South Korea has led the competitive esports scene for years. A South Korean team has won the last three League of Legends World Championship games, and in 2015 the two best League of Legends teams in the world hailed from Korea. While League is by far the most-played MOBA in South Korea, the best Starcraft 2 players are almost all South Korean as well. The country has a long history of decimating the rest of the world when they enter competitive gaming in a big way.
Now that Overwatch is out, it’s clear Korea is ready to dominate the next big esports game. Here’s why.
In North America and Europe, consoles still collect a sizable share of our gaming dollars. However, PCs are the overwhelming platform for gamers in Korea, and for good reason. In a country with such a dense urban population, not many households have the space to hold a large television and console or desktop set up. Instead, computer cafes also called “PC Bangs,” provide an oasis for Korea’s gamers. These LAN gaming centers offer users an hour of play for as little as fifty-cents.
Thanks to a concentrated effort by the South Korean government starting in the mid-90s, the country is home to the highest number of broadband users in the world. The country also ranks first in the world for average connection speeds, providing gamers internet speeds that easily doubles the average connection speed in the States. Overwatch launched in South Korea to a sizable PC market, one already very familiar with Blizzard through the immensely popular Starcraft franchise.
So it’s not surprising that just a couple months after release, Overwatch has officially surpassed League of Legends as the most widely played game in Korean internet cafes. This isn’t a coincidence either. Blizzard targeted South Korea in particular when making Overwatch, giving the region early access to the open beta and drawing in more than 9.7 million players. Blizzard Entertainment Korea Managing Director King Jung-hwan told Korea Times, “Our goal with Overwatch in the Korean market is to make it placed in the third or higher spot in the chart of most-played online games at PC rooms here.” Blizzard even set up a team dedicated to growing PC cafe users, running custom promotional events for Korean gamers. Their strategy is clearly working, with fan interest in Overwatch growing.
The desktop PC is the traditional home of high-level shooter play. When Blizzard finally wades into Overwatch esports, one of their biggest fan bases will be in South Korea.
It’s not just Korea’s PC gaming history that sets them up to dominate Overwatch esports. South Korea takes esports of all kinds very seriously. Professional gaming took off in Korea when Starcraft released all the way back in 1998. Today, competitive gaming is a widely accepted and frequently watched form of entertainment. You can catch competitive gaming events broadcast on television, and live events consistently sell out in South Korean stadiums. There is enough money in esports to fuel lucrative careers.
The popular support for gaming in South Korea means there is also a stable, competitive infrastructure for pro players. Major telecommunication companies like HTC, Samsung, SK Telecom, and others, financially support and even own esports teams. The government supports the scene too. The state actually built the world’s first esports stadium back in 2005, long before esports was taken seriously here in the west. Esports stardom dominates the scene where the best competitive gamers are treated like celebrities. With Overwatch already strong in the Korean market, you can bet gamers of all kinds will seek their fortunes in Overwatch tournaments.
Play the Best, Be the Best
Indeed, many South Korean esports stars have already started to try out Overwatch. Recently,a 17 year old girl who goes by Gegury proved herself against some professional gamers who doubted her stunning Overwatch record. You can watch the smackdown she delivered above — and you really should, she’s amazing. Other top-tier players from past competitive games are making the move and showing off some crazy skill. Here’s another video below, this time of Korean player Pine demonstrating a frankly awe-inspiring Widowmaker gamer. Pine is a former Team Fortress player, and is now part of Luxarywatch, a top-tier Korean Overwatch team.
With a collection of the world’s best competitive gamers moving to Overwatch in Korea, the competitive scene looks to be incredibly heated. This is the core of what maked South Korea primed to dominate Overwatch esports just as they have with other games. By playing against the best, you become the best. South Korean Overwatch teams will be scrimming against other high-skilled teams, getting better and better with every match. The ability to consistently practice against high-skilled players is partially what makes South Korea the go-to boot camp location professional League of Legends players visit when preparing for championships.
So why is this exciting?
The strategy and MOBA scene is dominated by Korean and other Asian teams, but the competitive shooter scene has traditionally been dominated by western gamers. With Korea ready to dominate Overwatch, we’ll soon have one of the most diverse, competitive and exciting esports scenes around. I can’t wait to watch.