StarCraft finals draw crowds to Busan beachBUSAN ― About 120,000 gathered at Gwangalli Beach in Busan over the weekend to watch the largest “StarCraft” game of the season: the team finals between KTF Co. and SK Telecom Co. in the SKY Pro League 2005. A total of 11 professional “StarCraft” teams battled against each other for prizes worth 300 million won ($292,170). In the final game on Saturday, SK Telecom emerged victorious, 4-1. Even the salty breeze blowing in from the ocean was not cool enough to quench the heat as enthusiastic fans cheered with handmade signs and plastic thunder sticks as commentators relayed the game results. Fans such as Kim Min-hee, 17, arrived the day before and slept on the beach to get a front-row seat. For those who did not arrive at least several hours in advance to secure seats somewhere within viewing distance, huge screens were set up at various intervals along the beach, along with speakers. The game was also televised live on satellite digital multimedia broadcasting and on cable. While it seems like any other tournament in this game-crazy country, the SKY Pro League 2005 is the biggest of its kind and is the first official event hosted by the Korea eSports Association since the organization was created earlier this year. Before the Korea eSports Association was formed, various electronic game tournaments were held separately, but following the establishment of the organization, individual leagues were integrated into a larger one to raise the profiles of the game tournaments. The professional game market here is huge ― players such as Hong Jin-ho, Kang Min and Im Yo-han receive annual salaries in the hundreds of millions of won, about the same level as a senior level executive at a major firm. They cannot go anywhere without bodyguards, and copies of the uniforms that they wear when they play in game tournaments are sold online. Professional game teams are mostly sponsored by mobile phone-related companies such as SK Telecom, KTF, Pantech & Curitel Communications Inc. and Samsung Electronics, which want to use the contents for their own subscribers. As mobile phone operators’ revenues on actual phone calls are dropping, they are looking at other sources of revenue, mostly data content services, games and music. In the case of “e-sports,” most of the contents are video playback services. “Game players download broadcasts of professional game players playing ‘StarCraft’ games to study their strategies and they watch that content more than one time,” said Kim Mi-hyun, an official at Current Korea, a promotional company for e-sporting events. While Korea wants to use games such as “StarCraft” as a tool to raise the country’s status in the professional gaming industry, the Korea eSports Association hopes in the long run to develop more home-grown games like “StarCraft” that can be played in tournaments and international leagues. “In the future, we need more private and government support to nurture not only Korean game players but also Korean games, so that we can take the initiative in e-sports,” said Kim Shin-bae, chairman of the Korea eSports Association and president of SK Telecom. by Wohn Dong-hee
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