[S3] Esports in Korean corporate culture

After about two decades since the advent of Starcraft boom in the late 90s, competitive gaming has gradually become a part of Korean culture. The teenagers and college kids who used to enjoy playing games back then now has become the central part of the Korean society, in their mid-career with some decision making power to move the organization that they belong to. This creates new culture within the organization and the meme continues.

My first real job was at an automotive manufacturer in Korea. As one of the many senior research engineers at Hyundai Motors R&D Center, where we had 10,000+ engineers onsite, I felt that there was this certain code of “crowd action” that I needed to be aware of. One of them was how to spend your time during lunch break. Lunch itself was finished real quick — People “hoovered” their lunch as soon as they sat down (I won’t call that “eating” or “chewing”), trying to save as much time as possible for their leisure within their precious, but limited lunch time. Some people worked out at the gym, some people practiced golf, some played table tennis, some watched TV dramas, and etc.

But some people played games. There was always about 5~8 people in our team who were up for a round of Starcraft. Luckily, the internal network was solid and for some reason everybody had the software installed in their corporate laptop, so arranging a match was a piece a cake. Two short matches or one long match, then the time is up. Back to work.

This continued on a daily basis and shortly after, I learned that this was actually not a simple leisure spending, but a practice/training session for a legit competition. About twice a year, the center that I belonged (around 1,000 people) to held annual sports tournament competition for promoting inter-team communication and building healthy community within the center. It’s a team match — you join the tournament by representing your team and there was a handsome prize money for the top 3 teams. It didn’t mean that the organizer will hand out cash to the champions for their personal use, but rather to upgrade the menu of the drinking get-together (i.e., from Samgyopsal to beef bbq or sea food) that usually followed after the fierce match. Obviously, some people take the tournament seriously and it was a pretty big deal for the team leaders to win and shine.

Now, the punchline I’m trying to make is the following. The tournament was comprised of several different sports, namely basketball, soccer-tennis (aka Jok-gu in Korean, the most popular sports in Korean military base), table tennis and.. Starcraft, of course! Starcraft was already a part of the official “sports” competition of one of the leading Korean conglomerates culture.

I had a bit of a culture shock because I was living in the U.S. for years right before relocating to Korea after accepting the job position at Hyundai. What was really astonishing was that even the team leaders, in their late 40s or early 50s who seem to be the most distant people to play computer games on Earth, also played good Starcraft. They memorized the short-keys and the tech-tree build orders by heart.

This is what happens after two decades, yo.

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