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Capture the Flag

Rachel Bailey | 31 Aug 2011 21:00
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The producer may have reason to be frazzled. Under pressure to grow StarCraft and eSports in Korea, he's struggling to match the success of the country's top game. A few months after our 2010 interview, Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of the StarCraft franchise, will sue MBC Game for intellectual property violation and sign an exclusive broadcasting deal with GomTV. Last summer, Jang was scrambling to keep ratings up.

A few months after our 2010 interview, Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of the StarCraft franchise, will sue MBC Game for intellectual property violation and sign an exclusive broadcasting deal with GomTV.

"Currently, I do most of my broadcasting with StarCraft, but I will try to develop some other programs, also utilizing StarCraft," he said through an interpreter, explaining that he was developing variety and talk shows based on the game. "There are lots of computer games existing in Korea, and some of the games actually have a huge number of followers. That's well known for almost a decade now - World of WarCraft, such games. Unfortunately, when those games are converted into broadcasting material, there are so few games that have been getting the popularity and that have been getting good viewing rates."

Nine years after Jang helped launch MBC Game in 2001, his programming was still based on the channel's original centerpiece. While there are many reasons for StarCraft's continued popularity, players and industry insiders agree that it all starts with the quality of the game itself.

"I liken it to war. One country attacks another country," says Haines, who notes that the game's increasing complexity over the years has helped it stay relevant. "They've obviously read The Art of War," he says of the creators.

As in real war, players - represented in the game by their choice of human Terrans, insectoid Zergs or psychic humanoid Protoss - are tasked not only with fighting the enemy, but also with collecting resources, managing an economy and making critical decisions about what kind of soldiers and supplies their armies should contain. "It's geeky," says Haines, "but I think that's why it's held on."

Also crucial was the dovetailing of StarCraft's release in the late 1990s with the explosion of PC baangs, or internet cafes, in Korea. A severe financial crisis had rocked the Korean economy, leaving many middle-aged, middle-class workers unemployed. Looking to start their own businesses and seeking to avoid higher-maintenance enterprises, such as boutiques and restaurants, many of these people opened PC baangs. At the time, Korea had widespread broadband internet penetration while Americans were still using dial-up, making online play with many others common in Asia before it was even possible in the U.S.

"Before the 1990s, Korea didn't have a really proper socialized culture. Like, in the West, they have a 'party culture,'" Coach explains. "It stemmed from some political and economical reasons. Korea has been running forward since 1950s and 1960s, since the war [...] We constantly just ran ran ran in order to be developed into the current thing, right now, so people didn't have much time to look back and think about what they can do to enjoy their lives." Korean homes tend to be quite small, not ideal for entertaining. Coach says that before the rise of PC baangs, recreation, especially for young people, was limited by a lack of space. "After the culture of internet cafe launched in Korea, a new type of party culture was born," he says. Because PC baangs are typically safe and inexpensive, a whole new sector of entertainment became available to Koreans of all ages and incomes.

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