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Still Crazy About Starcraft, Jeju, South Korea

7 January 2009 One Comment

10-year-old video game is a national fixation in South Korea
Story by Alex Cybulski
Love and Starcraft
Love is like the Protoss, Zerg and Terran duking it out | Credit: KBS Broadcasting

It is not unusual to turn on the television and see this commercial: decked out in matching leather jackets, with clear skin and perfectly groomed hair, a group of teenage boys pose for the camera. Punk pop plays in the background, telling of their youthful virility. Who are these heartthrobs? With their sponsors labeled on their motorcycle jackets ranging from Shinhan Bank to Samsung, they look like a professional sports team.

The message is clear, these desirable young men have sex appeal. However, these aren’t professional athletes, models or motocross experts. These are the Stacraft players of SK Telecom’s “T1” team. These young men are professional video gamers by occupation, and this commercial is a testament to their status as national celebrities.

In a popular Korean melodrama “Sorry I Love You,” a female character reflects: “Love is just like a game of Stacraft.” Absurdity aside, the quote is apropriate for Korea’s relationship to the real-time strategy game. After 10 years, Koreans are still passionate about a game which has captured their interest with its chess-like balance, demonstrating an unprecedented longevity for a video game. The cultural impact of Stacraft on Korea is far-reaching and permeates media, popular culture and the economy.

“These young men are professional video gamers by occupation, this commercial is a testament to their status as national celebrities.”

To understand how deeply Korea loves this game, one simply has to tune in to the television channel ONGAMENET broadcasting professional Starcraft play 24 hours a day. If you’re not content to watch some of the exhibition matches on television, it is possible to purchase DVD highlights from some of the best players in Korea. Otherwise you could simply tune in to the radio, where the sound effects and music from Starcraft are used regularly on various programmes during talk segments.

There is no substitute for walking into a local PC bang and playing the game for yourself. The proliferation of cyber cafes in Korea is mainly a product of the popularity of PC games. Starcraft has long been the leader of this industry, with other games becoming wildly popular and spawning a host of native Korean game developers and publishers. Many games are already loaded onto the computers at various cafes and almost certainly, Starcraft.

Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of Starcraft and a western developer, is well aware of the fanaticism of Korean gamers. At the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational held in Seoul in 2007 the producers of Starcraft announced its sequel in front of a packed Olympic stadium. The response among Korean fans was biblical in its fervor. Few western game developers have ever made such a significant announcement in Asia; this was a first for the gaming industry and a point of national pride for Korea.

The sequel, Starcraft Two, has yet to be released by Blizzard, which has a reputation for ensuring quality in its games. A particular focus for the developer is the balance of game play, as it hopes to score another success with Korean fans in competitive play.

While Korean players await the release of Starcraft 2, their reputation continues to grow as peerless video gamers.

In game image of Starcraft 2 | Credit: Blizzard

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