south korea

Heading back into the man’s game

Understanding my assumptions throughout It’s A Man’s Game:
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Using our own culture and experiences to understand another is something that we all do on a regular basis; autoethnography puts this into an academic setting where we can use personal aspects such as perspective and opinion to contribute towards research to develop a deeper understanding. I attempted to tackle this unnecessarily-difficult-to-say word and the meaning behind it by recording my personal experience of Korean culture – my thoughts during the documentary State of Play. State of Play is a documentary that looks into the eSports profession in South Korea. It is centered not so much around the actual gaming, but more so around the hysteria that exists within the gaming industry: the fans, the hours of training, the huge stadiums, the money, the sacrifices the gamers make and, overall, the intense and fierce nature of the eSports scene. For me, it was difficult to concentrate on much else than the gender roles that were screaming at me. Literally. Women were only portrayed as screaming, adoring fans whilst the men were the talented, moneymaking gamers. Watching and recording how I felt was the easy part. Understanding how I came to my assumptions is the in-depth process, the autoethnographic process.

The most common thing I did throughout the viewing, was compare my culture to that of South Korea. For example, “but what isn’t obvious throughout the documentary is whether girls even try to compete at a professional level, whether any of them are interested, whether they just accept the gender norms, or if there are girls out there who are frustrated by the fact that men dominate the gaming industry and they are expected to just scream and squeal for the boys until their throats are sore, at which point they just fall to their knees and present the gamers with gifts, even when they’ve lost.” Words such as ‘them’ and ‘they’ provide obvious disconnections between myself and South Korean women, even though we share so much in common. It is my lack of experience with the gaming culture that creates my disconnection. But naturally, as a human being, I grasp on to any sense of familiarity by recalling memories of being a celebrity fangirl myself as a young teenager, as the South Korean girls are portrayed. This was how I made sense of what I was viewing, this is how my personal experiences shape my understanding. Ellis et al. describes this as they way we “systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (2011).

It is interesting to consider how my assumptions throughout State of Play were sometimes very different to that of my classmates (see Digital Asia blog). This is where the individuality of autoethnography is so obvious: since every person has different experiences, different knowledge and different perceptions, the way that we perceive things can vary immeasurably.
For me, one of my biggest passions in life is gender equality, and so I tend to pull this out in every possible opportunity. Specifically in State of Play, gender equality was nowhere in sight, and so my personal understanding of South Korea shifted. Upon reflection and research, feminism is actually surging within this country. Leading the pack is Megalian.com, a website which uses technology to promote gender equality and to humorously bash the misogyny that exists within South Korea. “To see the misogyny that is today taken as acceptable social behaviour and spat at South Korean women every day: to turn it around so men and women alike can witness it in its honest, raw form – discrimination.” Having this new knowledge answers some of the questions I considered upon my initial viewing of the documentary: I genuinely did not know if anyone was interested in women empowerment or if traditional Korean culture was just happily accepted. With this new knowledge, my next viewing of State of Play would probably provoke all new assumptions, highlighting the nature of autoethnography and how each experience can hugely impact each perception.

Autoethnography allows us to critically understand the assumptions we make and what they say about our cultural experiences and understanding. It makes us consider why we feel a certain way about something to, in turn, lead to a deeper understanding and more useful and reliable research.

 

What is Inside Game and Life

Ellis, Adams and Bochner explain, writing autoethnography is writing something about ones own personal experience within another culture and use it to understand ones own cultural experience. It is how you write an autoethnographical account by describing the cultural experiences patterns. In my first post, I watched the documentary “State of Play” and experience a Korean culture. Thank you for the comment about the summary linking and aspects. And now, it is time to expand the ideas.

 

In the beginning, I tried to express the feeling “excited” to the documentary. It is not normal as watching a documentary. Documentary is using pictures or interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject. The subject this time is gaming. I did not feel any distance away from the film, which I felt so close to the characters because I did have the same dream far back before. However, the excitement was the unknown mystery of gaming in Korea. When I heard Korea gaming, it popped out “Well, the title suits the film, from what I know about the gaming industry in Korea.” and I used the word “Honor”.

