The President of South Korea eSports Association (KeSPA), Jun Byung-hun, is an unusual person who took interest in the potential of eSports a few years ago.

While serving as a National Assembly member from 2004 to 2016, Jun had endeavored to protect the rights of the video game industry in South Korea where video games are still demonized as a harmful influence on young people.

iesf logoThe 58-year-old also holds an additional post with the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF). Established in 2008 with nine countries signing on as founding members (the German eSports association was one of the founding countries and its former President Frank Sliwka was elected as the Vice President of IeSF), the IeSF is headquartered in Seoul and has been holding an annual e-Sports World Championship in which e-sports players from around the world participate a variety of video game titles. Now the IeSF has expanded its membership to 45 countries.

 As a chief of his country and the global e-sports’ governing body, Jun said his ultimate goal is to make e-sports an official Olympic event.

“eSports have been regarded as a next-generation business model throughout the world and this tendency can be witnessed in many places in Europe, Asia and North America as many countries and companies are increasingly investing in it,” Jun said during an interview with The Korea Times at the headquarters of the KeSPA and IeSF. “The IeSF has been working with its membership countries to solidify the status of eSports, alongside other sporting events like baseball and football. Our biggest goal is to secure membership on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make eSports an official Olympic event,” he said.

The IeSF has been taking steps to earn recognition by the IOC — it has been pursuing membership on the IOC and SportAccord, an umbrella body for Olympic and non-Olympic federations. Peculiarly, the IeSF has been conducting doping tests on players participating in the e-Sports World Championship as it already became an official signatory of the World Anti-Doping Agency three years ago.

“We are living in a digital era and video games are solidifying their status as a sport for all. Reflecting this tendency, we will do our best to let eSports join the Olympic Games in the near future,” he said. Explaining why e-sports are so popular, Jun said they can easily harmonize with new technologies. “eSports have a strong fan base amongst young people and have a huge growth potential as they can be harmonized with new technologies ranging from mobile devices to augmented reality technology,” he said.

Emphasizing that eSports first originated from Korea, Jun urged local investors to be aware of the increased influence of eSports.

“The eSports scene in Korea should consolidate a more rock-solid industrial base to be able to handle rapid changes in the global eSports industry. To do that, companies running professional e-sports team and investors should know that eSports events have already had great promotional effects. They should invest more to nurture a virtuous ecosystem.

“Look around China, Europe and the United States. World-renowned media outlets and platforms like Yahoo, ESPN, YouTube and Naver are expanding their investments in the e-sports business. Even famous European football clubs such as Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Valencia and famous names in the sports scene like Shaquille O’Neal are trying to join this business.” He added that Korea needs more investment in eSports. Interest in e-Sorts began to surge in 1999 with the soaring popularity of Blizzard Entertainment’s real-time strategy game “StarCraft” and Korea-based eSports clubs have been displaying their dominance in popular e-sports games since then.

The most recent example can be seen in Riot Games’ “League of Legends.” The five-on-five online game holds an annual championship event and Korean clubs have won the title for four consecutive years.

Among the titles, SK Telecom T1, backed by Korea’s largest mobile carrier SK Telecom, won three of them. During this year’s League of Legends World Championship, the SK team played a best-of-five final match with another Korean club Samsung Galaxy at Staples Center in Los Angles, Saturday, and took the title after defeating the Samsung team 3-2.

Jun added the number of visitors to the eSports section on Naver, Korea’s top internet portal operator, were almost same as those visiting the baseball section when the “League of Legends” World Championship was held in Europe last year. “It is hard to believe but this shows how popular e-sports are in Korea where baseball is the most popular professional sports game,” Jun said.

“Thanks to the popularity of eSports, the KeSPA and Naver discussed whether to make an eSports only category on Naver, but we decided to stay in the sports category because we thought it is important for eSports to be recognized as a professional sport,” he said. To nurture Korea’s promising lead in eSports, Jun said the KeSPA has been providing grassroots support for future e-sports competitors.

“KeSPA has been working with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to designate PC cafes throughout the country as official eSports PC clubs. It is both to dispel negative views of eSports and nurture up-and-coming e-sports players in the country.

“Once they are designated as an official PC club, they will receive government subsidies for holding local amateur eSports competitions,” he said.

There has been criticism that the life expectancy of eSports is too short compared to longer-lasting sports. For instance, StarCraft ProLeague, Korea’s longest-running e-sports league, ended operations in September after 14 seasons because of difficulties securing sponsorships. Jun said KeSPA has been working on helping retired players and related people in the business move on to the next phase of their lives.

“We have seen cases that retired professional gamers have had a variety of jobs related to eSports. Of course, it would be impossible to support every retired player to have another job, so KeSPA is seeking ways to provide a job plan for them,” Jun said. “KeSPA has worked with Chung-Ang Univeristy to accept e-sports applications for the university’s Department of Sports Science since last year. Also we are in talks with other universities to grant admissions to student athletes in eSports.”

Source: The Korea Times