Guts, Glory, and Ramen Noodles: Online Gaming in Korea

“Noooooooooo!!!” you hear MakNooN howling as one of our clients kills his Champion. MakNooN is a professional online gamer and the game is League of Legends (LoL). LoL is a multi-player game played online and in Korea LoL has a massive following and manic subculture. MakNooN is one of the highest-ranking LoL pro gamers in the world and he offers LoL coaching through his YouTube page.

Our latest clients were avid gamers and we wanted to create a gaming experience as part of their trip itinerary in Korea.

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MakNooN and our gamers

Korea is a hotbed for breeding talented, up-and-coming gamers. We called in MakNooN to host a casual tournament and coaching session with some of our clients at a PC café in the Gangnam district. Our clients were interested in the unique presence gaming has in Korea, a country where you can make a living by playing video games.

The first hour was spent setting up our clients at their computer stations on the Korean servers and making sure their headsets were functional. The headsets are necessary to be able to communicate directions to other team members (it’s also a lot of fun to trash talk during the competitions). A typical team in LoL has five members. We only had four clients, but we filled the last position with a random high-level player on the LoL Korean servers. We also invited a local team to come out as the opposing team to really create the atmosphere of an actual competition. The gaming session was divided into two parts. The first part was practice with MakNooN as the coach and following a quick noodle delivery to the PC café for lunch, the second part commenced, the mock tournament.

MakNooN the coach
MakNooN the coach

Dark underground room, brightly lit screens, the click clack of mechanical keyboards, and the slurping sounds of gamers eating their noodles mid game. For me the land of gaming is unknown territory. Playing Diablo, Age of Empires, and the Sims was the extent of my gaming experience. The gaming community is actually quite large and the demographic has a wide range of ages and professions. League of Legends is one game that is loved by office workers in their 30s and middle school kids alike. Developed by the game company Riot Games, LoL has a huge following in South Korea and the best of the best are selected to play on teams competitively in national and international e-sport tournaments. Currently, SK T1 is the top team in Korea and arguably in the entire world. The latter half of the tour included watching them compete.

Yongsan eStadium
Yongsan eStadium

Esports have their own season of competition in Korea and major corporations like Samsung and LG sponsor the teams. We entered Yongsan E-stadium, a venue dedicated to hosting online gaming competitions. On either ends of the stadium there are glass atriums with five computer stations where players take their positions. In the middle of the stadium, there is an enormous jumbotron screen showing the entire gaming action taking place while commentators below provide an endless stream of rapid-fire analysis. If you didn’t know where you were, you would think they’d be commentating on Monday night football based on the frenzied atmosphere. Responding to all this, you also have a huge audience of super fans going crazy in a sold out stadium cheering on their favorite teams. In the end, SK T1 sweeps the main event and retains their title. SK T1 is the undefeated champion of the current season. We got our clients exclusive access following the match to meet their online hero Faker, the SK T1 player who is heralded as the Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan of LoL. Clutching their freshly autographed neck strap and beaming at the selfie they took with their favorite LoL player, it was easy to see that our clients had the time of their lives.

Autograph from Faker
Autograph from Faker!

Anyone can participate in this gaming experience in Korea. Whether you’re a diehard LoL fan like our clients or just an explorer of subcultures like me, I guarantee that the whirlwind enthusiasm of gamers in Korea will have you captivated.

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