 

Then, when I talked about Lee Jae Dong, one of the StarCraft players, I made a lot of assumption based on my own experience. For example, the gender assumption towards the fans he had and the economic incomes by playing only games. I also pointed out the difference between Australia and Korea in terms of being a professional gamer.

 

So far, I do find my own response too personal. One of the reasons is about the comparison between Australia and Korea. I have not learnt or saw any big news or team from either Australia or Korea back then. The gaming type people play is different back then too. Maybe it is because the fact I was not in Australia in 2012 that I was still in Hong Kong. Now I think more critically and subjectively, but still the thought is following Asian culture rather than Australian culture, which proves that my response is based on my own Asian culture experience to analyze the film.

 

The development of gaming in Australia became big since the Ninja Fruit mobile game. Australia is more focus on developing games instead of participating gaming events or competition in 2012. The research I can see my own analysis was cross over different years and tried to compare them together, and it is not really match the gaming industry in Korea.

 

In Australia, I get in touch with online games and video games all the time. My daily routine is starting the game and play with friends. I do not have the feeling to be competitive or aggressive. But somehow when it comes to a system related to ranking, I get nervous every time I play. This observation was made last week and I was really hoping I could win without losing any games because of the rank. The observation provides the similar view of myself making assumption of those gamer in Korea, they were competing for the ranks in the games. The top they are, the better reputation they have.

 

The reflection proves myself the cultural identity I have towards the experience I had while watching the film.

State of Gender Equality in South Korea

Today I am analyzing my own auto-ethnographic account of the South Korean documentary on professional gaming ‘State of Play‘.

Autoethnography as defined by Ellis et al, 2011 refers to the act of observing a cultural experience and discussing how your own personal cultural experiences affect the way in which you experience this.

In my initial autoethnographic account of ‘State of Play’, I was left dumbfounded at some of the situations exhibited in the documentary. This included the huge amount of fame given to professional gamers, these gamers then giving the majority of their ridiculously high earnings to their parents and the lack of equality exhibited in gender roles through South Korean society. After the initial shock of these differences wore off, I conducted research into South Korean traditions and values and found many answers to my questions of cultural difference.

Despite only 1% of South Koreans actively identifying as Confucianist today, many of their social values and traditions are based upon Confucianist ideologies. The family is integral in Korean life and the father, being the head of the family is required to provide food, clothing and shelter and must approve of any marriages of members of the family. Many families trace back their ancestry through male ancestors for over 500 years and Confucius’s teachings denote how individuals should behave and outlines obligations of people depending on their relationship.(Commisceo Global, 2016)

Further children in Korean society are raised to believe they can never repay their parents for bringing them up and are forever in their debt. As the act of bringing them into the world and giving them life is seen as the ultimate self-sacrifice.(Commisceo Global, 2016)

Now how does all this relate?

The cultural values exhibited in Korean society and their values bring light to a lot of the things Lee Jae Dong did in the documentary ‘State of Play’ which confused me in my initial viewing.

For example, I was thoroughly perplexed and mildly pissed off when Lee Jae Dong’s exclaimed that he gave all of his winnings to his father. Growing up in capitalist Australia my initial reaction was to accuse the father of stealing and question his use of emotional manipulation tactics. However, upon research and reflection, as Korean society places the family’s welfare above that of the individual’s, and Korean children are raised in debt of their parents by Confucian tradition, this act made sense. Despite the fact my upbringing still makes me view this as ridiculously unfair.

Another aspect of confusion for me was the very structured, rather sexist ritual of female fans presenting Lee Jae Dong with gifts after he would play in professional gaming tournaments. Although it appears gift giving has very strict etiquette rules to follow in South Korea. As the female fans admire and respect Lee Jae Dong, and want him to perform well, these gifts signify support and love from the fans. Some of the etiquette rules to follow include handing over the gift with both hands, wrapping it nicely (a gift wrapped untidily is a sign of disrespect), and giving 4 of something in a gift is considered unlucky where giving 7 of something is lucky. (Commisceo Global, 2016)

