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The Almighty Buck Games

The Extremes of Internet Gaming In South Korea 152

Posted by samzenpus
from the too-much-is-too-much dept.
Rick Zeman writes "CNN has an expose showing that in South Korea, the world's most wired country, Internet gaming breeds two extremes: elite 'athletes' who earn fame and six figures, and addicts who literally play until they die and tells the stories of players on both sides of that real-life divide. From the article: 'The first thing you notice about the professional video game players are their fingers — spindly creatures that seem to flail about at their own will, banging at the computer keyboard with such frequency and ferocity that to visit their live-in training centers in South Korea is to be treated to a maddening drum roll of clicks and clacks.'"
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The Extremes of Internet Gaming In South Korea

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  • by buk110 (904868) on Monday August 06, 2012 @10:09AM (#40894931)
    "To impress his father, he wanted to be the world's best." Swap out gaming with piano and would the media be so concerned?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly, and how many pianists out of all those who dedicate themselves make 6 figure incomes.

      Wanting your child to be the best, or for your child to want to make their parents proud is only a natural need for a parent/child relationship.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Exactly, and how many pianists out of all those who dedicate themselves make 6 figure incomes.

        Wanting your child to be the best, or for your child to want to make their parents proud is only a natural need for a parent/child relationship.

        To honor your parents (and ancestors) is a rather deep rooted thing in East and South Asian cultures. Parents need to define what is and isn't honoring - being a slave to online gaming is hardly something to aspire to.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Exactly, and how many pianists out of all those who dedicate themselves make 6 figure incomes.

        Probably a few orders of magnitude more than the number of Starcraft players making 6 figure incomes.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by Anne_Nonymous (313852)

        Hell, most of them make 10 finger incomes.

      • It depends on how you define "dedicate". If you are playing for a major orchestra, you are dedicated and probably making that salary. If you are dedicated and not making that salary, then you're probably just out of college chasing your dream of being in the orchestra. That doesn't last long without either giving up or getting the gig. The level of practice necessary makes it difficult to hold down a full time job, so you either don't work or don't practice.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Become a world class pianist and you can still be one when you're 60.

      Learn StarCraft as a teen, and you won't be doing that when you're 60.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's actually a lot of study going into RTS games like starcraft right now and whether or not it trains a person to be a better multitasker, whether or not it builds general skills like being able to count a large number of objects on a screen in less than a second (Most people fail for numbers > 7) and a number of other general skills that make a player better at these kinds of games.

        Not surprisingly, the best SC2 players right now were SC Brood War and Warcraft 3 players. While yes, SC2 will have a

        • First, they play SC, they are not athletes.

          Second, retired professional athletes like Bolt will have made a lot of money and will be able to retire. Even if they hadn't they would make money from endorsements, they could become coaches etc.

          Who the hell would be stupid enough to want a celebrity endorsement from some wide-as-he-is-tall SC addict who can't find the time to wash? Who would pay (or be able to stand being in the same room as) such a person?

      • by Nadaka (224565) on Monday August 06, 2012 @11:04AM (#40895531)

        We don't really know that for certain yet. The original starcraft doesn't have the same DRM restrictions infecting modern games. It is entirely possible the original starcraft will be around in 50 more years even if the drm laden later blizzard titles crumble to dust.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday August 06, 2012 @10:21AM (#40895091) Journal

      I'm guessing that, at very least, the pianist would get a more... pleasant... description of his likely-equally-active freakish horror fingers.

      "The first thing you notice about the professional video game players are their fingers -- spindly creatures that seem to flail about at their own will, banging at the computer keyboard with such frequency and ferocity that to visit their live-in training centers in South Korea is to be treated to a maddening drum roll of clicks and clacks."

      Seriously guys? Are you going to mention their horrid, bulbous, glassy eyes, or their vile inhuman mandibles next?

    • Want to talk about some crazy fingers, watch a banjo player. Bela Fleck is considered one of the world's premier banjo players, spanning genres as diverse as traditional bluegrass, jazz, classical, and pop. As a kid, he practiced 8+ hours a day, every day. He attended New York City's High School of Music and Art. FFS, his parents named him Béla Anton Leo Fleck, after composers Béla Bartók, Anton Dvorak, and Leo Janáek.

    • "To impress his father, he wanted to be the world's best."

      Swap out gaming with piano and would the media be so concerned?

      Funny you should ask.

