What’s up with South Korea?
You know that StarCraft is incredibly popular in South Korea. Like it’s almost insane how popular it is. It’s practically at the level of being a national pastime. But I think people are just forgetting what happened historically with StarCraft to make the popularity in South Korea make any sense.
In 1997, South Korea experienced a massive financial crisis that sent thousands of people into unemployment. As the situation carried on and citizens became dejected, the unemployed began looking for new outlets while they weren’t working. One of these was video games. But why wouldn’t they go toward the Japanese home consoles?
Japan, by contrast, was faring well in the world market, soaring economically. But there is a history between Japan and South Korea, most recently dating back to World War II, but of course it’s much longer than that. Because of their unfortunate history, Japanese products were banned in South Korea, especially since Japan was being blamed for the economic crisis in Korea.
Since Koreans had no access to Japanese technology, they needed to import other products to distance themselves from the Japanese. As video games were still popular in Korea, but they couldn’t buy Japanese systems, once StarCraft was released on the PC, it was nabbed up by the Koreans as if they had been starved for years.
StarCraft was also easy to run on a LAN network and was able to function with PCs of all types. Since the game was also fun to play, it only made sense that StarCraft would become a Korean hit. They also had a system of illegal imports that made the game super cheap to obtain.
But remember, South Korea was in a financial crisis so not everyone had a home PC to play StarCraft. This is where the Net Cafes were born. People could go into a Net Café and play StarCraft at an affordable price, therefore turning the cafes into a sort of arcade.
It is required that all people of age in South Korea to join the military. But there is a space of time in between finishing school and being conscribed into the military. How did these young people spend their free time? In Net Cafes, battling StarCraft. It was a good release from the impending conscription all the while refining decision making skills as well as acquiring military tactics, even if the game is based in space. From this the pro leagues were born and the game’s popularity only seemed to increase exponentially.
Why is it still popular?
Ok so we know why StarCraft was so successful to begin with in South Korea, but how is it still popular there? The financial crisis has ended, relations with Japan have improved. Yet the game’s popularity is just as strong as it has ever been.
Part of the reason has to do with the three tech trees for the three races in the game, providing a completely balanced gameplay. This, together with the multi-player function, made the user base to be able to increase in size exponentially. And as the gameplay is constantly changing with the times, the play is innovative and never quite the same. It isn’t a kind of game where you win and it’s over. You can play again and have an entirely different scenario. The game also requires a lot of strategy. It does not work to try to throw everything you have at the competition and wipe them out. You have to plan, think of what your opponents are doing, and take care of your civilization still. Because the game’s complexities, it’s still popular in not just South Korea, but worldwide.