E-Sports E-Sports The video game industry in Korea has gone from humble beginnings, like many other countries, with the widely accepted original video game “Pong”, to a nationally televised activity with connections to major conglomerates such as SK Telecom, a wireless telecommunications operator. The video game history in Korea has grown into an international powerhouse with Korean members of Esports, Electronic Sports, teams showing up even in those teams local to American cities such as Atlanta or Houston. The seemingly genetic prowess of South Korean gamers has led to the well-deserved stereotype that “South Koreans are good at games.” Below is a video that delves into what they call the “Capital City of Esports”, Seoul. This is the current roster, or list of team members, for the team known as ‘T1’ during a tournament local to Korea for a game called League of Legends. Through this tournament, T1 was able to get first place and receive ₩100,000,000 as prize money, or about $85,000 in USD. From Yesterday to Today How did gaming come to be what it is today in South Korea? As we all know, everything had its beginning; the birth of videogaming can, somewhat arguably, be traced back to 1958 when a nuclear physicist created the tennis-like game that we now know as Pong. However, how did gaming come to be what it is today in South Korea? First, we look to the past. Arcades The first video game that landed in Korea was in the mid-1970’s when a Computer TV with the game “Pong” was installed in the Midopa Department Store in Seoul, South Korea. Since then, companies such as Samsung and LG, known as Goldstar back in the day, began producing these TV games. At this time, as well, arcade establishments began to grow in popularity; seen below is a short video of old but classic games from the golden age of arcades. Although arcades enjoyed fame and popularity in the late 20th century, due to the inability to develop better games faster than other countries like the United States or Japan, arcade gaming did not become a nationwide sensation, and despite their continued existence and maintenance today in Korea, somewhat fell off during the late 80’s. As a replacement, however, PC, or Personal Computer, gaming arrived in Korea. PC Gaming Like arcade gaming, Korea was at first unable to develop highly successful PC games, that is until two games hit it big: Astonishia Story and Ys II Special. Then, with far-reaching effects still seen today, Lineage became Korea’s first online gaming representative. This advent of online PC gaming, due to the development of a national broadband network, gave birth to what is known today as E-Sports. A PC bang (literally “PC room”) is a type of establishment that is centered around placing high-end gaming PC’s into a room and allowing customers to use them through subscription based payment, e.g. $1 per hour. Over the years these PC bangs have become very popular and grown into not only a place to play your favorite video game, but also into a social area to meet friends from school, work, or the neighborhood; many PC bangs are also open 24 hours and often serve popular quick bites like ramen! Mobile Gaming Although it is a relatively newer type of gaming, still is connected to Korea’s gaming history. Kakao, one of the most well-known South Korean companies alongside the likes of Naver and Samsung, although not as internationally popular, began development and released mobile games under their own platform around the beginning of the 2010’s, which became immensely popular. China as well has an amazingly strong foothold in the Korean gaming industry, and game exports from China into Korea, as can be seen in the article, had accounted for almost 15% of China’s $11.59 billion overseas markets. International Presence As the world moves into a more globally connected era, so we can see this connection in our everyday life: emigrating has become increasingly normal, studying abroad in college is very popular, and on a more economic scale, the importing and exporting of goods between countries has been going on since the beginning of time; in this section, we take a small dive into the impression Korea has made internationally. China China and Korea have long since had an interesting relationship with each other, and even the topic of gaming has many talking points. According to the article above, since March of 2017 China has yet to allow licensing of any South Korean game. Korea’s economy certainly noticed this, as “in 2012, [China] accounted for more than 38 percent of [South Korea’s] domestic game exports.” Games like Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds Mobile, however popular in China, were replaced. Japan South Korea enacted the Law For Punishing Anti-National Deeds, following the end of Japan’s rule of Korea in 1945. As a result, the exchange of media and information between Japan and Korea was few and far between, and this naturally extended to videogames. Obviously, revisions were made to these laws but there still exist those that make it hard for importation/exportation between Korea and Japan. The article above goes into some detail about Japan and Korea’s gaming industries. U.S. South Korea’s presence in the American Esports scene has been strong since the beginning, and it doesn’t take much to notice South Koreans on any big North American Esports team. For example, scrolling through the rosters of the first five teams listed on the Overwatch League Franchises we can see 20 South Koreans out of 52 active members, giving almost a 4 out of 10 chance that any active member is from South Korea. This goes into some detail about the thoughts of North American professional Esports gamers on South Koreans, specifically in relation to the game Overwatch. Upsides and Downsides of Video Game As E-sports gained a footing in Korean society, a wide range of results can be seen stemming from it, from the birth of a multi-billion dollar industry to the declaration of video game addiction as an official mental health disorder by the World Health Organization (WHO). Below we explore some of these developments related to electronic sports. Gaming Disorder In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) included a section on “Gaming Disorder” in their International Classification of Diseases and classified it as an addiction. Following this decision, many people and organizations have been spurred to write articles and shoot videos in response to the decision. For example, the video above is a short description of what video game addiction is generally composed of, being (1) losing the ability to control how much you play, (2) allowing games to become the most important thing in your life, and (3) the decomposition of other parts of your life like relationships with family or friends because of video gaming. Is it a Real Disorder? However, not everybody enjoyed this decision. It is easy to see that the WHO’s decision will hurt the eSports industry economically, with varying levels of intensity throughout the world. Other more personal sources present the opinion that the WHO’s decision will demonize gaming and act as a societal scapegoat. The video above presents some of the opinions in a more sympathetic way towards WHO. In South Korea specifically, this will most likely lead to stricter controls over gaming for adolescents and adults alike. Seven years before the WHO even made this decision, to combat internet/gaming addiction growing in young children, Korea placed a ban on children under the age of sixteen to play online video games between the hours of 00:00 and 06:00. Varying Opinions The general public of Korea also has varying views related to gaming in their country. The video above represents some opinions and concerns put forth by the public concerning this issue. As you can see, there are some who see videogames as useless and therefore do not play; on the other hand, there are also some stating that ‘It helps release stress…’ as you do not have to think about your problems as you play. In addition, the reporter and interviewees go into the topic of WHO’s declaration of a disorder. Professional Gamer as a Career The final topic concerning the effects of the rise of E-Sports is the introduction of careers for men and women. However, a latent effect of this, that is harder to notice, is that sometimes these professionals are not able to make ends meet simply by playing games. In some cases, a player might leave their educational career in order to pursue an E-Sports career full time. This article contains short descriptions of both the good and bad related to being a professional gamer. One shining example would be Faker, or 이상혁, a member on the team T1. Streaming is now a very massive and integral part to being a professional gamer which simply involves allowing other people to watch you play video games through services such as Twitch.tv, and although Faker is not very regular when it comes to streaming, you can only admire him when almost a quarter of a million people log on to watch him play. As can be seen, E-Sports in Korea is an international beast that will continue to grow in the years ahead of us, especially as our world becomes increasingly technological. Will South Korea reach some sort of a burnout, or will they reach a glass ceiling? Will the WHO’s sanctions and the general public’s concern have any long-lasting effects on the Korean gaming industry? The answers to these questions have yet to be revealed, but one thing is true: South Korea has put an everlasting mark on the timeline of E-Sports.