A Peek into Another World: League of Legends in South Korea
Sat 22nd Sep 2012 - 11:44am: League of Legends
East Asia has always been known as one of the pinnacle centers for online gaming. From Starcraft to League of Legends, countries such as China and South Korea are almost always brought up. E-Sports is a growing phenomenon in Western countries such as the United States and the rest of Europe. However, e-Sports is already very much established in East Asia.
I am residing in South Korea temporarily and the things I have seen here are vastly different from what I'm used to seeing in the states. From having television channels dedicated strictly to e-Sports to having PC bangs (computer rooms/cafes) on almost every street corner, gaming is a huge component of the Korean life style. Gaming is not seen strictly as a hobby - instead, it is considered part of the culture.
Now what is the first thing that come to mind whenever you think of South Korea? In light of recent events, the first thing that pops up into my head is "Gangnam Style". The second thing that pops up into my head is South Korea's gaming culture. I can easily flip through channels on my TV and land on a gaming channel that will have an interview with a professional player or have a e-Sports game on replay.
Whether it’s Star Craft or League of Legends, there is always something gaming related on Korean TV. In the capital of Korea, Seoul, there is also a place called Yongsan Stadium where one can watch live OGN LoL games. More information on how to get to Yongsan Stadium and how to watch live e-Sports games can be found here. Along with having live e-Sports games at Yongsan, all gamers have a place to play games in Korea. These places are called PC bangs and they can be found on almost every street corner in Korea.
"Bang" translated from Korean to English literally just means room. These PC bangs are essentially giant rooms that tailor to the needs of gamers, ranging from the more casual gamer to the hardcore gamer. In these dimly lit rooms, only the fluorescent lights from the ceiling and the monitors shine brightly.
There is usually a cloud of smoke blanketing the entire room and you hear the frequent coughs of heavy smokers in the background. There are comfortable gaming chairs in front of every single computer along with headsets to boot. There is also usually a freezer stocked with ice cream and a pantry area filled to the brim with instant noodle cups. Like I said, PC bangs really do tailor to the needs of gamers.
PC bangs charge a fee for hourly use. It usually only costs around 1-2 dollars USD per hour (more or less depending on the PC bang). Grabbing a little card from the front desk where there is a receptionist staring at his/her own computer screen, I usually saunter on over to a vacant computer.
PC bangs tend to be packed, especially during the wee hours of the night and tend to be open 24/7. After plopping down on one of the comfy chairs, I'll enter the number on the little card into the computer where it starts recording how much time I have spent at the computer. On every computer, games such as Counter Strike, Star Craft, and League of Legends will already be installed.
Unfortunately for me, I can't play on my NA or my EU account since the ping playing in South Korea is in the 300s. Therefore, I had to make a Korean account and I can only play on the Korean servers. However, unlike the NA server, none of the lower levels will play regular PvP games. Instead, only AI games are played. For level 30's, regular PvP games can be played, however this is not the case for those below level 30.
Whereas I can't currently commentate on how level 30 gameplay here differs from the states, I can commentate on what I've seen in the lower levels. There is of course, raging, cursing, and the occasional trolling. The majority of players in lower levels tend to be noobs starting out so the gameplay can be haphazard and confusing.
Like in lower level games on the NA or EU server, you can tell who is playing on a smurf account and who is not. Maneuvering through the items in Korean is one of the hardest tasks I've come across while playing League in Korea. My Korean is remedial at best so I'll end up sitting there going through every single tab until I find the items I need. There is not an English option on the Korean server so non-Koreans or Koreans with remedial Korean skills, beware, it'll be confusing.
Overall, gaming in Korea differs mainly in the culture itself. Consoles and console games are very rarely seen in Korean households. Games such as Skyrim, BioShock, and even Super Smash Brothers are not all too common. Instead, PC games are very prominent and there are advertisements for them plastered all over the windows and outside walls of PC bangs.
It is not unusual to have a bunch of high school students run over to the PC bang after school and spend a few hours there. I can easily sit at a PC in a PC bang for several hours, grab a cup of ramen noodles and maybe an ice cream and spend my entire day gaming. I could also spend an entire day gaming in the states. However, it would be in an entirely different environment.
I have only been exposed to a small part of gaming in South Korea. I have plenty of months in this country to continue exploring the culture and will hopefully attend some live events/games. There will be more to come! Brace yourself for some culture shock!