What South Korea was going through when esports was about to take off

September 2nd, 1997 was a day that must have changed many Korean households’ economic landscapes as millions of people were being laid off and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had decided to take part in to the Korean economy. Many laid off fathers were desperately looking for jobs or business opportunities so that their household could stabilize financially. They may have had a chunk cash as a severance pay from their former employer, for those who were lucky, and this must have been the last bullet in their gun for that opportunity.

Some spent that severance fund to start off a restaurant business. Fried chicken restaurants were one of the most popular ones — a survey says that there are more fried chicken restaurants in South Korea than the number of McDonald’s in the world. Some started a cab business — the sheer number cabs in the present day indicates how many took part in that era.

But some fathers who didn’t want to play safe, who had the entrepreneur mindset as well as had the guts to try something new, started off a net PC cafe. Now not the sort that you do a quick search or business or some administrative work, but the sort for serious gamers. Some quickly notice that online PC gaming is booming among the young generation in South Korea, but not every one had a networked PC at home back then, thus the need naturally arose in the market. It was a new form of business, and we called them PC bangs.

And lo-and-behold, it was half a year later the IMF, the last day of March 1998, when Blizzard released another real-time strategy game with a military science fiction theme happening in space, titled Starcraft. This was a sensational success in South Korea.

Many of us may not have had the financial security that we wanted during that era, but all we had was lots of spare time to kill. With PC bangs and Starcraft, suddenly there were places (that also came with reasonable pricing) to kill this spare time. And who knew that these became the foundation for the Korean esports Renaissance era that came in the 2000s?

(Note: I’d love to put some かっこいい old western proverb here, but can’t think of anything right now. Like crisis brings new opportunity or that sort.. In Latin would be fantastic.)

#Adding a side note: approaching from an economist-like point of view, the cost for playing games with gaming consoles were relatively high as one needs to buy both a console hardware and a software separately, whereas that for playing computer games was cheap as 1. Many people already had a networked PC at home as an home appliance so virtually no hardware cost, 2. (at least in Korea) many game softwares for PC were pirated making them virtually free. It may be reasonable to hypothesize that during the financial crisis when most of the household income were reduced significantly, there was a market need for a cheaper entertainment as well as a business opportunity for entertainment seekers who don’t own a PC at home.

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