Esports talent in South Korea boosted by big business, loosening of gambling ban


SEOUL – South Korean teenager Yoon Ki-change only sleeps three hours a day but spends more than three times that time playing online games – with the blessing of his parents and teachers – as he dream of becoming a great pro League of Legends player.

Mr. Yoon and his peers are the next generation of gamers in South Korea, a fast-growing esports powerhouse whose players have won the Riot Games League of Legends World Championship six times since the event began. most watched esports platform in 2011.

They will also benefit from the country’s announcement in August of the abolition of a ten-year-old law that prohibits those under 16 from playing online computer games from midnight to 6 a.m., on a consensus. growing trend that young people are using their mobile more and more. phones instead.

“I suffered a lot from the closure law. Usually I don’t get much sleep, so I studied different things during the off hours. If it hadn’t been for the law, I could have been a better player now, ”said Yoon, who says he can play at least four more hours now since he turned 16 this year.

South Korea’s move contrasts with that of China, the world’s largest esports market, which in late August significantly limited the time under-18s can spend playing video games to just three hours a week.

Esport will also appear as sports medal for the first time at the Asian Games in Hangzhou next year.

“China’s gaming regulations could be a pretty good opportunity for us to strengthen and take over the esports initiative,” said Park Se-woon, vice president of the Seoul Game Academy, which offers pro-training programs.

Mr Park said the private academy has seen a 30-fold increase in the number of daily consultations since the program launched in 2016.

Despite the growing international status and interest from potential professional players, government support for the esports industry, estimated in 2020 at around 17.9 trillion won ($ 15.2 billion), has been lackluster, according to experts.

The electronic sports and games industry received 67.1 billion won of the 604.4 billion won of the national budget for next year.

But the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism wants to do more, especially ahead of organized competitions such as the Asian Games, an official said without giving details. In the meantime, the space has been filled with investments from large companies and private educational institutions.

Nongshim instant noodle maker Co. Ltd. launched his League of Legends gaming team, Nongshim RedForce, at the end of last year, joining other South Korean conglomerates who saw potential in the industry.

Among them are SK Telecom Co. Ltd. of the SK group, Kia Corp, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co., Hanwha Life Insurance of the Hanwha group and KT Corp.

“The esports industry has continued to grow, but state-led support measures have been weak, with corporate sponsorships and private academies primarily leading the industry,” said Oh Ji-hwan. , CEO of Nongshim E-Sports.

Mr Oh said companies view the esports scene as a platform to reach younger generations and improve their branding.

The T1 team, backed by SK Telecom, in which ‘Faker’, the most famous League of Legends player of all time, plays, opened its esports academy last month. The 20-week program costs 5.6 million won, but applications are pouring in, he said.

At the moment, there is only one school in South Korea with esports in its academic program aimed at encouraging professional gamers. Teenager Yoon makes a two-hour round trip to Eunpyeong Meditech High School every day to boost his chances as a professional player.

Mr. Oh de Nongshim said that supporting gaming talent from government and the private sector is paramount, as South Korea’s market will never be as big as that of the United States or China.

“Focusing on talent is the key,” he said. “Building up talent development know-how should be our strength. “- Joori Roh / Reuters


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