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Top Korean University recognises eSports - A step in the right direction?

South Korea has been at the forefront of eSports for a number of years. Whilst the majority of the world fumbled around at household LANs, Korea was developing an industry that has grown to massive proportions. Fast forwarding to today, eSports is a serious and legitimate industry in Korea with mainstream success and coverage.

A credible industry

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So much so that companies like SK Telecom, Nike and LG are just a few of the big names that are throwing money into the industry. Pro players even feature in mainstream advertising spaces to promote various products. This legitimacy has helped create a structure envied across the world. If you watch any interview of Western players, they all praise the infrastructure and support that Korea has created for eSports. That infrastructure has resulted in Korea being an eSports powerhouse, with their players and teams consistently vying for top spot in various games.

Chung-Ang recognises eSports

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With so much credibility given to competitive gaming, it was only a matter of time before eSports was taken to the next step. Chung-Ang University is a prestigious university in Korea, boasting a student body of over 30 000 and consistently placing in the top ten in the country rankings. What does Chung-Ang have to do with the next level of eSports? They’ve decided to allow an exceptional gamer to get an edge with admissions, just like how being a talented traditional sportsman/sportswoman gives you an advantage. Essentially, eSports will be considered a sport in their admissions policy.

A nation torn between two identities

It is a huge boost for the legitimacy of eSports and when you think about it, it comes as no surprise that Korea was the first to do this, especially with such a prominent university. However, Korea is also a nation torn between two identities. There is the Korea known to be an eSports powerhouse with almost unrivalled infrastructure and talent. On the other hand, there is the Korea that fears for its children as gaming tightens its stranglehold on the youth.

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This fear is evident with some of the legislation that was introduced in 2011 to curb late night gaming. What is commonly referred to as the ‘Cinderella Law’, blocks access to games at midnight for any Korean under the age of 16. This was put into place due to the high levels of gaming and internet addiction the country battles. An estimated 8% of the population between ages 9 to 39 suffer from some form of internet or gaming addiction.

This fear of gaming has not subsided in recent months. Currently, the Korean government is considering applying what we would call ‘sin tax’ to games that are published, essentially classifying games as a harmful substance. The law is, unsurprisingly, being met with outrage and indignation, but government is seemingly at a loss on how to combat the addiction of gaming and the problems it causes, making them unlikely to back down from this.

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Addiction is not something that is often spoken about when eSports is mentioned, however Korea is proof of the dangers of eSports becoming successful. I often sigh with irritation when people try to compare eSports to traditional sports because in reality, they are vastly different. We cannot look at them in similar veins nor try to make eSports mirror traditional sports. People do not become addicted to football, or cricket. Physical limitations make that impossible. eSports is different as it is your mental ability that is tested, thus you can play for hours and hours, ignoring physical needs. We’ve all read the stories of kids dropping dead after playing games for days on end.

If you can stomach it, gives EUROGamer's Death by gaming: an investigation into the Taiwan café fatalities a read. 

Is Chung-Ang's recognition a good thing?

This leads us to ask the question of whether the recognition of eSports by Chung-Ang is a good thing. Despite the habit of supporters of eSports to ignore the dangers and negatives of it, I think it is important to be aware of them and understand that with success, there comes a price. However, if you try to solve those dangers by suppressing the industry, you’ll only make matters worse.

I think this is a huge moment for eSports and will hopefully set a precedent that others will follow. eSports is growing and it doesn’t look likely to stop. Instead of trying to fight it or ignore it, eSports needs to be recognised and those pursuing it need more support than ever. One of the biggest dangers of eSports is the need to stop education whilst pursuing or having a career in it. If pro players can have both, it would make eSports a more viable future with less at risk for such young people.

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Having said that, I don’t think the rest of the world, specifically the Western world, is anywhere close to getting to this point, where a top tier educational institution would recognise eSports into its admission policy. But imagine if somewhere like Harvard decided that gaming would give you an edge in. Looking closer to home, imagine if UCT began to support the eSports scene locally. The effects would be massive. It would lower the risks, increase the support structure, create more awareness, everything that eSports would need to become legitimate and mainstream. The ultimate goal.

This is an exciting time for eSports as it begins to gain critical mass in terms of societal acceptance. This acceptance isn’t important because eSports wants to be cool or ‘in’. This is important because once it is accepted, the rest of the world will finally make space for it and thus make it an easier and more rewarding career to pursue. Korea is on the right path, especially with the recognition from Chung-Ang. Gaming has evolved to become more than just a trivial past time, the world needs to realise this fact sooner or later.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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