Esports has been a thing since the 1960s. However, it got pushed to the mainstream, thanks to Korea. In the 90s, their government built a countrywide broadband network, and online video games started gaining traction in the country. LAN cafes sprung up in every nook and cranny. And thus, began the rise of esports in Korea.
History of Esports in Korea
Broadband access is considered to be a significant contributor to the rise of esports, not only in Korea but across the globe. Although the region is, without a doubt, the trailblazer. It made it easier for players to train and get in touch with other players. As a result, the skill of Korean players improved at a remarkable rate.
The KeSPA (Korean Esports Association) was created in 2000 as the child organization of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. It manages twenty-five of Korea’s major esports games. These include LoL, CS: GO, Starcraft II, and DOTA 2.
KeSPA has been appreciated for trying to legitimize esports in the country, as well as introducing a minimum pay for the pro players along with a compulsory 1-year contract for new members joining a team.
Nowadays, esports in Korea is as massive as ever. Each year, thousands of enthusiasts pack stadiums to witness their favorite teams compete. At the Worlds 2014 in Seoul, over 40,000 people packed a large stadium to see their favorite League of Legends teams battle.
While the industry experienced a lull at the beginning of the decade, video games like Overwatch and Hearthstone are reigniting people’s interest in esports.
Overwatch specifically has contributed a lot. While first-person shooter games have never been as popular in Asia, this game’s character roster and varied gameplay styles appeal to a broad range of audiences. Therefore, it is a much more attractive proposition for beginners than, say, Halo, or Call of Duty.
Why Is Esports so Famous There?
There are more than one reasons for the popularity of esports in Korea.
One reason is the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It encouraged people in countries like Korea to get working and creative. The broadband boom resulted in the unintentional renaissance of esports. Video games were an avenue for people to forget about the financial problems that plagued the region. Superfast internet contributed to this. People found an effective outlet, better than anything else being offered.
Professional players are considered as celebrities due to esports being so widely viewed and famous in the country. Even people from small towns have the chance to enter the big leagues. The way esports players are celebrated and revered in the country is similar to NBA players in the US. People from every generation views esports as a national past time.
However, some researchers argue that the popularity of esports in the country is due to the cultural appetite of Korean people. They think games like StarCraft are a modern version of a mind game, which requires quick thinking and fast responsiveness. They believe it suits Korean behavioral trends. And maybe that is why Korean players excel in esports, particularly multiplayer online battle arena, in aspects European and American gamers can only think of.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. The reason behind its popularity is a mixture of both cultural urges and government investment. Although it can also be the right timing or a coincidence, an aligning of the stars that kick-started the rise of esports in Korea.