South Korea′s Online Gaming Craze | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 28.06.2007
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South Korea's Online Gaming Craze

South Koreans love to play computer games -- over a third of the population regularly plays online. The most popular games are Warcraft and StarCraft. And so popular are they that professional leagues have formed, whose competitions are broadcast on special e-sport cable channels. Ma Jae-Yoon is South Korea's current StarCraft champion.

Seoul hosted the World Cyber Games in 2003

Seoul hosted the World Cyber Games in 2003

The atmosphere is tense backstage at Seoul's e-sport stadium. A couple of young men in tracksuits are hacking away at their keyboards. The professional gamers are practising a few last moves before the tournament begins.

Next door, make up is being applied to magic away the odd spot and hairdos are being tidied. The star of the evening -- Ma Jae-Yoon -- is ready. Slightly pale, wearing a tracksuit and earrings, he seems like a normal twenty-year old.

But his daily existence isn't so normal, as he explains: "At my age, I should be studying but instead I just practise every day. It's really tiring. But if you want to achieve something, you have to put in a lot of effort. That's the same for any sport."

Dream job

Ma Jae-Yoon plays StarCraft professionally, in a team sponsored by the food and media corporation CJ. It's a dream job for many teenagers -- online gaming is the number one hobby for most South Korean boys.

Many spend all their spare time in front of the screen in smoky Internet cafes. Some forget to eat or drink. Others gobble up noodle soups as they play.

Ma Jae-Yoon used to do that but things changed when he went professional and started practising every moment he could and eating and sleeping at regular times.

The young man lives with his trainers and colleagues in a special training camp. Female company is frowned upon. The set-up is spartan. None of these young men have their own rooms.

No time to spend

And yet they earn millions. But instead of spending their money, they sit in front of the screen all day and practise. Not an easy life, says their manager Sean Oh: "When they lose, the head coach screams a lot. They get lots of stress. They always have to win."

Back in the stadium, hundreds of fans have gathered - - they're mainly girls of between fifteen and twenty-five. They've come armed with flowers, perfume and sweets for their heroes.

Kwon Nae-Jin, in her school uniform with her hair in bunches, wanted to experience her heroes live: "I've come to the stadium because the professionals are so good. It's more realistic to follow the game here than on TV. Everything feels great here."

The match

The players make their way to the stage wearing white tracksuits, like Formula 1 drivers.

Ma Jae-Yoon and his opponent Pak Min-Su go into their glass cabins and take their places at their screens. They put on their headphones. The match begins.

The screens show heroes battling with dragons in dungeons. The players are so fast, the commentator can barely keep up. But when the game ends, Ma Jae-Yoon has lost. His face is expressionless, just as it was when he was playing.

He gets up to leave, back to his training camp to practise for the next match.

  • Date 28.06.2007
  • Author DW Staff (act)
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  • Date 28.06.2007
  • Author DW Staff (act)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink