Take a quick peek through the top esports teams and you will find that many teams and players hail from one particular part of the world. Ever since StarCraft gripped the nation, South Korean gamers have taken esports to their hearts. The net result has been a near dominance at the top level, particularly in League of Legends.
An iron grip on League of Legends
The iconic League of Legends World Championships make for all the evidence one would need. There have been a total of seven seasons of League of Legends World Championships, and here is how the top teams have finished in each event.
- Season 1 – 1st – Fnatic (Europe), 2nd against All Authority (Europe), 3rd – Team SoloMid (North America)
It is worth noting here that this first World Championship was very different to the World Championships since it featured just eight North American, European and Southeast Asian teams.
- Season 2 – 1st Taipei Assasins (Taipei), 2nd Azubu Frost (S.Korea), 3rd/4th – Counter Logic Gaming Europe (Europe) & Moscow Five (CIS)
- S3 – 1st – SK Telecom T1 (S.Korea), 2nd – Royal Club (China), 3rd/4th– Fnatic (Europe), NaJun Black Sword (S.Korea)
- S4 – 1st – Samsung Galaxy White (S.Korea), 2nd – Star Horn Royal Club (China), 3rd/4th – OMG (China), Samsung Galaxy Blue (S.Korea)
- S5 – 1st – SK Telecom T1 (S.Korea), 2nd – Koo Tigers (S.Korea), 3rd/4th – Fnatic (Europe), Origen (Europe)
- S6 – 1st – SK Telecom T1 (S.Korea), 2nd – Samsung Galaxy (S.Korea), 3rd – ROX Tigers (S.Korea), H2k Gaming (Europe)
- S7 – 1st – Samsung Galaxy (S.Korea), 2nd – SK Telecom T1 (S.Korea), 3rd/4th – Royal Never Give Up (China), Team WE (China)
An established tradition
This means that every year since Season 3, Korean teams have won the tournament. Then, there’s been at least one other Korean team in the top four alongside the champion. In 2016, South Korean teams finished in the top three places. Finally, each year since Season 5, the final has only been contested by South Korean teams.
What is particularly striking is that while many of the other teams listed comprise players of different nationalities, Korean teams tend only to pick homegrown players.
Several other teams, including Fnatic, H2K Gaming, and Star Horn Royal Club, have also finished high in the tournament and had at least one South Korean player on their roster.
All this said, South Korean dominance is not just contained to the LoL sphere.
South Korean dominance of Starcraft II
This space strategy game was a smash hit in South Korea a few years back. The game continues to enjoy massive popularity in the country. As a result, the very best players in the world tend to come from the region.
So far this year, in the nine Premier events, South Korean players have been victorious in five. They have also finished runner-up in six out of nine times. In the 2017 Premier season, South Korean players won 15 of 19.
What gives Korean players the edge?
Assuming South Korean players have access to the same games and technology as other players around the world, there is one massive difference. Esports has become socially and culturally accepted in Korea, as an industry and a career track.
While in some countries (particularly the UK) gaming is still viewed with suspicion by many, in South Korea, the top esports players carry the same status as top sports stars or pop icons. Culturally, esports is accepted as a way of life for many. Schools will run clubs to help improve people’s skills. There are also numerous esports cafes where people can go to play, sometimes for hours on end.
Can any country catch up with Korea?
Any individual or team based outside of Korea trying to match the feats of the top League of Legends and Starcraft II players will need to be truly exceptional. But it can happen. Finnish Starcraft II player Serral has been one of the top players this season winning three events. Still, that was mainly on the European circuit. When he faced South Korea’s best at the WCS Global Finals in 2017, he did not make it out of the group stage (finishing third behind two Korea-based opponents).
Now, teams in Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tend to have a far greater mix of players from around the world. Korean teams and individuals do not dominate these particular esports as much.
However, the juggernaut that is South Korean esports will be difficult to stop in its most popular games. Esports is the third-most popular sporting activity in South Korea (behind only soccer and baseball) with the key 15-29 age range. Studies estimate half the population of South Korea (25 million people) play esports.
Until other countries adopt a similar culture, it is hard to see how anybody can take South Korea’s crown.