Cracked asked me to go undercover and infiltrate the insane culture of StarCraft because they said I would be "ideal" for the job. The last time I played online, I constantly got cussed out by players when I asked for simple help on how to build peons or where to find quests (nobody has told me to this day), so I asked the Cracked guys why on earth they would think I would be a good fit. They just coughed meaningfully and eventually said, "You know. Because you're... uh, your people like StarCraft, right? Isn't that like the national sport over in, uh, the Orient?" They then looked at me encouragingly. I think someone struck a gong.
"Sorry guys, I'm not following you."
Yeah, so I'm not sure what any of that means, except that you're going to learn about the bizarre world of professional StarCraft from someone who can't play the game.
First of all, StarCraft came out in 1998, and StarCraft 2 just came out--mildly interesting to you or me, but a life-changing event for a bunch of Koreans.
You know, like a Rain concert or something.
5StarCraft is a Career in Korea. A Career.
Yeah, the U.S. has pro gaming circuits, sure. The Koreans have 12 professional StarCraft teams with top players making fat six-figure salaries. Even the average pro gamer makes more than the average Korean.
Not only do Korean pro gamers rake in the dough, but also national attention. 120,000 people gathered live in a stadium to watch a 2005 StarCraft championship--over 40K more than attended the Super Bowl that year.
That's an actual StarCraft tournament, this is not a joke photo.
And if you had any doubt that Korea as a nation takes this seriously, note that the Korean Air Force actually started their own gaming team so that top players wouldn't have to stop playing when the joined the military for their compulsory two-year service. The team doesn't usually do very well in the leagues since most of the players are ancient greybeards at an average age of 27, but I bet they'd still kick most non-Korean asses.
"We who are about to play a video game salute you."
If you're wondering if it's like this anywhere else, well, no. Almost half of all copies of StarCraft (4.5 million out of 9.5 million) were sold in South Korea. Note they have one sixth the population of the U.S. Shame on you, America. We're already lagging in so many areas. Must you fall behind on StarCraft-buying too?
I think competitive eating is all we've got left.
Why is Korea so cuckoo for StarCraft? Most likely because it's a multiplayer game with strong replay value that came out just when multiplayer gaming in Internet cafes ("PC baangs") took off as the hot new craze in Korea. After staring at a screen in a cubicle all day, who wouldn't want to escape and unwind?
Left: Korea during the day. Right: Korea at night.
You can probably see now why Koreans and other StarCraft pros are so nervous about StarCraft 2. After almost 12 years of playing the same exact game and working out their little strategies and gambits, it feels almost as set in stone as chess. Imagine becoming a chess grandmaster and suddenly being told to throw it all away because they've come up with a Chess 2. Backwards-moving pawns! Bishops that can teleport! Elevated squares! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!
Although apparently we will adopt it eventually.