Youngbin: A Cultural Fit
June 08 2017
"In Korea, pro gamers are seen differently by the audience in my opinion. For the players, there are always people with big cameras around them, they are like celebrities. And the way I see it, esports in Korea for the teenager to age 30 is definitely bigger than soccer, baseball, or any actual sport because they grew up with it. It's like, sort of, how big NBA and MLB are to the US."
- Young-bin "Youngbin" Jung
Korea remains a dominant force in esports and yet, despite all their deep achievements and vast history, fans across the globe continue wondering what exactly generates this monumental gap in skill and talent.
As someone who has lived in Asia, Europe, and eventually America, Youngbin explains to us that while there are a lot more details in how organizations are structured and how talent is developed, he attests a lot of Korea's success in esports to their culture and how gaming is perceived in the country.
The Korean Way
In North America, video games are seen purely as a form of entertainment. As a medium that comes in 2nd (or more likely 3rd, 4th, or 5th) to academics and athletics, pursuing it as a career path is often looked down upon. Even with the boom of esports post 2010, it's tough to sell the idea of gamers as athletes. But if the culture around gaming sees it as something similar to traditional sporting competitions, would it be looked at differently?
"In Korean culture, with PC Bangs, it's this place you go to after school or free time for most of us," Youngbin says. "It's full of computers, and you just play games or do whatever with local friends. It's a lot different than western culture because they're everywhere. It is fun and normal to just go out with friends all the time to play."
In Korea, it's incredibly easy to find other gamers to play with. Youngbin talks about how it's common for all the gamers in town to go to a PC Bang and get to know everyone locally. That these PC Bangs, and hanging out in them, is akin to the feeling of going to the park and playing a local pickup game of basketball. It's an offline experience, and it's a different feeling when you get to actually see your teammates or opponents face-to-face.
He continues, "Let me tell a story. When I was younger, I was top rank at anything I play. There was this game awhile ago… FIFA Online, and I was so good, the owner of the PC Bang I would go to in Korea would give me free game time and drinks if I keep coming back. I was encouraged to play games because I was good, and the people there watching were amazed at my skills and talked about me and continued to watch me play… It really made me feel like a pro player. And it's my dream to play pro play on stage."
An example of a Korean PC Bang
Interestingly enough, he throws out "pro gamer" with a sense of leisure, as if it's a typical topic for him. That's because esports is common ground for himself and his peers with gaming continuing to remain as a dominant force in South Korea-- something that goes beyond a form of entertainment. When comparing NA to his homeland, he contrasts esports in the western world as more of a show as opposed to an actual national sport like it is in Korea.
"Growing up, StarCraft: Broodwar was very popular. I would actually just watch esports. This was many years ago too," Youngbin tells me. "Oh man, esports, OGN you know, has its own channel in Korea so you turn on the TV and anyone especially the teenager would just watch. It depends on the age group maybe."
He continues, laughing as he remembers that for him, esports was something he knew off long before most in the west would consider it cool, "In Korea, pro gamers are seen differently by the audience in my opinion. For the players, there are always people with big cameras around them, they are like celebrities. And the way I see it, esports in Korea for the teenager to age 30 is definitely bigger than soccer, baseball, or any actual sport because they grew up with it. It's like, sort of, how big NBA and MLB are to the US."
In the western world, it's normal, even encouraged, for children to play sports and if they're good, to pursue it as a legitimate career. On the other hand, video games are seen as leisure or a form of entertainment with seemingly no foreseeable career path. There's a stark difference that may act as a motivator in Korea--that gaming could lead to a life of stardom.
Turns out, the limelight that comes with going pro helps, but that's not entirely correct. "Korean teams, they want to win really bad. They actually just want to sh*t on everyone. When they play, they want to win."
"As a culture, I see Koreans as super competitive in general when it comes to games," he says chuckling. "In NA, gaming is very… It's for fun even at high ranking but in Korea if you sort of troll or are not being good in online game, they will rage at you really hard. Like more rage than you know. Losing hurts a lot"
For me, I can't imagine the will to win being a major factor by itself--who hates to lose? But being that gaming is valued as a sport, especially as the generation that grew up with it become qualified to compete on TV, that sort of acceptance might play a part. But Youngbin pushes hard on competitive mindset and how close people can be in their culture -- "I'm not even sure it's cultural difference, Koreans just don't like losing."
And while hating to lose is one thing, Youngbin elaborates on how close friends are in Korea, "Although a big difference between Korea and NA, is in Korea, my friends are like family and we do more together and in NA, my friends are just my friends."
Although culture may not be the only factor, it's really cool to know there's a part of the world that really values the gaming space. Do you think esports will advance if competitions and gaming pushes forward in a more career-viable, and accepted direction?
Youngbin is currently a substitute ADC for the Team Liquid League of Legends team. You can follow him on twitter @youngbiin.
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