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[GAMING] Full-time Players Can Make Six-Figure Incomes

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  • madchinaman
    Don t Tell the Kids: Computer Games Can Make You Rich Players in South Korea Do It Full Time, and Lucky Few Have Six-Figure Incomes By MEI FONG Staff Reporter
    Message 1 of 1 , May 21, 2004
      Don't Tell the Kids: Computer Games Can Make You Rich
      Players in South Korea Do It
      Full Time, and Lucky Few Have Six-Figure Incomes
      By MEI FONG
      Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
      May 21, 2004; Page A1

      SEOUL, South Korea -- At age 24, Lim Yo-Hwan plays computer games
      all day, makes a six-figure income doing it and has thousands of
      adoring fans.

      Computer games have become a spectator sport here, and Mr. Lim is a
      star. In a packed Seoul television studio recently, Mr. Lim stood
      combat-ready in a military-style white tunic with epaulettes, his
      spiky hairdo set off by shiny silver headphones. Tapping frantically
      at a keyboard, Mr. Lim built a virtual empire and launched a daring
      attack on enemy forces in an imaginary electronic galaxy -- and was
      defeated -- all within five minutes.

      Broadcast on cable TV, his moves were also displayed on screen
      before 300 fans in the studio, who cheered, cried and smacked
      noisemakers to show support. "I never miss a match" of his, said
      Jung Eun-young, 28, who stood in line for 14 hours for her front-row

      As electronic games attract big-dollar deals with sports leagues,
      Hollywood and advertisers, more gamers are starting to face off in
      professional venues. The payoffs are particularly rich here in
      Korea, where there's enough commercial and cultural support for a
      community of pros to earn a living and maybe even get rich.

      Three Korean cable TV channels broadcast matches 24 hours a day.
      Live matches take place every week here in Seoul, and are draw as
      many customers as movies. This gaming mecca is even drawing young
      men from all over the world, who are lured by prospects of fame and

      Last year, Mr. Lim made about $300,000 from player fees and
      commercials. Another top earner, Hung Jin-Ho, whose fingers are
      insured for $60,000, recently signed a three-year deal with telecom
      provider KTF Co. that will pay him $480,000 altogether.

      Computer games began taking off in Korea five years ago when the
      government rolled out a nationwide high-speed Internet system.
      Instead of buying expensive consoles or handheld games, which
      weren't widely available here then, teens began facing off on the

      Companies ranging from Samsung Electronics to Coca-Cola Co. started
      sponsoring tournaments, and some even adopted teams. Now there's a
      formal system to identify and groom potential champions by coaches
      and talent spotters under the auspices of the Korean Pro-Gamers
      Association. Sponsored pros like Mr. Lim live together as teams and
      practice as strenuously as martial arts devotees do.

      'Work, Not Fun'

      "It's work, not fun," says Mr. Lim, who trains 10 hours a day with
      his eight teammates and their coach in a two-bedroom apartment,
      where they also live, in southern Seoul. His team, called T1,
      recently switched sponsors from California chip maker Advanced Micro
      Devices to South Korea's biggest telecom provider, SK Telecom. They
      are planning to buy a van and move to a bigger apartment.

      The team competes in Starcraft, a game of strategy that's like a
      combination of high-speed chess and Risk. Players control one of
      three alien species in a computer-generated universe, attempting to
      gather resources, build weapons and annihilate the enemy. Matches
      generally last about 15 minutes.

      The team apartment is nearly bare, with some pizza boxes and a bank
      of computers where the players spend most of their waking hours. Mr.
      Lim rolls out a mattress to sleep on and keeps most of his clothes
      in boxes and bags. His team uniform and other clothes for public
      appearances are made of crease-free nylon.

      Like most serious gamers, Mr. Lim plays through much of the night
      and sleeps most of the day. He used to play basketball but stopped
      about two years ago for fear of hurting his fingers, which have to
      move fast to win tournaments. A measure pro-gamers use to gauge
      ability is APM, or actions per minute. APM is the average number of
      maneuvers a player can execute in 60 seconds. In Starcraft, most
      casual players have an APM of between 50 and 70. Mr. Lim has been
      known to hit 400 APM at some games, or 6.66 moves per second.

      At that speed, calculation and instinct merge, resulting in moves
      that fans insist are nothing less than art. Starcraft devotees study
      Mr. Lim's moves as chess players study Garry Kasparov. A DVD
      detailing Mr. Lim's winning plays sold 30,000 copies in South Korea
      last year, outselling the movie "Matrix Revolutions."

      Some female fans want to date Mr. Lim, while others want to mother
      him. His refrigerator is stuffed with vats of homemade kimchi, the
      fiery Korean pickled vegetables. His walls are hung with dainty
      cross-stitch samplers, and his bathroom crammed with skin-care
      products, all gifts. He has a fan club with 470,000 registered
      members, but for the past two years he hasn't had a girlfriend. His
      fame makes it hard for him to risk rejection by approaching girls,
      he says: "It's too embarrassing." Also, team rules bar him from
      bringing dates back to the apartment.

      Five years ago, most Starcraft players were just teens playing for
      fun. The rapid growth of cybercaf├ęs, called PC baangs, where players
      congregate and compete, helped popularize the game. A producer at
      the Korean cartoon network Tooniverse noticed that people were
      tuning in to telecasts of amateur gaming tournaments that the
      network occasionally screened, and persuaded his bosses to finance a
      channel devoted exclusively to televising computer games.

      Players in Costume

      The producer, Hyung Jun Hwang, hired well-known sports commentators
      and encouraged them to be outrageous. He put players in costumes
      resembling Batman's, though players have since come up with their
      own uniform designs, choosing looks ranging from silver, Star Trek-
      inspired jumpsuits to Navy dress whites.

      Viewership on the network has climbed from 3 million households in
      2000 to 6.5 million last year. Companies like Coca Cola Co., Olympus
      Corp. and Gillette Co., took turns sponsoring three-month-long
      tournaments, paying $400,000 each. This year, SK Telecom, South
      Korea's biggest telecom company, paid $1.5 million to sponsor a nine-
      month tournament, called Sky League.

      The young sport has quickly become hypercompetitive. The Korean Pro-
      Gamer's Association has 170 members, though only about 50 make
      enough to support themselves, earning on average $20,000-$30,000.
      Fewer than 10 make six-figures, the KGPA estimates.

      Somewhere on the lower rungs is Australian Peter Neate, 23, a
      computer science major who dropped out of Griffith University in
      Queensland to try making it as a pro-gamer in Seoul. He makes $300 a
      month now, less than what fast-food workers earn in his native
      Brisbane. Roommate Sang Hoe, 19, earns nothing but gets free room
      and board in exchange for being a practice partner and the team
      gofer. "He's lucky," says team manager Daniel Lee. "I have to turn
      away a lot of kids."

      Canadian Guillaume Patry, who was the top-rated player four years
      ago, hasn't won a major game in well over a year. He made $100,000 a
      year at his peak but is now living on his savings. He's casting
      about for new ventures and has set up an e-commerce business. It's
      difficult to keep up the wearing training routine, says the 21-year-
      old. Starcraft, he says, is "a young man's game."

      Write to Mei Fong at mei.fong@...
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