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Chinese fans root for Korean e-sports teams

No sign of recent tensions as supporters cheer on the players
Nov 07,2017
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Chinese fans root for the Korean teams at the League of Legends World Championship 2017 at the Beijing National Stadium on Saturday. [RIOT GAMES]
BEIJING - Some 40,000 people at the Beijing National Stadium on Saturday afternoon shouted “jiayou!” as League of Legends players took to the stage. Jiayou is a Chinese expression similar to “go for it.” The players were about to compete in the final round of the League of Legends World Championship 2017, the world’s biggest e-sports match.

The two teams in the final match were both Korean - T1, run by SK Telecom, and Galaxy, from Samsung Electronics. Three gigantic screens at the front of the venue showed the games as well as close-up views of the players’ facial expressions.

The two teams defeated their Chinese opponents in the semi-final. Despite concerns that the audience may turn hostile toward the Korean gamers, the crowd happily cheered for Samsung’s Galaxy team when it won after three hours of gaming.

When T1 team member Lee Sang-hyu lowered his head and started to cry, the audience offered consolation by shouting his nickname, Faker.

The crowd’s support for all the players, regardless of victory or defeat and nationality, shows how e-sports differ from regular sports. In e-sports, players rely on intelligence and skill rather than physical prowess. Since competition generally takes place online, players are only visible by their usernames.

This allows fans to focus on their technique and capabilities, not their appearance, nationality or occupation. Even professional players use nicknames rather than their real names.

A 20-year-old college student who attended the event said he came to learn about Korea through Faker and developed a liking for Korean TV shows such as “Running Man.“

Faker, who has won the largest accumulated cash prize in the world from League of Legends, has amassed a huge following overseas. Dubbed the “Michael Jordan of e-sports,” he earns about 3 billion won ($2.7 million) a year.

Another Chinese attendee at the game said, “News reports say Sino-Korean relations have aggravated after Korea’s deployment of the anti-ballistic missile defense system, but those younger generations who enjoy e-sports don’t care about that.”

Easy access is another upshot of e-sports. Thanks to improving streaming technology, anyone can play games through mobile devices anywhere, any time, without the need for expensive machines.

E-sports are growing into a massive business. The industry has gone from strength to strength since StarCraft first became a global hit in the late 1990s, with League of Legends bursting onto the scene in 2009. The game was launched by American game publisher Riot Games, which Chinese internet giant Tencent bought in early 2011.

The League of Legends World Championship was viewed by some 400 million around the world last year, with 43 million people tuning in for the final. This year, tickets sold out in just a minute online, with some being resold for as much as 3 million won.

According to market researcher Newzoo, the global e-sport market grew from $325 million in 2015 to $493 million last year. The researcher forecasts the market will grow to $1.48 billion by 2020.

A sales manager at Douyu TV, China’s No. 2 TV streaming service, said accumulated subscribers to the service surpassed 200 million, propped up by e-sports.

“We live-stream various e-sports including League of Legends and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and see over a daily average of 30 million users,” said the manager.

Ahead of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, where e-sports will become an official medal sport, China is scrambling to build the world’s first online gaming town, spanning some 1,236 acres.

Korean enterprises are gradually recognizing the importance of e-sports too. Oh Kyung-sik, SK Telecom’s sport marketing manager, said the company has been constantly investing in e-sports ever since launching T1 in 2004.

“We could have enhanced our brand image by communicating with teenagers and 20-somethings through e-sports and interactions with them assists our public relations activities,” he said.

“We need to more proactively invest in e-sports and rebuild its image, given it has already been established as an industry with upbeat prospects overseas.

Other than SK Telecom and Samsung Electronics, CJ and Jin Air are running pro gaming teams.


BY LEE CHANG-GYUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]