      I've known a few South Koreans socially, and many of them had a very odd relationship with music. They had achieved great technical proficiency at an early age and they had had the stereotypical "dragon lady" mothers who forced them to practice and to take part in high-pressure competitive events. Here's how technically-obsessed their training had been: one of them commented that she "would have been laughed at" if she had played a Mozart piano sonata in public, since these works were

  • by Anonymous Coward

    These kids start playing StarCraft when they are 5 or 6 years old, practising 18 hours a day, 7 days a week to be pro players when they are 18. But StarCraft won't last forever. It seems like they're investing their formative years learning a skill that is transient. And, how many of them will be pro players when they are 40? None, I'm going to say, so they still need another career.

    Something seems unwise about taking it to this extreme. Nothing wrong with gaming or getting good at games, but anything

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday August 06, 2012 @10:27AM (#40895163) Journal
      Virtuoso violinist practices night and day to perfect their art and everybody applauds their performance at Carnegie Hall. Talented athlete spends night and day on the field, even alters their diet to tune their body for better athletic performance and everyone applauds their super bowl pass.

      From a utilitarian standpoint, I don't see a whole lot of different between these entertainers and the entertainers in this story. They are sacrificing everything and taking one risky gamble to do what they love for a little chunk of change that only the 0.01% enjoy. Why does society apply stigmas to people trying to do what they love? If you're going to rip on pro-gamers about job security, get ready to rip on pro-entertainers. Comedian jokes get old much faster than Starcraft I. A professional football players body lasts far shorter than the run of Starcraft I. Music seems to only enjoy popularity for about two weeks considering what you hear on popular radio stations. Hell, Olympic gymnasts are left with hip problems if their career lasts too long. Everything fades, even computer languages. If that's not true of your field, you're in a dead and boring field anyway. Even framing houses has become a different ballgame since I did it as a kid.

      Instead of lecturing them about transient skills, you'd be better off pointing off that putting all your eggs in this basket means that their is a very high chance you're going to live the life of the starving artist. There's a small percentage you could rake in massive endorsements and if they do, they should take a page from broke athletes and musicians who squandered that money the instant they got it. Save that money. Save it. Spend money like you're making $50k a year instead of a million a year because that income is fleeting.

      People playing themselves to death is no different than that stupid high school athlete shooting up steroids in the locker room. Both are terrible actions that should be criticized but there is a point where you just have to let people do what they want if they truly love what they do.

      Having your life taking over with something like becoming a scientist or learning everything there is to know about repairing internal combustion engines will last you for your whole life, probably.

      Are you really saying that the useful science today is the same useful science that came out when Starcraft I came out? Everyone has to keep learning to stay relevant. Even entertainers. Or they grow old and become has-beens, the same applies to Starcraft players.

    • by MadKeithV (102058)
      Aside from game obsolescence, it's not all that different from competitive sports.
    • by Vaphell (1489021) on Monday August 06, 2012 @10:50AM (#40895369)

      how is that different from majority of sports? Do you think these teen gymnasts you see on TV have any tangible skill on hand once they reach age of 18-20?
      Have you ever played hoops or football and wanted to be good at it? Do you earn millions as a sports star now?

      Besides starcraft is not as flimsy career path as you think it is. RTS genre shares a lot of common on the metagame level (micro/macromanagement, combat tactics) and the best players can see through that. They can switch to another game and be competent players almost right off the bat, with training they are able to reach top levels of performance.
      Once their reflexes detoriate they can move to coaching and train next generation of players and this happens a lot in korean starcraft league. They also can try their hand at casting and use their experience and insight to draw the spectators into the game.
      Granted, only the best of the best have shot at the followup career, but it's the same with any other sport discipline where a significant level of physical prowess is required. Once you are too old, you are too old. Either you are famous enough to live off the fame, or you are not and you need real job.

    • by Githaron (2462596)
      I wonder how transient the skills actually are. How much of their training can easily be applied to other RTS games.
    • Have you ever seen parents pushing their kids to become champion Chess or Go players? I see little difference with Starcraft, except perhaps that video games are still too new for something as "timeless" as Chess to emerge. Chess went through quite a bit of development, and games like Shogi might be considered "forks."

      What will really be interesting to see is an RTS that is played for centuries, even as computers and computer software become more advanced.
      • Actually, Chess is in a bit of conceptual identity trouble. The power that computers have over modern chess has begun to encroach the game. We're in a Silver Age now because new young players can ramp up faster, but just around that corner comes the point that it's beginning to dry up.

        Anand said in a lecture recently that Garry Kasparov made his name as an Openings analyst, and together with his teams created novelties that could last for months before they were finally beaten. Now, in the computer age, at

    • by neminem (561346)

      /s/Starcraft/Football/

      At least if you get crazy good at Starcraft and the Starcraft bubble dies, you can probably translate some of those skills into Starcraft 2, or some other RTS. At 40, what are you going to do if you spent your whole youthhood as a football star? (Alright, probably retire on your giant piles of cash, but then, you could probably say the same thing about Korean Starcraft stars, too.)

