South Korea – “eSports Mecca”
eSports in South Korea is not just fun and video games, it’s a big professional business and South Korea is the global leader. Back in the 1990s the government built a national broadband system, giving South Korea one of the fastest internet systems in the world. During this time, PC and online gaming in general gained popularity. Internet and gaming cafes called ‘PC bangs’ sprang up all over the country and continues to be popular even today. Currently, they are approximately 25,000 of these 24-hour PC bangs, with over half of them are in Seoul alone.
All ages of South Koreans play eSports, but the best players are developed from an early age, like most other sports. Some have likened it to Germany’s soccer culture where talent is cultivated early, with athletes taking the path through amateur leagues initially, but through training, effort, and competition, earning their places on professional teams.
The best professional players of eSports are treated like like elite athletes or rock stars. There are huge eSports arenas that consistently and easily draw crowds in the tens of thousands to watch these virtual gaming competitions. Among elementary school kids, ‘eSports Player’ consistently ranks in the top ten of most popular future jobs. “Last year, eSports was ranked the third most popular sport among South Koreans aged 15-29 after soccer and baseball”, according to a survey by Nielsen Korea. Many of the countries chaebols (conglomerates) sponsor their own eSports teams. eSports also has the support of the government in legitimizing it as sport.
In 2000, the South Korean Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism created an arm called the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA). This branch manages all eSports in the country, optimizes the commercial end of the sports which includes broadcasting, and also establishes work guidelines for the sports’ professional games. KeSPA has set minimum wage standards along with directives re: working conditions.
Strengthening its case for sports legitimacy in South Korea and worldwide, KeSPA is not only a member of the International eSports Federation, but a member of the Korean Olympic Committee. If South Korea has anything to say about it, we may see eSports in future Olympics.