[Letters] Recent scandal in the e-sports industry

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[Letters] Recent scandal in the e-sports industry

The computer game Starcraft has been holding Koreans’ interest for more than a decade. It was first introduced to the world in 1998, and quickly became one of the biggest issues related to the young generation. This science fiction real-time strategy computer game was the main catalyst for the emergence of internet cafes, and also sparked an unprecedented cultural phenomenon in Korea called electronic sports. Although there were people who didn’t like the name e-sports - because there wasn’t any connection between PC games and sports - the professional players’ pure spirit and enthusiasm in each of them helps them compete in local leagues and has eliminated prejudice and stigma. But because of one scandal, plenty of e-sports fans are now not sure whether fake matches and fraud were a part of the 10 years of the glorious e-sports era.

The scandal itself involved a few gamers manipulating the results of their matches for years as favors to illegal gamblers. According to police reports, about ten professionals were involved and one of them was a so-called “celebrity player,” who had won several championships. Furthermore, some of them were even bribed to work as brokers between the gambling manipulators and other e-sports players. Why would these young men commit such a crime?

The unbalanced distribution of wealth - which is focused on the top players - could be a main reason. There are currently thousands of gamers registered as professional players in the Korean e-Sports Players Association, but aside from the top players, the rest of them are suffering financial difficulties. According to a survey in 2009, top players earned around 150 million won ($128,000) per year, but the average annual income for the rest of them was around 10 million won.

So it’s not hard to see how manipulating one match to get almost a year’s worth of salary would have been an attractive deal for the weak-willed players.

Also, the insecure game system might lead the players to commit this offense. Since there are only two players participating in each competition, it is not that hard for players to fake their matches, and also not easy for the police to get conclusive proof of manipulation. It means the e-sports industry could be much more spoiled than we probably thought.

Last but not least, the players’ poor time management and lifestyle could be the reason for their unhealthy behavior. In general, both top players participating in TV-aired online matches of Starcraft and semi-pro gamers playing in practice rooms joined the professional teams from an early age. Since then, they have been spending most of their time in front of a computer. This odd use of time might have made players pros in gaming, but they haven’t been allowed to use enough time to form the right values needed for life. As a result of this tendency, the young criminals couldn’t even realize the seriousness of their behavior when they committed the crime. Moreover, as the e-sports industry becomes more competitive, it becomes tough for players to use their spare time for education. If the players who were involved in the recent scandal had enough time to build upright character, this unfortunate event wouldn’t have happened at all.

The e-sports industry, which has grown to be iconic for the young generation, actually does not possesses a solid foundation that we can admit is safe. Still there are only two leagues on TV in which players can participate, also the owner of the broadcasts hasn’t even asked for entrance fees for the final competitions, which have attracted tens of thousands of fans. In other words, the current culture of e-sports could only be sustained for this long because of pro players’ endless efforts and fans’ enthusiastic support toward players. No one is sure what this scandal will bring to the e-sports industry. Nevertheless, I believe any solution to this daunting situation should start with the strict handling of the scandal to eradicate illegality from this special kind of sport.

By Choi Joon-ho, a student at Dongguk University
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