  • by Iniamyen (2440798) on Monday August 06, 2012 @10:15AM (#40895001)
    These gamers want to be immortal. They would rather die gaming than get stuck being a drone with some queen and 2 screaming zerglings to take care of. Their ghosts will live on as overseers of the gaming world. /hydralisk
  • Once I a people from Singapore or omei ðe like organii to place a big order i Unicomp, manufacturer of IBM’s Model M buckli pri keyboards. Ðe reference to ‘their fingers -- spindly creatures that seem to flail about at their own will, banging at the computer keyboard with such frequency and ferocity that to visit their live-in training centers in South Korea is to be treated to a maddening drum roll of clicks and clacks’ reminded me of Model Ms.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gaming addiction? "Addictive personality"?! Damnit, this article pissed me off so much I dropped my cigarette in my bourbon and now I can't find my cocaine. I hope they're happy with themselves.

  • by John Napkintosh (140126) on Monday August 06, 2012 @10:34AM (#40895217) Homepage

    I still don't get this. If you want to call what you do a "sport", as in a structure competition or whatever gets to be a sport these days, OK then. But I thought "athlete" still implied some sort of extreme physical activity. Becoming dehydrated or mentally exhausted with a lightning quick mousing hand doesn't exactly qualify in my book.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That would disqualify a lot of Olympic competitors as athletes. It is often implied but for a lot of events, like oh say anything involving a gun and not moving from the same spot, it does not. We should just drop the whole is a gamer an athlete question because it all depends on your preconceived definition of what an athlete is that is not well defined enough to answer this question.

      They are talent and competitors, they do something that few others can do, they trained that skill, and people want to wa

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        You must not shoot much. Holding a high ready takes strength and endurance, as does controlling recoil while maintaining precision. And depending on the gun, a day at the range can be feel like getting punched in the chest a thousand times.

    • by dcw3 (649211) on Monday August 06, 2012 @11:29AM (#40895839) Journal

      Oh, you mean to discount things like drag racing, or skeet shooting, or maybe golf?

      • by neonKow (1239288)

        I'll discount golf as a sport all day long. :D

      • There's a distinction between sports with athletes and sports with players. Athlete implies some physical prowess beyond hand-eye coordination and dexterity. That's what I took from the GP and something I agree with. NASCAR was teased years back when they started calling drivers athletes, even though drivers tend to keep themselves in very good shape.

        If I start a professional sun flower seed spitting league, I'd be playing a sport but I'd hardly consider myself an athlete.

    • But I thought "athlete" still implied some sort of extreme physical activity.

      Then look at this. [youtube.com] The things he does with his hands are extreme. They try different things to improve their hand speed, like punching sand, etc. Quick hands aren't something you're born with, it takes a lot of training and stamina. Getting to that level takes a lot of work, and your hands WILL be exhausted.

    • I still don't get this. If you want to call what you do a "sport", as in a structure competition or whatever gets to be a sport these days, OK then. But I thought "athlete" still implied some sort of extreme physical activity. Becoming dehydrated or mentally exhausted with a lightning quick mousing hand doesn't exactly qualify in my book.

      Golf, the most notorious of the multi-million dollar non-sports.

      • Tiger Woods actually fractured his leg playing golf. Sure, anyone can play golf or soccer for that matter casually, but when you get to the professional level it is completely different.

  • "to visit their live-in training centers in South Korea is to be treated to a maddening drum roll of clicks and clacks."

    So the secret to successful professional gaming is continually listening to NPR's Car Talk?

  • Let's see them turn their skills to professional level Flower by thatgamecompany. Imagine the soothing chimes and wind noises...
  • Seems to me that these kids need something to do, they are actually into accomplishing something (playing for the higher score I guess), it's just that their motivation is screwed up.

    Of-course many people have addictive personalities, if it weren't for the games, they might have been into addictive drugs, but again, they need something to do.

    I looked up the labour laws in South Korea, here is something to note [ilo.org]

    Article 62 (Minimum Age and Employment Permit)

    (1)A person under the age of 15 shall not be employed as a worker. However, this shall not apply to a person with a employment permit issued by the Minister of Labour.
    (2)The employment permit referred to in paragraph (1) may be issued at the request of the person himself only by designating the type of occupation in which he is engaged, provided that such employment will not impede compulsory education.

    Article 63 (Prohibition of Employment)

    Female wokers and those who are under 18 shall not be employed for any work detrimental to morality or health. The prohibited type of work shall be determined by the Presidential Decree.