The fact that everyone has a specific place in society with rules and obligations they must follow accordingly means the disparity between genders is very large. South Korea ranked 111th out of 136 in the gender equality index. As the documentary highlighted through its significant lack of female professional gamers and immense number of fangirls which I originally found quite alarming, the country has a long way to go for gender equality. (Kim, J Lee J-W, Shin, K 2016)

Just because these social exchanges make sense, doesn’t make them agreeable or right for the me and this seems to be the case for others as there are many feminist groups fighting to raise women’s place in South Korean society.  There is a 55% female participation rate in the South Korean labor force compared to the male rate of 77%. South Korea’s importance of raising a good family places immense pressure on mothers, who are primarily responsible for rearing children. Korean workplaces have been found to provide inflexible environments for working mothers and a lack of affordable, convenient and quality child care. (Kim, J Lee J-W, Shin, K 2016)

One of the more extreme branches of these movements is ‘Megalia‘ who have spoken out against, misogyny in South Korea. Their website is a space which has been dubbed by Reddit user ‘SexyMcSexington’ (I know I’m sorry) as the ‘female Korean 4chan‘ which I find is an interesting perspective.  The group have been surrounded in controversy as it attempted to ‘mirror’ the misogynistic comments male users would write about females.

However much of the backlash I found was very similar to the backlash against feminism in Western cultures and Megalian’s tactics could be easily compared to ‘Feminazis’ online. Where men would have similar arguments stating that the feminists are worse than misogynists and accuse them of attempting them of suppressing men’s sexual freedom. (Singh, E 2016)

The group have been responsible for shutting down ‘hidden cams’ on the website Ticketmonster, which would film females in situations where they were unaware of being filmed. They lobbied for the removal of misogynistic banners from Hanshin University, donated over 6 million KRW to Aeranwon an NGO which helps single mothers, and most notably has stopped the sale of high concentrate hydrochloric acid which has been used as weapons in hate crimes against women by men. This was all done by lobbying and protesting by the group and are all significant measures which enable better safety and security of South Korean women.

Their logo I absolutely love, it is satiric in nature and alludes to the novel by Gerd Braten Berg, ‘Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes’, where the genders are reversed. So males are at constant risk of sexual assault and it’s considered their fault and women are given the upper hand in society due to their ability to give birth. It also alludes to the constant objectification of women through use of hand gesture used to signify small male genetalia. (Singh, E 2016)

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I love that there are feminists fighting for their voices and right to equality in South Korea as there was a very defined divide between genders throughout the documentary. The only females shown were the gamer’s mothers and sisters and then the fan girls whose only purpose seemed to be to worship and offer unyielding support for the players. Which I found very unsettling considering its 2016.

I apologize for going off on a feminist tangent however I feel I didn’t delve enough into the issue in my original autoethnographic account. Through analysis of my original post, I have gained greater understanding of the Korean Culture and the state of society (pun intended) exhibited in the documentary ‘State of Play’ through research and reflection.

 

In Retrospect: Autoethnography & State of Play

It was only a few weeks ago that I attempted to expand my horizons and experience Korean gaming culture with a set of fresh eyes. This autoethnographic experience was enlightening, and brought my attention to the fact that I was ultimately an outsider when it came to eSports, gaming and Lee Jae Dong. Despite this, here I am, trying to make sense of my initial assumptions and interpretations of my State of Play experience (which you can read about here).

As aforementioned, autoethnography as a methodology aims to “facilitate the understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders”, drawing on “subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research” (Ellis, Adams and Bochner). Reflecting on one’s experience of a cultural phenomenon can be insightful and explorative. It not only highlights “dominant narratives” and “ways of thinking” about culture but seeks to understand such experiences on a larger cultural scale (Warren, 2009).  In my first auto ethnographic account of State of Play, I made several cultural assumptions and addressed ‘dominant narratives’ I felt were essential in the documentary. Re-examining my initial interpretation, and by conducting a little more research, I have once again become a more culturally aware individual. Read on, and you can be too.

