Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Computer game superstars

BBC reports: [edited]

In some nations gamers are looked down upon, but in South Korea professional gaming, or e-sports, is worth billions of dollars and players are seen as heroes. Around 30,000 fans have turned up [in a stadium used in the 1988 Olympic Games] to see the biggest stars battle it out. The players go head to head in pods at the side of the stage.

Strangely enough they are not taking each other on in the latest title, instead they are playing Starcraft which was launched nine years ago. It is the most popular game in South Korea and the only one with its own professional league.

It might look like any other war game but StarCraft requires a real grasp of strategy where each player must wipe out his opponent. As well as requiring lightning dexterity on the keyboard, players are required to make dozens of tactical decisions every moment.

The players here are seen as sex symbols. At 21, Ma Jae-Yoon is the number one computer games player in the country who has several fan clubs and websites devoted to him.

He says: "I always appreciate the love and support of the fans. Especially in one game I played a couple of weeks ago and one girl was crying because I lost.

"On Saturdays when I go downtown I sometimes get surrounded by fans. I feel so embarrassed. I always try to wear a hat."

There are about 300 professional gamers in South Korea who play for 11 teams which are run by big business conglomerates which pay each of them a salary. They usually play about 13 or 14 hours [per day].

The atmosphere is intense. The only sounds are the patter of fingers on keyboards and that endless typing can take its toll on top players. Ma Jae-Yoon says: "I suffer from light wrist and shoulder pain so I try to go to the gym every day. I try to stretch whenever I have time. My eyesight is getting weak these days."

Ma Jae-Yoon's bedroom is full of presents from adoring female fans, including his dog, Ari. For many of these players, Ari is the only female companionship they allow themselves.

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