What is E-Sports and Why is it Korea’s National Pastime?

D-Bo , Oct. 20, 2014, 9:21 a.m.

Electronic sports, also known as esports is a term for organized video game competitions, especially between professionals. The most common video game genres associated with electronic sports are real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooter, and multiplayer online battle arena. Tournaments such as the World Cyber Games, the Evolution Championship Series, and the Intel Extreme Masters provide both live broadcasts of the competition, and cash prizes to competitors.

Although esports have long been a part of video game culture, competitions have seen a large surge in popularity in recent years. While competitions before around the year 2000 were largely between amateurs, the proliferation of professional competitions and growing viewership now supports a significant number of professional players and teams, and many video game developers now build features into their games designed to facilitate such competition.

Historically, esports have appealed to a small niche audience, with little representation in mass media such as television. Because of this, the increasing availability of online video streaming platforms, particularly Twitch, has become central to current esports competitions. In 2012, the most popular titles featured in professional competition were League of LegendsDota 2, and StarCraft II. During 2013 and early 2014, the Call of Duty series also emerged as a popular title.

Top video game players in South Korea are household names. Millions of people tune in to watch game competitions on television. The largest Internet portal, Naver, has its own section covering the results.

Competitive video gaming is now taking off in places like the United States, attracting thousands of people to major events. But in South Korea, more than anywhere else, it has already oozed into mainstream culture. Couples going to game clubs is about as common as couples going to the movies.

Time and again, South Korea has provided glimpses of technology-related transformations before they expand globally, including widespread broadband availability and smartphone adoption. The country has also led in professional video game competitions, often called e-sports, creating organized leagues, training well-financed professional teams and filling giant stadiums with frenzied fans to cheer on their favorite players.

Such excitement was on display in Seoul on Sunday, when more than 40,000 fans filled the outdoor soccer stadium used for the 2002 World Cup semifinal to watch the world championship for League of Legends, one of the world’s most popular games. On stage, two teams of five players sat in front of computers wielding mouse and keyboard to control fantastical characters in a campaign to destroy the opposing team’s base. Three huge screens displayed the action.

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