After watching State of Play, I was admittedly astonished that gamers in Korea had such celebrity status and were afforded with privileges similar to those of professional sports players. Little did I know that gamers around the world, — not just in Korea, — earn millions when they put their skills to the test. “DoTA has actually gone on to host the largest tournament prize pool, with nearly $11 million for their 2014 International. That’s a larger prize pool than the Masters Golf Tournament” (Aaron, 2015). The above graph highlights this. Furthermore, gaming tournaments attract global sponsors and intrigue audiences in the millions — eSports are now broadcast on networks like ESPN, making them accessible to all. Gamers make similar commitments and moreover share in the sacrifices that other professional sports players make to create a career. By reducing these individuals to “just gamers” in my first experience I failed to understand the deeper meaning behind gaming culture.

After scrolling through more ‘research’, I became acutely aware that whilst there were no females battling for the tournament prize pool in State of Play, female gamers do exist. “According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 44% of all gamers in the U.S. today are female” (Gaudiosi, 2015). Perhaps most notably, “one of the great things about eSports is it’s one arena where there is no difference between men and women; they’re both equal in the game” (Gaudiosi, 2015). Just because the representation of women in State of Play was skewed, that doesn’t mean that women are missing from the global gaming ‘narrative’. Another cultural assumption bites the dust.

Autoethnography requires one to be self-reflexive and open in order to understand a cultural experience. By drawing on additional information from scholarly sources, media articles and social commentary my experience and understanding of Korean gaming culture has reached a new high. Adding layers of information onto my autoethnographic account of State of Play has shifted my perspective on eSports and the Korean gaming phenomenon dramatically.


References:

Aaron, J., 2015, ‘The Controversial Dichotomy Between Sports and eSports’, The Huffington Post, Article, 19 April, viewed 29 August 2016

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P., 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

Gaudiosi, J., 2015, ‘This Company Wants More Women in eSports’, Fortune, Article, 17 November, viewed 29 August 2016

Warren, J.T., 2009, ‘Autoethnography’ in Encyclopaedia of Communication Theory, SAGE Publications, p.68-69.

Hello. Again.

To be honest, I did groan a little at the term ‘autoethnographic research’ as it sounded like a load of academic vomit. However, I must give this term the benefit of the doubt, as four weeks in, referring and thinking in this way has actually been really interesting. For once you get to consider and challenge your own perspective and opinion as an outsider, which is often what you are told to suppress in research. This blog post is me revisiting my autoethnographic account for my first text in the Digital Asia subject.

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Two weeks ago our Digital Asia seminar consisted of watching State of Play, a documentary on the eSports competitive gaming scene in South Korea. Watching and recording noticeable factors throughout the documentary was the easy part. When I looked over those notes, it was extremely interesting to see how I referred to such a scene. I used words like ‘they’ and took note of critical differences between South Korean culture and my own.  For example, “They give all of the prize money to their Dad’s”, or “They carry around the keyboards with them”, or “In South Korean schools they sing the national anthem of a morning”. I was noticing and recording the key disparities to my own culture as that is what made sense to make note of.

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Such “interactions and the conditions that make them meaningful, can be labelled ‘culture’” (Sinclair N, 2015). I was studying a different culture from the context of my culture; An Australian, female, non-gamer, which is first and foremost the major consideration to remember with this research method. Essentially, this form of research is a way to “systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis C. Et al, 2011), which in this case, is eSports in South Korea through my eyes. Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 3.55.50 PM.png

In continuation, this research method really allows you to pick up on your cultural biases and stereotypes that are usually what you are required to notice and dismiss in other research methods. That is not to say that ethnographic research doesn’t require objectivity. The research method is academic and requires to uphold academic integrity, however we get to bring to light our own perceptions which is different in the academic sense.

This research method does have limitations and difficulties such as being able to comprehend and analyse why you think the way you do. You also need to consider context and additional influencing factors that may affect your opinion such as racism or gender roles. Many facets come in to play when you are observing a culture different to your own. In revisiting my first recordings of the the documentary, I got to recognise how limited my opinion is, due to the lack of knowledge on South Korean culture.

Overall, autoethnographic research is a bloody long-winded word, however moving on from that fact, I do think it is a very valid way to undertake research, as for the most part it encourages you to be natural and record your truth. You then get to discuss why you took note of the points you did and how this is as a result of culture. I’m looking forward to choosing my own text and using the autoethnographic research method in my next blog.

