BEIJING ― Professional Korean gamers visiting China for a tournament were welcomed by fans who treated them as top celebrities. At the Korea-China national match in the World E-sports Games, held in Beijing on Saturday, about 1,500 fans packed into the recording hall of Beijing Television Station. As there were only 1,000 seats, those who could not sit stood in the back to watch players compete in four games: Starcraft, Counter Strike, Warcraft and FIFA 2004.
The heat in the air was intense: This was the first official online gaming tournament to take place between the two countries. The event was jointly hosted by Korean online game company Istarzone Co. and China Interactive Sports, a firm established by the Chinese government to manage electronic or e-sports.
Chinese game fans cheered even at the slightest hand movements of Korean pro-game legends Lim Yo-hwan and Hong Jin-ho. “I saw all the games that Lim Yo-hwan played through the Internet at least once,” said 18-year-old Wang Yi-qun. He was referring to Chinese portal Web sites such as Sina.com and Sohu.com, which replayed Korean players’ games. Mr. Wang added that he had traveled 12 hours by train just to see Mr. Lim play in person.
The media also took an interest in the Korean professional gamers, who are at the top of the global rankings. Mr. Lim interacted with 10 to 13 reporters in each interview.
The popularity of e-sports in China is growing at a rapid pace. Currently, there are about 50 million “addicts” ― 10 times the number of those in Korea. The numbers are expected to increase, since the Chinese government recently designated computer games as official sports. “Although Korean players are far more advanced in skill at present, in about three years we will catch up,” said Di Chen, an official of the Chinese professional gaming team.
In preparation for the world tournament, 128 players were selected from eight of China’s provinces in June. The players were given a certificate that acknowledged them as professional gamers; as for Olympic athletes in the country, the state will pay their wages and manage them.
“In one or two years, the government will select e-sports as a national sport,” said Wu Shou Zhang, vice president of China’s national sports bureau.
Do Jun-woong of Istarzone said, “Top players dream of playing in Korean pro-leagues.”
by Sung Yoo-mi