For this week’s blog post prompt, I would like to examine cultural adaptation within internet gaming communities. I have participated in competitive internet gaming–better known as esports–for about 6 years by playing and watching games such as Dota 2, League of Legends, and Starcraft. Specifically, the facets of esports that show drastic cultural adaptation are the grand scale tournaments, involvement of commercial corporations, and celebrity status of players and commentators that now dominate the western European and American gaming markets in the same fashion that originated from Southeast Asian culture.
The original large-scale gaming tournaments were held in South Korea for the game Starcraft, which came out in 1998. These tournaments, with sizable prize pools up to about $1 million USD, came as the result of a league-system where players and teams regularly played each other on the weekends–similar to the competitive system the NFL uses. Leagues and tournaments with scale and organization did not come to the western gaming market until the game League of Legends became popular around the year 2010. Interestingly, the western structure for tournaments and leagues largely mirrored the South Korean’s example. Now, as the two markets have merged to play in international tournaments where American, European, and Asian teams compete, prize pools have increased to above $20 million USD in Dota 2’s tournament which is currently taking place from August 2nd-13th.
Another facet of cultural adaption between the Western esports world and the South East Asian is the involvement of corporations. Just like in any other popular form of sports, advertising and branding play a large in role in the overall money flow of market. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, South Korean corporations like SK Telecom, a telecommunications company, and Jin Air, an aviation company, signed entire teams of players to play for their brand under the agreement of a salary. Again, this practice has been mirrored as esports transitions more into the western gaming market with companies like Coca-Cola entering the sponsorship role.
Lastly, the celebrity status of popular figures within the esports community is another aspect of Southeast Asian esports culture that has carried into the Western culture. Perennial Starcraft champions and vivid personalities like Flash were granted celebrity status in the gaming community where people would scream wherever he showed up, fan-girls asked for his autograph and picture, and he was always the focus of interviews and commentaries. Likewise, western League of Legends players like Bjergsen and general game streamers like PewdiePie amass huge crowds of fans at gaming conventions such as San Diego Comic-con.
Overall, it must be pointed out that the internet has been the crucial factor in allowing the rapid cultural adaptation that has occurred between the Western and South East Asian esports communities. Esports, and video gaming as a whole, is one of the West’s fastest growing entertainment industries, and the daily integration of esports into western entertainment can be traced into the roots of South East Asian culture.