SK Telecom T1’s Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok was recently covered for a news program on one of South Korea’s largest broadcasting networks, Korean Broadcasting System (KBS). The feature was small — barely two minutes long — and contained only three lines from Faker, one of which was on stage after winning the finals of the Mid-Season Invitational. His last line of the feature, however, included a very interesting choice of words:
“I want to show that esports is a healthy sport and is internationally competitive.”
Let’s zoom in on “healthy.” This word has many implications in the Korean language, mainly being synonymous with being morally and ethically clean. This appears to be a deliberate choice of words, especially coming from the most well-known Korean player of this generation.
But you might ask yourself why Faker would say such a thing. After all, Korea is considered the apex of esports, the fertile ground where pro gaming had its humble beginnings at the start of the 21st century. If there is any place on the planet that understands and accepts pro gaming, it has to be Korea.
But Faker’s words reveal a reality that is perhaps not as well known outside Korea.
Negative stereotypes continue to surround pro gamers in South Korea. To people outside the industry, those young people seeking their fortune in pro gaming look like addicts in the search of fool’s gold. Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare recently requested to classify gaming addiction as a disease, giving its own code while also commissioning a research contract. By doing so, gaming addiction doesn’t only become a disease, but falls under the same classification as alcohol, drugs, and gambling. The motion is being fought by members of the Korean gaming industry, but the government is closer than ever to controlling gaming more extensively.
From a legislative standpoint, South Korea’s Shutdown Law was passed with virtually no opposition in 2011. The law indicates that any person under the age of 16 won’t be able to play any online video games between the hours of 12-6 a.m. Previously known as the Youth Protection Revision Bill, this law was built on the assumption that gaming must be controlled in the specific age group that plays it the most to curb addiction. Although the law excludes mobile and console games, online PC games are by far the most popular, and the only way to lift the restriction is if the parents request to do so for their child. Korea is the only country in the world that has a societal restriction rather than an industrial one, and even today industry experts are trying their best to repeal a law that only serves to damage the domestic gaming world.
When society views gaming in such a light, it can only affect the parents’ perception of their child’s wish to become a pro gamer. As the lines between addict and professional are blurred, it doesn’t matter how long or deep the history of pro gaming is. It’s admirable that Faker wishes to use his platform as the most famous professional as proof to his own country that being and wanting to become a pro gamer is nothing to be ashamed of, and can be a viable career choice for anyone wanting and willing to put their every effort into it.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.