Korean gaming superstar: the “Michael Jordan of eSports”

Posted on: Jul 24, 2018 By smartlaunch in News and trends,

The bespectacled, floppy-fringed “Faker”, real name Lee Sang-hyeok, is the world’s top “League of Legends” gamer and in hyper-wired South Korea, he enjoys similar fame and fortune to top basketball or baseball players. Faker, 22, will be one of the biggest stars at next month’s regional Olympics, the quadrennial Asian Games in Indonesia, where eSports will be held as a demonstration event for the first time. A high school drop-out dubbed the “Michael Jordan of eSports” has helped make South Korea a major power in video-gaming, and is now leading its push to be recognized by the mainstream.

It marks a step forward in gaming’s efforts to be considered a genuine sport, possibly even gaining a slot at the Olympics in the future, good news for global eSports powerhouses like South Korea.

South Korea enjoys ultra-fast broadband and a vibrant internet culture, and internet cafes armed with powerful high-end computers catering to school-age gamers can be found on many street corners. “Esports player” consistently ranks among children’s most popular future jobs, coming eighth in an education ministry survey of elementary school pupils last year, higher than “scientist.”

Faker started playing video games in elementary school, and excelled at “League of Legends”, an online battle game introduced by Riot Games in 2009.

As he climbed the online LoL rankings speculation mounted about his identity, and he formed a team with friends to compete at amateur tournaments. He dropped out of high school after being offered a job as a professional, making his debut in 2013 and thrashing top players one after another as he made his way to stardom.

Korea’s eSports scene is reminiscent of Germany’s soccer culture, with grassroot talents nurtured from a young age, some of them making their way to amateur leagues and, after years of competition and effort, professional teams. Last year, eSports was ranked the third most popular sport among South Koreans aged 15 to 29 after soccer and baseball, according to a survey by Nielsen Korea. Multiple TV channels are dedicated to broadcasting eSports competitions, held at large football stadiums to roars from tens of thousands of fans, or sleek special arenas designed to showcase the games.

With 25 million players, which is half the population, South Korea is the world’s sixth-biggest video game market. South Korea’s obsession with video games dates back to the 1990s when Starcraft, a U.S, science fiction strategy game, enjoyed huge popularity, so much so that the South accounted for more than half its worldwide sales.

Nowadays, teenagers hoping to become professional players, or popular among their game-crazed peers, flock to a growing number of private, after-hours schools coaching them how to play video games better.

 

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