 

By Abbey Cubit

Sources:
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

Nicholas, S 2015, ‘Ethnography’, Research Starters: Education (Online Edition), Research Starters, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 August 2016.

Images: 
https://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/Friendship-Pins/South-Korea/Flag-Pins-South-Korea-Australia.jpg.
https://www.google.com.au/search?q=state+of+play&espv=2&biw=1068&bih=554&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjr3PzY7dbOAhXLj5QKHZKlCpAQ_AUIBygC

 

 

Understanding State of Play

A Collection of Thoughts

Following on from my first blog about the film ‘State of Play’ based on South Korean pro gamers playing Star Craft, I have done some research into certain thoughts and epiphany which I observed whilst viewing the film.

The first point I broke down through research was; “Korean culture is very minimalistic players don’t own many possessions and sleep on thin mats instead of in beds – this was very interesting to note”. Research revealed that Koreans spend a lot of time cleaning their floors due to the lifestyle centred on the floor. Dining tables are normally very low to the ground as dinner is usually eaten on the floor. Even today, most people sleep on the floor (Lee 2016).

My second point which I researched into focused on players living together. “Professional players live together in a house with up to 14 players under the one roof. Is this…

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State of Play- The tool of tourism

As mentioned in week 2 of blogging, Autoethnography is a self reflective documentation of experiencing a culture (in this case) other than your own in order to understand that culture in your own individual way. This is done with an honest opinion while drawing on elements from the culture and narrating them. Some even describe it as analysing epiphanies or a ‘stream of consciousness.’

Analysing the documentary, state of play ,as discussed in blog post two, I will focus on three specific concepts that I experienced during my viewing of this South Korean documentary.

Korean food, was not in short supply during this documentary, with a lot of the central celebrations surrounded by food and family. This is interesting to view however after I read that during the beginning of 1995, there was a crisis in food shortages all around North Korea. This could describe the feeling of food worship, as well as the idea of using it as a celebration when the gamers came home. A blog post by Nick Rose who experienced the food in South Korea stated ‘I think they believe that people will spread the word that North Korea is a prosperous society, where people are happy.’ With this being said, small samples of food are often served, so people can enjoy an array of dishes. The portrayal of the food within this documentary, could be used as a marketing tool, to sell South Korea to the viewers.

The film was very confusing for me due to never even hearing of E-sports culture before, that’s why when characters started to compare the culture of E-sports with soccer, I understood the basic concepts such as, winning, losing, rivalry and patience. This created a universal understanding, reaching out to those in different cultures. There’s even a specific website that can help you compare sports you like, so you can pick an e-sport game that best reflects the sport you are familiar with. Here is an example of a Autoethnographic experience regarding Korean music through a American experience. The way E-sport was portrayed during the film felt as though South Korean culture as a whole was very welcoming, drawing on westernised elements, in order to make every culture feel welcomed and accepted even in a culture that is extremely traditional. Again could this be another tourism concept?

The coherent universal story of father and son relationships, as well as most relationships within the film, seemed to be constructed in a westernised way. It was very easy to follow along due to the multi-layered elements which were easily relatable. I mean, I think every teenager has been asked by their dad ‘what are you doing with your life?’, as well as preparing you for failure in the nicest way possible. I took to google to understand the Korean Family dynamics, and was quite surprised. I think what effected me the most was I thought parents were supposed to be clingy and want to know what you are up to, similar to the Korean dynamics, but I based this on my family interactions and the way I was brought up rather than a culture as a whole which may experience family differently.

‘We don’t play games for fun, we mostly play for work’

Starting DIGC330, I didn’t know what to expect, but the first few weeks of it have definitely met and well exceeded my expectations. Our topic, autoethnography was something unfamiliar and unheard of but after looking into it, it helps put a name to the method that allows us to understand cultural experiences. According to Ellis, it is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. (Ellis, 2004; Holman Jones, 2005).

From this reading, I understand that it is qualitative research in which one gathers through personal experiences from being a part of a particular culture then assessing it and allowing further cultural and social meaning and understanding.

