Who Are We Competing With?

Thu 23rd May 2013 - 1:07am

Who are we competing with?

As a League of Legends pro, one of the biggest questions on my mind is why Asia and Europe appear to be placed above North America in high-level competition. This is found in the Garena Pro League, Tencent, OGN in Korea and, of course, both the EU and NA LCS.

As I sit here eating mango sorbet and listening to “Valleys of Neptune”, I have to wonder what evidence I have to back this up. Personally, I’ve been exposed to the Korean scene during the summer of 2012 when playing in OGN Champions Summer, and playing in North America since 2011. The contrast between North America and Korea begins in the culutral aspect and the societies of both regions.

During my time in Korea I had the luxury of being introduced to Korean life outside a hotel room. What was most surprising to me, was the accessibility and amount of PC cafes in the streets of Seoul. Even in relatively poor neighborhoods, these cafes would thrive in the middle of the night with almost every seat full. And most people would be playing League of Legends. The cafes would be filled with smoke, cheap ramen and talented players – something that North America appears to lack. What caught my eye was the players’ desire to grow - to always improve, and become better players. Their fun did not come from just playing the map with friends, but from their devotion paying off. It quickly clicked in me as to why this was common in Korea, and why it was something seen rarely in North America. All the pieces came together.

In Korea, gaming is regarded as one of the most prestigious professions, up there with a doctor. In NA, it can still be questioned if it is one in the first place. In Korea, gaming is incredibly accessible regardless of your finacial situation; a computer will always be there waiting for you at any time for a couple of bucks. Gaming in Korea is available to everyone, and it is a way for dreams to come true (I am sure many all over the world dream of being a professional gamer).

For almost no cost, except complete devotion, you can make it big and support yourself and your family. That is to say, gaming there is your chance to break free. In North America, on the other hand, if you are poor, gaming isn't something that you would see as an opportunity to get your life on track - in fact, it would be a liability. A computer, internet, and time are necessary because of the lack of PC cafes. In Korea there is a PC cafe on almost every street and there are blocks with over 10 cafes, all filled (as a side note, the amount of second hand smoke from there felt like I was smoking a Cuban cigar in Korea. Talk about small world).

If you aren’t well off in the West, your obvious response for a better life is to get an education and get a job. You would never give up everything to game. Gaming still is not deemed as a prestigious job,and in fact, you would be laughed at for "refusing to grow up."

Some of this is true. Gaming is not really a salvation in North America, but it should not be viewed in such light because “where there is a will there is a way.”

Who are we competing with here in NA? No one who has that drive I mentioned earlier. We play to keep a luxury. We do not compete against anyone who has the motivation that, if they lose, their lives will turn to shit and be forced to live off ramen. The drive to devote their lives to get to a high level, and work their way back up if they lose. That is rather scarce. Even if the most popular players in NA fail out of pro gaming, they could resort to streaming, and a full time streaming job would become a bigger income than actual competition. If they lose, their lifestyles do not change. They can often return to college or go back to their jobs. From first hand experience if I lose I would go back to school, find a job or another career path, never do you feel that primal instinct to survive.

By the same token, who does Korea compete against? They face an army who constantly want to and will take their spot. These are people who are dying to be in their place and will stop at nothing because many of them have nowhere else to go. When your life depends on it, a passion and drive for a better life comes out, and it shows in their results. That is a real passion, a desire to win a life, not a desire to maintain a luxury. The luxury of professional gaming.

Playing knowing that someone with that drive is coming after you, that will play because their meal at night depends on it, motivates you. You get off your ass and create that passion in you. Until our lives depend on it in North America, until we actually become cornered and become forced to play in that state, we will always lag behind. There is also the belief that players and their publicity are irreplaceable and that too makes the NA scene less competitive– that’s something we’ll save for another post, though.

Thanks for reading.