In South Korea, Competitive Video Games Are Almost As Popular As Soccer

Samsung WhiteLeague of LegendsKorean team Samsung White just took home $US1 million for winning the ‘League of Legends’ finals.

E-sports is a huge business, and it’s only getting bigger. Riot Games, the company behind the popular “League of Legends,” boasts 67 million active monthly players. And it’s bringing in $US1 billion.

In South Korea, it’s becoming as big of a sport as soccer, according to a profile by The New York Times’ Paul Mozur.

The rise of gaming is thanks to the Asian financial crisis in the ’90s. The South Korean government made a big push in telecom and internet infrastructure, and soon most people had computers in the home and speedy internet, the Times says.

Kids swarmed to internet cafes — rather than to basketball courts and soccer fields — to play games and hang out. And in 2000, the government created the Korean e-Sports Association.

“Fourteen years ago you had a government that gave a thumbs up to e-sports, it was professionally organised, and it was on television, so it became a mainstream thing. The way soccer is around the world,” e-sports commentator Jonathan Beales told The Times.

There’s even a television channel dedicated to e-sports, called OnGameNet, or OGN.

Sangam StadiumYouTubeThis is Sangam Stadium, where the ‘League of Legends’ finals took place.

But, like with all sports, it’s still a niche market. “The majority of fans are really casual. There are a few hardcore fans — some very dedicated fangirls, as you would know if you watch the OnGameNet stream — but they are easily in the minority,” OnGameNet Global contributor Michael “Chexx” Kiefer told LoLesports.

But there’s no doubt that e-sports is huge. The biggest e-sports event of the year, the finals of the “League of Legends” World Championships, was held in Seoul. And 7 out of 10 of the players who competed hail from Korea.

The “League of Legends” finals drew more than 40,000 fans to Sangam Stadium, which was built for the 2002 World Cup.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.