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Why gamers in Asia are the world's best eSport athletes

Andrew Groen | May 15, 2013
Hardcore games, ubiquitous tech, and Asia's economic rise helped the PC trounce consoles to become the dominant pro gaming platform.

How Asia quietly saved PC pro gaming

Though the PC competes fiercely with home consoles in North America and Europe, in Asia the PC rules the territory with an iron fist. This is important, because East Asia and Southeast Asia (abbreviated as SEA) have become the heart of eSports.

Much as the United States is home to many of the world's finest basketball players and Latin America is home to dominant baseball players, East and Southeast Asia are a hotbed for pro gamers. All of the world's top StarCraft players are from South Korea (to the extent that all non-Koreans are referred to as "foreigners" in the SC2 community), and the reigning League of Legends champions hail from Taiwan. But why does this happen in Asia rather than someplace else?

One factor may be that China and some other East and Southeast Asian countries have banned gaming consoles for almost 15 years. As a result, PC gaming has a strong cultural foothold in countries where consoles are illegal.

"Only a few SEA countries have legal resellers for consoles," says Lisa Hansen of Niko Partners, a gaming market research firm focusing on the Asian market. "Singapore does, so there are consoles there, but some of the other countries do not, which means gamers need to carry them in from overseas and then they do not get customer service in their local language."

In short, console gaming is a big hassle in those regions, with no obvious upside. Would you bother trekking across two states to buy an expensive console that works with few games in a language you understand, when you could instead go to a PC gaming LAN center down the street and play whatever game you like? A small number of hardcore gamers do both, but most would rather play PC games with their friends at these local LAN centers, known in South Korea as "PC Baangs."

In South Korea, Japanese-made consoles were never banned, but import duties on them made the consoles prohibitively expensive during a critical period of the 1990s. Just as significant, perhaps, were the early wiring of South Korea for high-speed Internet, which encouraged multiplayer gaming, and that country's high urban population density, which made finding like-minded gamers at suitable skill levels easier.

PC Baangs are the perfect place for a competitive scene to be born. Young people continue to congregate here to practice, compete, and discuss favorite games such as StarCraft and League of Legends (which enjoy huge mainstream popularity in South Korea.)

"For the past several decades, China has established a rather large base of PC gamers," says Lewis Ward, a gaming analyst at International Data Corporation. "So the reality is that PC Baangs are still the norm there. That's why you've got freemium games there like League of Legends that are very popular."


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