This week’s text, ‘State of Play (2013)’ was a particular interest due to my own in depth knowledge about South Korea and it’s culture (and because I just came back from a holiday in Seoul). While watching this documentary, I managed to connect what I knew about the culture to what was being demonstrated. Thus, some things that came as a culture shock to others; was something I had expected and already understood about the principles of Korean life. However, the idea of e-sports and its popularity was still a new concept.

A few observations picked up throughout the documentary:

  • South Korea is considered the home to E-sports and is accepted and viewed like regular physical sporting events with a stadium, wide screen TVs and cheering audiences. From my knowledge, cable TV in Korea also has its own station dedicated to E-sports that has people playing games and tournaments 24/7.
  • Players, such as Lee Jae Dong are treated the same as celebrities and have a fan culture. The fans in Korea are known to be very dedicated and protective towards idols and actors. Thus, the screaming fan girls weren’t a particular shock, but the fact that pro gamers did have a broad fan audience was unheard of.
  • They have a team house in which pro gamers are scouted, leaving home at a young age and trained, living together in a dormitory. – I noticed this was very similar to the way Korean K-pop idols were scouted and trained for years by entertainment agencies until they debut. This way of constant, consistent training must be quite understanding in Korean culture and seen as highly beneficial.
  • There is no fear or taboo about kids playing games and wasting time compared to western culture; but seen as dedication and benefit- much like sporting events.
  • Teams are sponsored by huge companies in Korea such as SK Telecom and CJ E&M Company; large well known corporations.
  • Jae Dong has a ‘game face’ in which he hides his emotions- due to his beliefs growing up of how a man should act. The masculinity and gender through e-sports is also demonstrated due to the lack of female involvement. These expectations of a male can be somewhat related to western culture.

Game and Life

Autoethnography, for sure, a process and a product with the combination of autobiography and ethnography, it helps us to understand cultural experiences or cultures by analyzing their own experiences. Well, I was like “What is that?” at the beginning of the class. For me to understand this in an easier way, autoethnography is writing a “story” to tell other people what your own experience and connect it to different aspects, like social, cultural and political.

 

In Week 2, I was excited and amazed by the documentary “State of Play” (2013) by Steven Dhoedt. The title gave me a really big hint towards the documentary before I watched. It sounds like an achievement or honor. To be called “state of play” should be a really big gaming industrial country. I guessed it right which is Korea to have such honor to be called that. The documentary is not only about “Play”, but exploring the gaming career by looking at groups of youngsters who tried hard to become professional players and top players in a game called “StarCraft”. I felt normal towards the documentary and I did not surprise about the fact that they were trying hard to become a top player, but more of that, the importance or procedure to become a top player was harsh and dilemma. It was interesting to watch that I felt the same way when I was the same age as who they were. Here is something I noticed and reflected after I watched the documentary:

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I feel “jealous” or upsetting about the top player Lee Jae Dong. He was a StarCraft player that made 135000 euros in 2007 and he started to play when he was 16. It gives me a sight that Korea gaming career can make a lot of money based on the players’ ranking or fame. The fans totally shocked me, which I thought there should be guys but instead all of his fans are girls. The gender is significant. Guys are playing the game to compete for the single seat into the famous team and become the representative to join the competition. I was so jealous about the facts he earned a lot of money by only playing StarCraft and had such a fan base. However, I feel upsetting about the fact that Lee did not enjoy playing the game at all during the time StarCraft was overwhelmed. He played for work and not for fun by the evidence that his face did not show any joyful or happiness. I feel like it shows a cultural statement about Korea gaming industry that players focus their practice and listen to their coach to play a strategic game. Comparing to Australia, the fame of being a gamer does not sound big or proud in Australia from what I know. Esport here in Australia does not sound as popular as Korea and it proves that its unique cultures of gaming.

 

The documentary also made me amused about the differences between a professional player and a student who wishes to become a professional player.

I saw how enthusiastic the “newbie” tried so hard to become a professional player that he attended over 7 times and all failed, but did not stop his dream to become true. Meanwhile, the professional player was having harsh time with loads of practice and lack of studying. I could not imagine how would he be if he joined the pro team.