This article is inspired by a series of tweets I saw a few weeks ago, inspired by South Korea’s performance at the League of Legend’s world championship
Colin Kenitz (10-31-2016)
To say that Korean Dominance is a myth because they’re only dominant in two games is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Korean Dominance is a fact, and it occurs in more than just two games. In fact, it occurs in just about every game Koreans majorly play, and even some that hardly any play. And, further yet, it’s not boring. It’s a beautiful thing.
Proposing that Korean dominance doesn’t exist because it only exits in a few games is impossible to be sound. It cannot be sound, because any premise that the argument is framed on would be false. That’s like saying Michael Jordan’s dominance was a myth, because he only dominated at one sport – basketball. Why wasn’t he also the best tennis player of all time? Absurd. When the topic is brought up, many will say that Korean dominance doesn’t exist because they don’t dominate in every game. E.g., Korean’s have never dominated at CS:GO, however, Korean’s have no interest in CS:GO. No one plays it there. So how are they going to be the most dominant nation in that scene?
On another hand, many people claimed that Korean’s would struggle in Overwatch because they have such little experience in FPS games. Despite this, as we’ve seen thus far in both the Overwatch World Cup and Apex Series, this hasn’t been a problem at all. It’s true that the game tailors heavily to players with a MOBA background because a lot of peak game play depends on team compositions as well as ultimate timings. Despite this, from what we’ve seen so far, and as observed by caster and analyst Montecristo, we really haven’t seen the aiming or peaking aspects of the game be an issue for the Korean teams.
Ultimately, what matters in the conversation of Korean dominance is the ratio of games that the country actively participates in to games that they dominate in at the highest level (in other words, in Esports). When you take a step back and see what that looks like, well, it’s virtually all of them. If there’s a game that Korean’s play, it’s very likely they dominate in that Esport.
I think without a doubt it can be agreed on that the first Esport to look at would be StarCraft II. In virtually every iteration of this game Korean players are without a doubt named the champions. The name “MVP” might ring a bell. The undisputed best player during the Wings of Liberty era. He’s a four time GSL champion, and the champion of just about every other title out there currently. No? Then perhaps “Jaedong,” one of the most successful players during both the Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm Era. If you’re to google a list of the best Starcraft players of all time, just about every player will be Korean. Even on a top twenty list. The country was the home of the most premiere league, Proleague, for so many years (RIP 2016). Even though Starcraft is the longest running Esport to date, there are plenty of other games to look towards for evidence. For example, League of Legends.
LoL is currently the biggest Esport in the world. It has been for a few years, and it might be for a few more. So, where better to look? As far as world championships go, the only one Koreans didn’t win that they attended was the season 2 World Championship. That’s right, I refuse to acknowledge that season 1 was a “World Championship.” Let’s be honest, it was NA vs. EU. Season 2 completed with Azubu Frost falling 3 -1 to the Taipei Assassins. Since then, however, They’ve won them all. SK Telecom T1 has taken three of those, winning in 2013 and then back to back in 2015 and ’16. Samsung Galaxy White took it in 2014, after which Riot banned sister teams; but it goes to note that Samsung’s sister team, Blue, obtained a 3rd/4th tie, their highest possible placing due to bracket (They were team killed in the semi-final round by White). In 2015, the Season five world championship finally produced an all Korean Grand Final due to appropriate brackets. Despite another Korean team kill in the quarters where Koo defeated KT Rollster, the Koo Tigers and SKT T1 faced in the Grand Finals after each team took down European teams in devastating 3 – 0 fashion in the Semi Finals. Finally, in 2016, the brackets allowed all three Korean teams to place in the top four. There is without a doubt no analyst that would say the three South Korean teams ROX, Samsung, and SKT were not the three best teams in attendance BY FAR. The Semi-final match between the ROX Tigers and SK Telecom T1 was the best LoL match at worlds ever. Until, perhaps, the Grand Finals when Samsung Galaxy nearly brought it back from a 2 – 0 deficit, but was dramatically defeated in the end. SKT won their second title in a row, and their third overall, and almost definitely have cemented themselves as the most winning team that League of Legends will ever have. So just when everyone was claiming the gap between Korea and all other regions was closing, it was quickly proved quite the opposite; and things don’t look too different in other games.
In Heroes of the Storm is far less popular in South Korea, so much so that it’s not even in the same league as LoL. Yet, they’re is far ahead of the competition with no one in their rear view mirror. MVP Black took the 2016 Spring Global Championship in dominating fashion. Then, in Summer, they were barely defeated in the Finals by fellow Korean team Tempest, 3 – 2. Now, as we head into the Fall Championships, the two Korean squads MVP Black and Ballistix look nigh on unstoppable again. Another game that is an example is Street Fighter Five.
Street Fighter is a game series that has never had a major following in the Republic of Korea. Despite this, the second best player in the entire Shoryuken ranking system for the game is Infiltration, who sits just behind Xiaohai in a two year spread of tournament circuit points. Despite being second place on the ladder, he was the champion of EVO 2016, the premiere event in the FGC, which was aired live on ESPN 2. He stood tall over all five Japanese Fighting Game Gods in attendance, taking the tournament over Fuudo in Grand Finals. As the last player standing over 5,000 entrants, his first words of victory? “Download Complete.”
So how do they do it? How are Koreans so dominant in every Esport they try their hand in? It’s just my theory, but it all comes down to culture. There is a very big discrepancy in the seriousness with which players in Korea hold in these games when they play. Often times one doesn’t play to have fun, but to improve. It’s not uncommon for someone who wants to improve to practice non-stop for all of their waking hours each day. It reminds me of Space Jam’s opening scene, where R. Kelly’s song ushers us to a scene of a young Michael Jordan practicing late into the night.
I may be wrong, about my theory here, but there’s something so beautiful to me about Koreans in Esports. Many western fans seem to hate them for their dominance, but I can’t get enough of it. Watching the semi and grand finals of this past League of Legend’s worlds left me in awe. The difference between the regions couldn’t be clearer. It can be frustrating to have one region winning everything from year to year. Many would say that it dulls the game, and no one will care. For me, I don’t see it this way. As long as the game is beautiful to watch, and the strategy keeps evolving, it’s going to be a spectacle worth watching. Witnessing dominant teams or athletes is like watching a famous artist in the process. whether watching Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time, or Faker and Bengi become three time world champions; sheer and utter dominance is something to appreciate. I can’t help but think to myself: There must have been many nights when Faker must have said to himself, “Just one more Shot.” Just one more game. I bet just like Mike, he didn’t stop at just one more shot. He kept going until he was the best that ever was and ever will be.