This archived article was written by: Cassidy Scovill
Until recently, videogame players were a small niche audience, but as the technology that goes into making them grows and expands, so too does its audience. While the old stigmas attached to video games are finally changing in America, they have completely changed another country.
When you think of a professional videogame player, you probably think of a nerdy guy with a huge ego. This is not true in South Korea which has embraced the act of playing videogames to the point that it has become a professional sport. There are two channels dedicated to covering the act of playing a computer game. The league also has problems that mirror other major sports with players throwing matches for money.
With the amount of videogames available in America, you would think that South Korea must have a booming-game market. This is wrong because the game of choice in South Korea is called StarCraft, a science-fiction RTS (Real Time Strategy) set in the distant future. Now an RTS is a game about playing a virtual general waging war against people made by Blizzard in 2000, the same company that would go on to make the highest grossing videogame of all time: World of Warcraft.
The difficulty of StarCraft comes from having to control every aspect of your troops, gathering resources and producing armies that counter your opponent’s armies. The game is hard for an average person to get into, but the professionals play another game entirely so that their fingers and screen moves so fast. They are capable of accomplishing over 200 actions per minute while the average person is able to complete around 50 actions. Professional players need to concentrate on multiple things at once while being able to keep a solid-action rate up.
The game has become so popular that players are neglecting to eat or sleep. One man collapsed in a South Korean Internet café and died. Not only do the players kill themselves through their obsession, they kill one another. Since the game takes place in cafés, the players are relatively close. This has led to fights and even a player stabbing another player to death after losing his game.
The game was popular in America, but it exploded in Korea. The game has been said to have the depth and strategy of chess. It garnered so much popularity that eventually high-grade players would play against one another over live television. This was a game that people could be really exceptional and the pro-players in South Korea are treated like NFL players. They are in commercials advertising from snacks to dancing shoes. Like NFL players (who aren’t Brett Farve), you can actually get too old to play effectively and as such, many of the best have stopped playing. Some go on to manage a team of players and others go on to comment on the game.
The similarities to American pro-sports doesn’t end. Players also became involved in gambling and throwing matches for money. They are rocking the integrity of the matches and people are now scrutinizing the actions of players to decide whether they are just losing or throwing the game at the behest of shady-crime organizations for money.
Now the sequel to the game has been announced and one has to wonder if perhaps the popularity of the strategy game expands out of South Korea. Blizzard is also offering huge cash prizes in an attempt to get South Koreans to stop playing StarCraft and start playing the sequel. With the largest gaming market, America could be the next country to begin making videogames a professional sport.