Video game culture in South Korea is often quite distinct from its western counterpart. Among the most popular video games in the United States are Call of Duty, Halo, and League of Legends. In Korea, they’re StarCraft, FIFA, and, well, League of Legends.
My main focus here is StarCraft, however, as for a long time and in some ways still today, StarCraft was a way of life in South Korea.
StarCraft is a real-time strategy game, meaning the player is essentially god and tells his units where to move and what to do from his camera in the sky.
Now when I say StarCraft is a way of life, I don’t mean it in the same way as people who say “fishing is a way of life,” or “music is a way of life,” heck, I don’t even mean it in the same way as people who say “SEC Football is a way of life.” It goes beyond any of that.
When milliseconds matter and the number of actions per minute (APM) you do is measured in the hundreds, only the best can win tournaments to make a living playing a video game.
In Korea, professional StarCraft players often live together with their teammates in houses in which the sole purpose is to play StarCraft and improve. They play nearly constantly. The worldwide StarCraft community divides itself into two groups, “Korean,” and “foreign.” That’s how seriously they take the esport.
That’s right – esport. Short, of course, for electronic sport. These competitive gamers play in StarCraft tournaments with prize pools upwards of $250,000 (notice the top three players’ country of origin – South Korea).
At one point there were two cable TV channels in Korea focused on broadcasting competitive StarCraft matches.
So why is this game so popular in Korea? Well. according to “Ask a Korean,” it’s due to the Cyber Cafes, or “PC Bangs,” in the 1990s. PC Bangs in Korea aren’t like what many Americans think of when they think of CyberCafes. Why they are often run by small business owners, PC Bangs often have hundreds of high-end computers for use, not three or four old ones.
The initial popularity of the first StarCraft when it was released in 1998, followed by its support from PC Bang goers and owners, followed by its television and tournament presence, turned StarCraft and its sequel into a video game phenomenon yet to be felt in, dare I say, any other place in the world.