Wednesday, December 16, 2009

[reblog] Boxer's brutal, realistic take on eSports

Slayers_Boxer (Lim Yo Hwan in real life) talked about the current state of eSports in Korea. Boxer, being the man who almost single-handedly created the pro-gaming industry and creating countless Starcraft innovations (M&M play, Dropship play, micro in general), tells the brutal truths in today's pro-gaming scene. This is so eye-opening I had to repost from Teamliquid.

I am a pro-Starcraft fan, and I'm a fan of current players Jaedong and Flash. This article is not going to talk about the basics of Starcraft, so don't expect to know about how the game has matured over more than a decade - more info on Starcraft pro gaming is here.

On the past 10 years of eSports

It's a big accomplishment to have a market this big, from nothing. In the beginning, players worked as freelancers trying to win the competition prizes. It was the time when a sense of professionalism and teamwork didn't exist. It was basically playing for fun and going on to tournaments when they came around. After that, the team system was established because practice partners and a system were necessary. Still, there was nothing but the tournament prizes. Back then team managers didn't have other revenue models and things went on like that.

Then ProLeague started and corporate-sponsored teams were established. There was salary for players who aren't necessarily good or win tournaments. It was a good period as the team system got implemented.

Honestly, nowadays fans are leaving. When the time was good we should have pulled more corporations, embraced the existing fans, and attracted new fans. Even looking at ProLeague now, things are awkward for players. It's a feeling of not perfectly modeling it as a sports. It's the positioning of a half of sports and a half of entertainment.

One reason that fans are leaving is that the biggest chunk of eSports, StarCraft, does not have a big market globally. It's popular in Korea and there are tournaments, but oversea there isn't much attention. I felt the limit as I won WCG twice. It didn't feel great even after I won the gold. Not much attention from Korean media either.

The scale is different for basketball or other sports. Fan service is different, and with cheerleaders, gifts, and events, fans are totally occupied. You can even eat in stadiums. eSports stadiums don't sell food, and there's no entertainment beside watching the game. Fans concentrate when games are exciting, but when game are boring they lose focus. eSports is emotional, so more investment in fan service is needed to grab audience's attention continuously.

Replay is a big problem too. The retirement of old progamers was influenced by replay. Even when Nal_rA and others pulled off an interesting strategy, copying it a day or two after is possible because of replay. As the old progamers went down, fans left. More effort was needed to hold them, but such effort is insufficient nowadays.

When I met the former Korean president Roh, I asked for a government support to grow eSports. But the government said that since Korea is eSports' home and it will grow on its own, let's just watch it. No special attention.

I hope that government helps it grow more. Instead of just supporting baseball, basketball, and soccer which came from abroad, I hope that the government supports the domestically-grown eSports. Instead of just growing it in Korea, I hope that those who had their foot in Korea go abroad and help develop eSports. There's no answer unless things go globally.

On StarCraft 2

I haven't played it. But I hope that it spreads globally. When StarCraft 2 comes out, or even some other game gets to be competed internationally, it might be bigger than StarCraft-oriented eSports. When PC cafes are spread, popular games get support, so when StarCraft 2 comes out and other countries open more PC cafes, people might play it more. I'm worried that even if StarCraft 2 leagues are developed, they become a Korean thing after couple years.

On the gaming culture

Society's perception on gaming is still not good. When I was practicing in ACE, an army officer took a kid to the practice room and asked me, "He's so into gaming. Please tell him to stop playing." I was in the army, but it was awkward because I was still a progamer. It's not enough for me to tell him to keep trying, but how could I tell him to stop. Parents know that it's a tough path and they know about the income distribution of progamers. It's difficult for reporter-loved progamers to come out either. Fans are diminishing too. It's a bad cycle.

On SKT T1's Chinese player

The company had expected much, but he didn't meet the expectation. Even before that, bringing in non-Korean players for Hexatron failed. Unless eSports becomes really a sports, I'm worried that we might have to buy some broadcasting rights from China. Talking about it isn't enough. Specific plan needs to be laid out. Korea has better driver experience, but China has better engine. You can't ignore China.
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