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Is the Korean Warcraft Scene Dying?

10.10.18 | UgriWC3 3248

Introduction

For quite some time I have been curious about the state of the Korean Warcraft Scene. After seeing only nine players registered for the Master's Coliseum Korean Open Qualifier, I decided to research, explore, and write about what I saw as a growing phenomenon.

Two years ago, there were 18 Koreans participating in the GCS International Qualifier. Now we rarely see any Korean players in tournaments other than the eight to ten players that dominate the local scene.

What has happened to the Korean scene in the last two years? Why isn't there at least a weekly cup or other outlets of play that are prevalent in Russia, China, and Europe? What happened to the Tier 3 players?

This deep and sensitive subject is something I'll dig into with the hope of finding solutions to help WC3 in Korea. 

The best and the rarest

Proven during every clan war with China and most recently during Netease eSports X Tournament last month, top Korean players are on average the strongest in the world during head to head competition. We've seen numerous Cups or Tournaments in the past just focusing on the opposition between China and Korea like during the Douyu Star Invitational.

That being said, South Korea dominates in top-tier talent but lacks depth and numbers. We can organize their player pool the following way:

Tier 1Moon Lyn FoCus LawLiet. Those that are either legends or win tournaments on a regular basis.

Tier 2Lucifer So.in Sok Chaemiko WhO. Those that can go far in tournaments.

Tier 3Yange Free. Those that can take maps and sometimes series away from Tier 1 or Tier 2 players.

Only eleven players? Well yes, that is pretty much it. We deplored the retirement of Check and ReMinD this year and I am not sure if Korea could afford another departure.

Korean Warcraft 3 has become an ecosystem of predators and such an environment is not really sustainable as the player base shrinks and professionals retire. I want to take a closer look on the disappearance of Tier 3 players in the last two years. What happened to them?

More importantly, why did not they register for Masters Coliseum or NeXT Korean Qualifiers?

 

Tier 3 players whereabouts

exerciseUN the brave

I wanted to name an unknown in this article. I do not know who he is or how to reach him, but exerciseUN took the brave decision to register for the Masters Coliseum qualifier and play it through. He was the only recreational player to do so.

Three players could qualify for the next round, with a statistical 25% chance to play a major tournament in Shanghai afterwards. To my dismay, only nine players tried to qualify for Masters Coliseum in Korea. And three of them forfeited during the course of the competition.

This made me wonder if perhaps Korean players were just not properly informed on how to register or if organization was lacking. 

They were properly informed, there was not any communication problem. But truth be told, we discussed it earlier with Lucifer, and we came to the conclusion that it might just be that Korean players do not want to take part in tournaments with little chances to get through. -LawLiet.

I prepared this article with Icarus whom worked on the English version of the Space interview and poem last year. 

He discussed similar issues with KimChoonSam on his stream who confirmed LawLiet's assessment of events and the future of South Korean participation in tournaments.

This would have been too much pressure, I do not see the point of playing just to be destroyed live on my stream. But yes, I would play a smaller competitions just for fun. KimChoonSam.

Icarus had a few other explanations that could have affected general participation of lesser known players that are unique to South Korea:

Fan culture, working conditions in Korea in general, social recognition... they can be an hindrance in Korean culture. Military service can be an issue as well. -Icarus

The Fate of GCS 2016 International Qualifier participants.

These are all valid arguments. Still, in 2016, there were 18 players that tried to qualify for GCS trough the International Qualifier. Of those 18 many have fallen off the radar in the past few years. Why did players compete back then and not now?

The popularity of Warcraft 3 has dropped a little in Korea, and players are now old enough to have a stable jobs.
Believe retired due to his schoolwork.
Agatha is unable to play the game because of his job.
The same goes for Bany, Check, FoV, Imotas or no.90, all those players that tried  to qualify 2 years ago. -Frenzy


Korean line up for GCS Fall 2016 Qualifier (Sept 17th, 2016). Players marked with a cross retired since then. 

I am ready to believe all those players as well as the likes of  Ikor, Berzerker,  Nari or Music are now focusing on other activities. Still, it seems that many of them stopped playing during the year 2017, the year when all local cups were cancelled simultaneously.

From my perspective this doesn't appear to be coincidence and I would like to discuss this sensitive page of Korean Warcraft's history that many may not know.

The cataclysm of April 2017

A fragile scene

We continued the discussion with Frenzy about Warcraft's drop of popularity in Korea compared with China.

First of all, the popularity of Warcraft 3  has always been lesser in Korea compared with China, just like Starcraft  that has always been way more popular in Korea.
 
Also, Korea had no more new players emerging in the last 10 years... Ah ; Sok and Chaemiko started playing exactly 10 years ago. -Frenzy

The Korean scene has been fragile for a long time. The cancellation of Indra's Cups (52 editions), Ramiun Cups (48) and ReMinD's Cups (7) the very same week hit it hard.  And perhaps created a point of no return. A signal that WC3 in South Korean was no longer supported.

Yeah. I think this conflict had a lot of impact. -Frenzy

A bitter conflict

Early in 2017 things were starting to look bright again for the South Korean Warcraft 3 Scene. Lyn won the 4 Great Kings tournament in January, hosted by Nicegame TV.  NGTV then rebooted a new edition of AWL, a tournament that was on hiatus for 9 years! Moon would end up being the winner of that tournament later that year.

