers in Korea started to dominate the eSports scene. However, where they shined was in MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas), more specifically, League of Legends. While League of Legends and Starcraft are still very popular in Korea, a Korean gaming company called Bluehole brought the next-generation game to youths in Korea. That game was Players Unknowns Battleground (PUBG). It is a blend of first-person shooter and teamwork, with the unique character abilities of MOBAS.
Gaming Culture in Korea
Gaming is now fully ingrained in South Korean culture. Rather than being seen as a hobby or leisure activity, it is taken as a serious sport and a skill that could turn into a career. As mentioned above, there are many PC bangs, or internet cafes, where people can play games on high-end computers. Additionally, professional gaming is taken very seriously in South Korea, with many professional esports teams and players. There are also many major international esports tournaments held in the country. Many popular streamers and professional players have become celebrities in their own right. Many have strong followings on social media and dedicated fan bases. This is why many Koreans only invest their time and energy into a couple of games. They want to hone their skills to be the best among their peers.
The South Korean government plays an active role in promoting eSports and gaming as part of Korean culture. They even established KOCCA, a Korean culture content agency that promotes Korean movies, TV, music, webtoons, and gaming. Kpop produces some of the best artists in the world. Korean studios produce mega-hits like Squid Game and Parasite. Korean gaming continues to produce some of the top eSports pro gamers in the world, and the pipeline remains stronger than ever.