In high-tech South Korea — which has one of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world — the StarCraft video game series has spawned devotion more akin to professional sports teams.
Indeed, video game players there can get lucractive contracts from professional teams with corporate sponsorships. Games of large tournaments are broadcast live on television in South Korea.
The first StarCraft game, produced by Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, California, came out in 1998 when the South Korean economy was melting down during the Asian Financial Crisis.
“It was in the middle of an economic recession and (StarCraft) was easy, cheap entertainment. It really took over and just captivated a nation,” said Fields, a 20-year-old New Jersey native recruited two years ago to play StarCraft for the South Korean team CJ Entus.
In a nod to the game’s popularity in South Korea, Blizzard first announced plans for StarCraft II at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Seoul in May 2007.
About 90 percent of South Korean households are connected to high-speed broadband and the nation has some 25,000 internet cafes, which took in $600 million last year, according to government figures. The gaming market is expected to be worth $5.5 billion this year with a 17 percent growth rate, according to the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA).
StarCraft II was first released Tuesday in South Korea and other Asian nations. The original game sold about 11 million copies worldwide .
While gamers in South Korea are lining up to get copies of the new title, StarCraft II could be a game changer in the country’s professional circuit, Fields said.
“In StarCraft II, the leagues aren’t established yet, they’re all building up — it’s going to be huge, but we don’t know how long it will take, how huge it will be, whether (existing teams) will be good at the game or not,” Fields said.