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Big business drives South Korean esports craze

10/28/2021 | 05:18am EST

Sixteen-year-old Yoon Ki-chan spends dozens of hours in front of his computer at school, working towards his dream of becoming a professional online gamer.

Every day, Yoon makes a two-hour round trip to Eunpyeong Meditech High School, South Korea's only school with esports on its academic curriculum.

He and his peers are part of the next generation of gamers in a country that's long been an esports powerhouse, and may soon grow even bigger.

"Due to the global health crisis, I got to spend more time at home and began (playing League of Legends) intensively. I reached the Diamond tier - that is given to the top 1 to 2% of users - and that's when I thought pursuing the pro-gamer dream might be possible."

Two big factors are giving South Korean esports a boost.

In August the government announced it would abolish a decade-old ban on computer games at night for children under 16.

That's in contrast with much larger competitor China, the world's biggest esports market, which in August drastically limited video gaming time to a mere three hours a week.

And -big business has joined the craze and launched their own teams, including Hyundai affiliate Kia and intant noodle maker Nongshim.

But Nongshim E-Sports CEO Oh Ji-hwan says the missing piece to really thrive - is government support.

"The esports industry continued growing, but the state-led support measures have been weak, with corporate sponsorships and private academies mainly having driven the industry."

A government official said they want to do more to support esports ahead of major competitions like the Asian Games, but did not offer further details.

ę Reuters 2021
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