The release of Starcraft by Blizzard in 1998 may have been the milestone that started off what later became the Korean esports scene. However, it is worthy to mention what it was like the era before Starcraft.
Before then, basically the entire nation was dominated by the Japanese console games. Many kids had one of the following consoles in their household: the good old gray-boxy Nintendo (that you had to slide the software package sideways in to the console); Fami-con with two built-in controllers (that you push in the package from the top); and there was Zemmix, a rhombus-shaped console that was produced by a Korean electronic company (but I’m pretty confident that many of the software must have been a pirate version of what the Japanese game publishers had created). We naturally followed the generation change of these consoles: Super Nintendo (or Super Famicon was the official name in Korea), Mega-drive, Sega Saturn, Play Station, Nintendo 64 and etc. as you know it.
In the heart of Seoul, there was a place called Yong-San (where the US troops are based near by) and this was the mecca for buying video games as there were many game shops accumulated in a whole area. It wasn’t easily affordable for us to buy all those hardware consoles and software packages as a primary schooler — we had to rely on the rare income, the pocket money that we occasionally get during New Years or Thanks Giving season when visiting our grand parents, most of which were often taken away by our mothers under the justification of “for your future sake, son”.
Given this circumstance, piracy was quite common. For instance, many of the local game stores provide a service called “modification 개조” which means that, with a little fee, they will modify your Play Station such that specially produced, extremely cheap pirated softwares would be able to be played on your console. The business was a huge success and soon it was hard to find people playing games by paying the proper fee to the Japanese publishers.
For the record, I never did the modification — only played the official titles. Really.