    Article 64 (Minor Certificate)

    For each minor worker under 18, an employer shall keep at each workplace a copy of the census register testifying to his age and a written consent of his parent or guardian.

    (and there is more there).

    Also they have a minimum wage law there as well [yonhapnews.co.kr], it's over 4 bucks per

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      Oh, and by the way, check this out [wikipedia.org]:

      South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access to every primary, junior, and high school.

      - well, as per usual the government creates the problem! You get more of what you subsidise and less of what you tax, so they get more Internet addicts because they are subsidising Internet access from primary school and on.

    • Re:Motivation (Score:4, Insightful)

      by twmcneil (942300) on Monday August 06, 2012 @11:45AM (#40896079)

      Seems to me that these kids need something to do

      Agreed. I get the same feeling every time I see a bunch of kids taking turns using a wooden stick to swat at a small leather sphere. Really, don't these kids have anything better to do with their time?

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        and this is a story about baseball now, not about a bunch of teenagers that are depressed out of their lives, spending 14-19 hours playing videogames they are hooked on in a country that subsidises Internet access to all schools and preschools? Ha, I didn't see that coming.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      This type of education process combined with these types of labour laws are aimed at producing workers, employees, not businessmen, not owners of business.

      A wise choice, seeing how it's the workers who produce the wealth, and businessmen merely manage it (at best; usually they just loot it).

      I think if South Korea wants to give more opportunities to its young people, to reduce this stress and increase entrepreneurship and independence, they need to allow people to opt out of the compulsory education process

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        A wise choice, seeing how it's the workers who produce the wealth, and businessmen merely manage it (at best; usually they just loot it).

        - ignorant comment.

        Get a bunch of workers into one location and nobody who wants to run a business with them, no investment capital, no tools provided by the investment capital, no direction, no idea what to do, see how that turns out for you.

        What a great opportunity: instead of getting an education you get to be an unpaid child laborer.

        - did I say anything about forcing people out of schools and into jobs? Or are you under impression that parents are interested only in exploiting their children, and thus they cannot be trusted and their children cannot be trusted, but the government can?

        I think you're confusing artists and businessmen. Artists experiment to figure out what interests them, businessmen try to maximize some variable (such as profits or test scores). An entrepreneur who prioritizes based on what happens to interest him is not going to be in business for very long.

        - you hav

    • by Raenex (947668)

      Funny how you take a story about gaming in S. Korea and turn it into your hobby horse.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Except it is not a story about 'gaming' in South Korea, it is a story about addictions fuelled by government subsidies that ensure that the kids in primary, junior and high schools have Internet access.

        It is a story about addictions, and this very story talks about how government is searching for the 'cure' completely oblivious that it is the cause of the disease. The root cause of this is subsidies on the one hand that channel kids into the Internet addictions and on the other hand it is about laws and re

        • by Raenex (947668)

          Except it is not a story about 'gaming' in South Korea, it is a story about addictions fuelled by government subsidies that ensure that the kids in primary, junior and high schools have Internet access.

          Only in your deluded mind do you think that kids having access to the Internet is worth a rant that starts with "addictions fuelled by government subsidies".

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            Only in your empty head things happen without cause. How is it, living with a belief that everything happens independently and regardless of any preceding events? Must be a surprise, every time.

            • by Raenex (947668)

              Only in your empty head things happen without cause.

              That's not what I said. I said, "Only in your deluded mind do you think that kids having access to the Internet is worth a rant that starts with "addictions fuelled by government subsidies"."

              What if the free market had brought about the Internet to kids all on its own? Are you going to go into a rant about the evils of the free market? And what about benefits from having the Internet, such as having easy access to information? You act like the government was giving kids alcohol.

  • Visions of "professional" gamers make me think of that episode from IT Crowd where Moss starts playing "street countdown", it's a bunch of people taking a game WAY too seriously, yet somehow it actually is legitimate...

    Prime: "First rule of Street Countdown. Is that you really must try and tell as many people as possible about it. It's a rather fun game and the more people you tell about it the better."

