Sunday, July 12, 2009

Online Game as Competitive Sport

This post goes back a while, but I wanted to share it with you, before it's gone completely.

Back last August, I was bopping around Yongsan Station, and I decided to venture right up to the tippy top floor of the Yongsan Shopping center. I saw greeters at a table and attendants standing at the door of an auditorium. There didn't seem to be an admission fee, so I poked my head inside, and saw this.

It was an online gaming tournament.

Now, this is something that Korea doesn't often push when it starts getting into Korea promotions: the old Hanjeongshik stuff, Hanbok and Pansoori, that stuff gets a lot of press, and old ladies in ornamental robes singing folk-songs: that always finds a spot in the video, or on the brochure. Sure.

Then I came in here, and took a look around.

See, online gaming is not just a time-killer in Korea. It's an outright phenomenon.

tournaments attract big crowds, and the top players (like this guy) are legitimate stars.
The tournaments attract corporate sponsors, as do players, crowds turn out to watch the finals, and there are always a few channels on cable that are playing competitive Starcraft games.

those stands on the sides had huge posters of the different online games featured in the competition.
some other luminaries/star players:

I stuck around, and met a girl whose online handle was Peanut. She was Korean-American, from the East Coast, I believe, and totally excited about trying to popularize competitive Starcraft in America: she and some buds had this website called sc2gg where they took korean broadcasts of tournament games, and added English language commentary, and posted it on YouTube. Peanut was pretty nice, and we had an interesting chat about online gaming, and its potential for growth: seems she was bumping into a lot of naysayers in Korean promotion circles, but on the other hand, she was talking to some pretty high-up mucky-mucks about what could be done.

Here's peanut next to a display of game action figures.

The video cameras got some crowd shots... hey look! There were some foreigners there!

This is the golden Mouse hand of the superstar pictured above. He was the first guy to game in cool outfits and try to act like a star (plus he had the chops to win stuff) rather than just playing in sweatpants with greasy hair under a baseball cap: he really helped make online gaming into more than just a nerd-hobby.

We watched these guys compete in Guitar Hero:
but unfortunately I had to meet someone before the starcraft semifinal came on.

It was a neat experience, and one that people neglect in trying to get a handle on what Korea's young people do...but seriously, this online gaming stuff is a huge thing in Korea's modern culture, for whatever reason, and to really get a grasp of what Koreans do for fun, and how young people pass time, and how much gaming means to this subculture, I'd add "attend an online gaming tournament and/or a B-boy Competition" to the list of "things to see/do in Korea" before we all get tired of Hanbok.

Thank you for reading my essay.


dokebi said...

it's not something korea should brag about

i've seen moms with babies & young women cheering for those nerds on youtube


Anonymous said...

dokebi's blog is exclusively about anime cartoons. yet you have the audacity to call starcraft players 'nerds'? hahahah. Say what you will, dokebi, but the bottom line is that you are equally if not exponentially more 'nerdy' than any SC players.

Competitive video games are here to stay, and I (along with millions of others) am glad. I myself have been to the e-sports complex at Yongsan station, and fully plan on going back.

Roboseyo said...

no need to get personal, Anonymous. Especially without attaching a name or handle to what you have to say.

However, I also disagree with Dokebi: I think Korea should embrace and get excited about all kinds of its cultural fringes: b-boy, starcraft, those punk-rock kids walking around Hongdae, foreigners wearing hanbok, you name it, and start looking at Korea as the vivacious, varied place it IS, instead of trying to force an image onto it that is neither accurate to what you can actually find in Korea, nor always the most appealing to those reading Korea promotions. Certain kinds of people get interested in Korea through photos of temples and hanok...but there ARE people who would make Kroea a destination because it IS the world capital of competitive starcraft...and that's cool, not nerdy.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

Do they still have the Starcraft studio at COEX Mall, or don't they televise from that location any more? It used to be in the area around Link-Os.

Brian said...

I happened across one of these in COEX my first year. I got a photo of the MCs, and my friend said they're famous but I don't know who they are.

I also think this esport business is good, and is a positive thing to project to the world. Plus, Koreans are good at it. Personally I don't care about Starcraft---my brother likes it, though---but I'll admit I'll sit down and watch Kart Rider on TV from time to time.

Nice work, by the way, on this and the last post. You've done a good job so far on vacation.

old o said...

I went to the World Cyber Games (same organization running the event in your photos) finals in Seattle in 2007. Got to see the Korean team with their shiny coats, and the president of Samsung gave a speech in English.

I agree with people commenting here that this should be promoted. I'd say that internet people these days know about Korea's pro-gaming scene as much as people know about Japan's anime scene. And anime gets A LOT of people to go to Japan.