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Korea has undoubtedly been the powerhouse of esports since the competitions began nearly two decades ago.

The world’s most famous esports star Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok of SK Telecom T1 LCK has won a combined total of $1.25 million in prize money as of December, and many talented players here are now seeking to follow in Lee’s footsteps.

“Thanks to the widespread PC room network across Korea, with higher internet speeds and connectivity, the country has a large number of gamers,” a Korea e-Sports Association official said.

“We believe more than 4 million people play video or PC games in Korea. North America has about 2 million. There are 3.2 million players in Europe. Thanks to its strong infrastructure and PC room culture, Korea has been the incubator for most talented esports players for over a dozen years. For this reason, even a number of foreign players have come to Korea to develop their careers as professional esports players.”

This trend is, however, rapidly shifting now as a number of promising Korean players are looking overseas to develop their careers in esports.

Lee Jong-ho, an 18-year-old who dropped out of high school last summer to become a professional player of “Overwatch,” a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter, seeks to enter a college in the United States since prestigious colleges there have invested a large amount of money in esports in the past few years.

“I believe there will be more opportunities in the U.S.,” Lee said.

“Professional gamers are generally at their peak when they are in their early 20s. It is important to think about what I can do after my retirement. I understand these U.S. colleges offer a different type of education, including what we can do in the esports industry even after retirement.”

Seen above is University of California Irvine Esports Arena. / Courtesy of University of California Irvine

In 2016, University of California Irvine (UCI) announced its esports development plan, which included building the 350-square-meter Esports Arena and offering each of its school team players a $15,000 scholarship.

“The industry has enjoyed a rapid growth in the past few years, but academic research on the subject was pretty rare,” an UCI Esports Arena official said on condition of anonymity. “The faculty and grad students here focus their studies on methods to optimize esports teams.”

New York University (NYU) has also introduced the NYU Game Center Program to offer various educational opportunities to incubate future game designers, critics and entrepreneurs.

According to Riot Games, the developer of the world’s most popular game “League of Legends” (LOL), a total of 99.6 million people watched the last LOL World Cup Final last year. The figure is more than the 97.4 million viewers that watched the NFL Super Bowl the same year.

The developer estimates total sales of the global esports market was worth $325 million, and reached $1.09 billion last year. It expects it could reach $1.79 billion by next year.

Courtesy to Jhoo Dong-chan from the Korea Times

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