Unfortunately this is where the news starts to take a downward turn. I will not go too much into the gory details but it seems like the relations between Indra and several players were tense for a while. The installment of ReMinD's Cups in January brought the conflict to a boiling point and players ended up having to choose between one cup or the other, and worse yet, the dispute was made public on social medias. There is a long wiki page in Korean  retracing the events here.

The consequences were severe as :

  • ReMinD's Cup was cancelled after 7 editions on April 15th.
  • Indra's Cup was cancelled after 52 editions. The 53th Cup was supposed to be played on April 19th.
  • Ramiun's Cup was cancelled after 48 editions on April 12th.

The scene was deeply divided then, players and fans either siding with Indra (like Ramiun apparently) or ReMinD. All three managers consequently cancelled their tournaments the very same week! We were stressed enough when we lost one Gera Cup, what if we had lost three at the same time?


The last InCup Final : Believe vs Chaemiko, March 29th 2017

 

Player and organizer at the same time

Check tried to reignite the flame hosting five cups between May and June 2017. Several other players followed suite such as Lucifer in June 2018 and So.in with three organized cups this summer.

I honestly cannot picture any Foggy's cups or HawK's cups being organized in Europe. I do not see how it can work in the long run. When a player has to take organizational duties at the same time, he quickly gets overworked and cannot properly practice for the tournaments he is competing in. Did those tensions and this huge workload have an effect on both ReMinD and Check retiring a few months later? We won't ever know for sure but it definitely didn't help.

Secondly, the Korean scene is in serious lack of a managerial structure which probably led indirectly to this conflict. Our readers may not know that in the European/American scene, all managers from local leagues to international tournaments discuss how to better organize the tournament's schedule for the weeks to come. This is to the benefit of players most importantly, but also to fans that are eager for new content and will spend money to support the scene and professionals.

While our scene has the luck of having a couple of benefactors keeping it afloat (like RusBrain, Knubbe, or Gera in the past), we also have small donators that know they can donate 20$ for a small cup to take place. There does not seem to be the same organized structure in Korea.

All of the above mentioned cups relied in part on donations made during the streams. This is a system that puts a lot of pressure on streamers to get enough donations to stay on their feet. Pressure leads to tension.

Another consequence of this conflict was Indra ending his channel a few month later, Frenzy moving on to other games and ReMinD shutting down his channel after that incident. It was sad to see such important pillars of the community bend and break under the intense pressure to perform while navigating the politics of the scene.


SoK surroundings skills during the last ReMinD Cup


Professional players financially struggling

If the lack of local tournaments most likely had an important number of players leaving the game, the professional players are struggling as well. 

Honestly, there aren't any players nowadays who can support their life properly by playing Warcraft 3 only. This is probably the most important factor that explains why there are no more new rising players in Korea.

More competitions? Yeah, they would be helpful, but in my opinion what would be truly helpful would be an improved environment and increased prizes money. That is what Korean players need the most urgently to maintain a decent standard of living. -LawLiet

How to improve the playing conditions in Korea?

  • Set up a neutral management team : to organize long lasting cups every weekend, a team of three admins is usually sufficient. One individual cannot do all the heavy work, exhausting himself then abandoning after a few editions. There were attempts made by Coolwind to organize community cups at the end of 2017, he probably did not receive enough support. We could help organize its structure and keep said organization going during times of struggle.

  • Tournament not funded from streams : if you are Korean and want to organize something for your local scene by donating, make yourself known. If a stream funded tournament is fun to play once in a while, it cannot be something that lasts long term; players have to focus on playing. This is the best outcome for the scene. Players competing at their best, not worried about being entertaining but instead about winning.

  • Donate to the players directly : most players can be donated to directly from their streaming page. All are nice and entertaining and deserve your support. In no particular order : FoCuS, Lucifer, Sok, WhO, So.in, LawLiet, Chaemiko, Yange, KimChoonSam

 

Frenzy the optimist!

We will conclude with a little chat with Frenzy, a long time Warcraft 3 commentator from Korea who had to move towards other games, mostly Wow.

- So Frenzy, if a new small Korean Cup was to be organized, do you think that would help? 

TT It is sad to see the popularity drop in Korea, but I think I should be satisfied with it.

- You mean you will cast it? A new weekly Korean cup?

A new Korean weekly cup...

You do not think it's possible?

It is possible, but there is no one to support it at the moment :) and not many players....
Too bad the popularity of Warcraft is declining in Korea.
Well, we did some work in America and we managed to improve things a bit. I think it would be possible in Korea as well?
I hope so for Korea, but it's not going to be easy ;; I am a bit of a pessimist? :)

Maybe a little ^^

kk, Good luck bro ! :)

It's not too late

When I look at the viewer count on Korean streams, it is similar to the Russian/CIS one. In that region, there are plenty of tournaments organized each weeks. Sidems sponsored his 3rd cup for 66$, it will happen on Saturday

I am sure there are quite a few Sidems in Korea that would like to support their scene as well? Really think about what even a small amount of donated money could do for rebuilding a tournament structure. If you've been waiting to support the scene now is the time to act! Plunge in to the resurgence of WC3 and get in contact!

Do not hesitate to contact me about this topic on Twitter or Discord (Ugrilainen#3478). 

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