South Korea and the State of Play

My final semester of university kicked off with watching a documentary State of Play, which looks into the eSports scene in South Korea. For those of you that haven’t heard of eSports, it is defined as a “multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers” (Oxford Dictionary , 2016). This doco highlighted the fanatical nature of the huge eSports industry in South Korea specifically, that draws in gamers and fans from all over the country. Our class were asked to simply observe and record our perspectives when watching the film and then to consider our cultural lenses and biases that form our opinions. Regardless if I think eSports are crazy, amazing, intense, bizarre or cool, I need to bring myself to recognise that I am watching this as an outsider, peering in and recording what I think.  Such a method is referred to by Ellis, Adams and Bochner as autoethnographic research.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. This approach challenges canonical ways of doing research and representing others and treats research as a political, socially-just and socially-conscious act” (Ellis et al, 2011). After four years at University I have practiced a plethora of research methods and I find this to be the most interesting to date. It is always easy to record one’s own perspective, however it is refreshing to be reminded of our cultural biases that influence our views.

Ok, so back to State of Play… Pro-Gamers flock to the South Korean capital Seoul, to compete in huge stadiums dedicated to the video game, Starcraft. The doco follows the story of a Pro, Semi-Pro and Amateur. Whilst the game is pretty ancient, it still manages to attract a huge base of young gamers and this in turn draws in an intense audience, both in the stadiums and across two 24 hour free-to-air TV stations. It is a multimillion dollar business, with sponsors paying for entire teams to live, study and train for the competitions. These young gamers sacrifice a normal social life and a steady education, to train hours upon hours for these matches. Playing is no longer for fun but a short-lived career, with most pro-gamers retiring before they even reach 30.

I found it incredible how intently these kids train. They have such a strong team culture, all carrying around their keyboards and wearing sponsored uniforms. The gamers earn over a hundred thousand Euros per year, all of which is passed over to their fathers (very different from AUS).  I knew there was big bucks to be made in gaming, however didn’t expect it on that level. There are tryouts and drafting of teams, where kids as young as 16 come from all over South Korea to try out. There is such sensationalism around the events and it was incredible how much these teams sacrifice to get so good, playing for around 10-12 hours per day playing the one game. For these young South Korean pros work just happens to be a game.

I was shocked by the enormity of the fan-base that the eSports have in South Korea specifically. There are huge crowds both on TV and in the stadiums, filled with fans who line up for autographs and buy merchandise from the favourite team or gamer. There is a notable split between the genders, with males taking the role as the pro gamers and the girls screaming on the sideline, offering gifts at the end of a competition. Perhaps this is cultural? It would be interesting to see if such gender disparity is evident in other industries or sports.

In conclusion, I want to briefly mention the debate on whether or not eSports can be considered a “real” sport; I would say that it is. The game has spectators, has teams, people feel excited by winning and sad when they loose and overall, it is entertaining. The gamers train hard and sacrifice a normal social life to ensure that they can compete at a professional level. I think that sounds like a sport. It was a new phenomenon for me and I was completely enthralled by the documentary as well as the process of focusing on the way I observe things and how I come to my opinion.


By Abbey Cubit






One comment

  1. This was a great autoethnographical account of your response to the film, and I found it particularly interesting to compare to my own initial responses. Whilst I was hung up on the fact that professional gaming cannot be a real profession, or that such an industry cannot exist; you’ve focused on how incredible the young gamers were at showing dedication and sacrifice.

    Its interesting to see how you decided that eSports is a “real” sport. This process of rationalisation, and what defines the industry as a sport for you is something that you can look at when completing the second part of the autoethnographic method.

    A really well written post!


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