  • by Stirling Newberry (848268) on Monday August 06, 2012 @11:13AM (#40895639) Homepage Journal
    Classical music and games are going to converge, because music is about putting technology into the ear and the hand. Each new wave of technology has produced its wave of instruments to go with it, from the awl (the flute), tanning (the skin drum), through fine work tools and measurement (violin), metallurgy (the baroque organ), the factory (mass produced pianos), mechanics (valve instruments), and including electricity (rock and roll) and digital technology (sampling DJs). Gaming is merely an expression of the human need to put our hands on things and make it sing.
  • Internet gaming breeds two extremes: elite "athletes" who earn fame and six figures

    Considering that 100,000 Won is only about $88, I feel sorry for these guys.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Monday August 06, 2012 @11:18AM (#40895709) Homepage
    What we see here is a typical product of journalism, circa 2012. Either you play video games or you die trying. How many people actually died playing games in South Korea? Just look at the writer's pathetic point of view. It's like he's never heard of video games before. "He was a conqueror -- a general who controlled sci-fi armies and determined the fate of civilization." What the FUCK? We're still hearing this garbage? This is the same crap that journalists wrote about Galaga in 1982. "One is a dead ringer for Dr. Bunsen, Beaker's sidekick on "The Muppet Show." WTF? Beaker is Dr. Bunsen's sidekick. How can we trust anyone who doesn't even bother to get basic pop culture facts right? What does that say about the rest of the "facts" in this article...about pop culture? After setting up a base in the northeast corner of the map, "MarineKing sent foot soldiers to root out his opponent's headquarters -- a glowing blue pyramid spitting out blue termites -- and blew the whole thing up before the 10-minute mark." Here we have a serious, accredited journalist - who writes for CNN - and he doesn't even know the difference between Terrans and Protoss? Come ON! Would an editor send a reporter to cover an event where he doesn't even know the difference between Republicans and Democrats? Between socialists and fascists? Between OWS and jackbooted thugs? But, as soon as the weird, incomprehensible world of "those scary video games" is entered, the reporter needs to advertise his outsider status - where in other topics being an outsider is considered a badge of ignorance and provincialism.

    Over lunch his dad, who has become well-versed enough in "StarCraft" strategy to engage in lengthy conversations about troop movements, attack formations and character choices, tried to help MarineKing with his strategy against MVP.

    Putting Starcraft in scare quotes? WTF? Who does that? And mixed case? It's just plain Starcraft. Yeah, I know, Blizzard calls it StarCraft, but again the reporter is advertising his outsider status. "I'm not one of these video game freakazoids," he seems to be saying. "I'm just here to report and confirm what geeks the rest of us already know that they are. They are The Other, and worthy of "

    The entire article purports to show us the extremes...that's called yellow journalism, eh? And yet for all its bluster, it mentions but two deaths. How many people died in Chicago this last weekend?

    It's totally obvious that this "journalist" had his article written before he even got off the plane in Seoul Incheon (renowned as being one of the world's most sleep-friendly airports, and true to its reputation). He treats his subjects as if they were among the groups CNN treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (for example: devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans).

    • by Raenex (947668)

      Either you play video games or you die trying.

      No, the mesage from the article isn't that simple. It mentions those extremes, yes, and the headline in typical fashion plays it up, but the article offers mutliple viewpoints.

      But, as soon as the weird, incomprehensible world of "those scary video games" is entered, the reporter needs to advertise his outsider status - where in other topics being an outsider is considered a badge of ignorance and provincialism.

      It's a "stranger in a strange land" perspective, and there's nothing wrong with it as a story format, especially considering the audience he's writing to is not going to be familiar with Starcraft or gaming in S. Korea.

      Putting Starcraft in scare quotes? WTF?

      It's part of standard style guides to use quotes for titles of things like book, movies, and in this case, a video ga

  • addicts who literally play until they die

    spindly creatures that seem to flail about at their own will, banging at the computer keyboard with such frequency and ferocity ... to be treated to a maddening drum roll of clicks and clacks.

    (Insert nationalism) I would put odds on our average domestic US female facebook addict when opposing a Korean star crafter any day.

    I'm not sure what the zerg rush equivalent is called in farmville but even an elite .kr player would have no idea what hit them were they to compete against our ladies.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday August 06, 2012 @11:33AM (#40895891) Homepage
    By bats. [penny-arcade.com]

    Nice think-of-the-kids scare piece, it'll play well with Tammy Teaparty. But couldn't he at least have worked in some sinister Ender's Game reference and asked how America's cyber-soldiery will fare on the battlefield against these little yellow freak-children? (Note: All Korea is North Korea to Tammy Teaparty).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If they instead were musicans then this story would instead be about their talent and dedication. But since it has to do with games then its cast in a negative light using a lot of forbidding adjetives and grim setting.

  • Typing all that much, because like games that way. Is possible to balance games where less clicking is desirable, but koreans get expert in "micro", controlling the units directly to impose tactical on how the units play.

  • Do they even enjoy the game(s) any more?

  • I wonder if it's anything like the Foreign Correspondent episode that aired last week in Australia: http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2012/s3557618.htm [abc.net.au]

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