StarCraft, the critically acclaimed real-time strategy released in 1998, is still alive and well. The game kicked off the e-sports craze in South Korea, sparking the creation of dedicated gaming channels, professional teams and organizations, as well as the establishment of the Korean eSports Association. The current state of the e-sports infrastructure can be largely attributed to the growth of the professional scene of StarCraft over the years, starting with the first televised matches back in October 1999.
Korea, still reeling from the economic crisis of 1997, was undergoing a massive change in government policy regarding the accessibility of a broadband connection in the country. Kim Dae Jung’s office, pushing their agenda forward, heavily contributed to the development of a highly advanced Internet infrastructure. Since Japanese arcade and console games were still banned in Korea, as part of the post-WW2 bill aiming to re-establish Korean culture, pushing out any Japanese influence, and personal computers were a luxury few could afford, so-called PC Bangs started popping up on every corner.
One of the thousands of PC Bangs in South Korea
For roughly $1/hour, anyone could come in and spend their time browsing the Internet or playing a wide variety of video games. These PC Bangs soon became a widespread phenomenon, with over 3,000 registered ‘computer rooms’ in Korea in 1998. That number rapidly skyrocketed to 15,150 in 1999 and peaked at 22,548 in 2002. Higher unemployment rates which followed the aforementioned IMF crisis also contributed to the rise of the PC Bang culture and the emergence of a new celebrity archetype - the progamer. Cyber bums, who would spend hour upon hour mastering their craft, getting better and better at video games, quickly found that StarCraft turned into a nationwide pastime.
StarCraft seemed to trickle into Korean culture, transcending the concept of being nothing more than a computer game. The phrase ‘Despite not being familiar with StarCraft I know who Lim Yo Hwan is’, which often pops up in Korean articles and publications pertaining to e-sports, quite accurately describes StarCraft’s influence and the impact it has had on the mentality of a vast chunk of Korean society. Professional gamers started appearing on talk shows and starring in commercials, and by gaining an increasing amount of exposure they, in turn, started to expose StarCraft to a wider audience.
Brood War seemed to stand the test of time up until 2012, when KeSPA and all of ifs teams switched to StarCraft II. The professional scene of the original StarCraft went on hiatus, mainly surviving off of the SonicTV BJ StarLeague, organized by the popular broadcast jockey Sonic. As StarCraft II’s popularity in Korea started to decline and former Brood War pros weren’t finding the same results in Blizzard’s sequel to the original RTS, many began to switch back to StarCraft I.
With a lack of professional tournaments to participate in, those pros found themselves streaming for a living. The scene thrived off regular FPV broadcasts of popular players and showmatches sponsored by the community. The renewed interest in Brood War was noticed by Kongdoo, a Korean gaming and e-sports agency, who organized the HungryApp Starzleague with Kongdoo in January 2015, with broadcast being entrusted to HungryApp, a Korean streaming service. The tournament garnered an unexpected amount of attention and the overwhelming response from the community forced Kongdoo to reach out to AfreecaTV for the grand finals, as HungryApp did not have the necessary resources to provide sufficient broadcast quality and live-viewing opportunities for fans wishing to witness Brood War live in a studio setting once more. The competition was the first in a series of tournaments now referred to as the Afreeca StarLeague.
Blizzard have also made an attempt to revive the original StarCraft in South Korea, sponsoring the Korea StarCraft League, whose first season has just concluded, with Last taking first place over Jaedong in a best of 7 grand final. The league employed a format hitherto unseen in professional Brood War, namely due to a best of 5 groupstage and numerous best of 7 matches in the playoffs bracket. The second season is set to start on the 18th of October, with qualifiers taking place on the 27th, 28th, and 30th of September.
Korea StarCraft League Season 1 Finals
Sign-ups open on the 17th of September. Care to try your luck?
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