Original article (Korean): http://esports.dailygame.co.kview.php?ud=2016082401325511723
Written by Lee Siwoo
of Daily Esports This is part 2/2 in a series on Counter-Strike. Part one focused on introducing the international CS:GO scene to an unfamiliar Korean audience, so I left that out. I have taken many liberties in this translation, and added some explanatory notes where needed. ◆ Why was Counter-Strike Buried in Korea?
CS:GO is creating a ton of buzz internationally, but the Korean scene remains noticeably silent. The game has simply failed to catch on. Even though the player base is increasing slowly through word of mouth, its popularity is still a far cry away from the heyday of CS 1.6.
In 2001, Counter-Strike began to gain popularity in Korea with PC Bangs
(Korea’s version of the net cafe; an enormously important place in gaming culture) as the focal point. Though the game didn’t exactly enjoy “explosive popularity” at the time, it steadily attracted players through word of mouth. Counter-Strike’s biggest advantage was that one PC could run 2~3 servers, and PC Bangs utilized this capability to provide servers for regular customers. Thus, groups of players who wanted to play in a low-ping environment flocked to PC bangs on weekends.
At the time, Korean publisher Hanbitsoft sold a retail version of Counter-Strike 1.5. PC Bang owners could purchase dozens of CD’s and make back the cost in a short amount of time, making the game popular within the PC Bang industry. Hanbitsoft itself made a pretty profit through Counter-Strike sales.
However, following the 2004 release of Steam as Valve’s new gaming platform, Counter-Strike began to walk down the road of decline in Korea. Valve shutdown CS 1.5 support through WON.net and forced players onto the new Steam platform and CS 1.6. A legal dispute between Vivendi Universal Games and Valve ensued, regarding the distribution rights for Counter-Strike. Vivendi would lose the case, and the distribution of the Steam platform commenced in Korean PC Bangs. At the same time, Valve introduced a new, per-time pricing policy for Counter-Strike in PC Bangs (PC bangs must pay the publisher a fee for every minute a game is played. This is a more-or-less standard policy now, but was a big deal at the time). ◇ PC Bang owners kill Counter-Strike and back Special Force
Previously, PC Bang owners could make a one time payment and get hundreds if not thousands of hours of playtime out of each copy of Counter-Strike. There was no chance the introduction of an hourly rate would go over well. The CD’s they had previously purchased became effectively worthless. PC Bang owners pushed back in unison, initiating a boycott against the Steam platform. Instead, they decided together to push the recently released Korean game, Special Force. This was the basis for Sudden Force establishing itself as Korea’s unofficial FPS of choice.
Players who had previously enjoyed playing Counter-Strike logged onto Steam from PC Bangs using their personal accounts, but PC Bang owners did not subscribe to Steam services themselves. As a result, Style Network—the Korean operator of Steam—ceased their Steam operations after a year and transferred the rights to GNASoft. ◇ Sudden Attack ascends as the ‘National FPS Game’
Even though Special Force initially declared it would be ‘free forever,’ it too brought the ire of the PC Bang industry after announcing a paid, premium service called ‘Peanut PC Bangs.’ When a new Korean FPS game in Sudden Attack was released in 2006, it rose to the forefront and dominated the scene for years afterward.
Nexon’s 2007 release of Counter-Strike: Online garnered some popularity, but its growing focus on ‘Zombie Mode’ content drove fans of the original Counter-Strike to slowly leave the game.
At its peak, Korean Counter-Strike was popular enough that 120 teams applied for the 2003 WCG Korea qualifiers. However, by 2010, the scene had lost much of its player base and momentum, and many teams and clans began to disband while tournament participation dipped noticeably as well. ◆ Baby Steps: CS:GO in Korea
While the Korean player base slowly increased following the release of CS:GO, it entered a fractured scene where clans with over 10 years of history had already disbanded, making it difficult for the players to come together. The community, as well as community tournaments, were nonexistent.
Despite being the successor in a long series of games, the existing user base had largely quit the game, and CS:GO was forced to start from the bottom. Obviously, that means the number of aspiring pro players and teams was limited as well. At last April’s CS:GO Asia Minor Korean qualifier
, only 20 teams entered. It was the first offline(live) CS:GO event ever held in Korea, yet the fan reaction was as cold as ice. Claims that “Korea needs to grow CS:GO and become internationally competitive”could only seem embarrassing in retrospect.
Of course, the lack of a star player to draw the fans’ attention was a large part of the issue. Even though MVP—a successful team in other esports disciplines—has founded a CS:GO team called MVP Project
, the roster is filled largely with newcomers and will require much time to become competitive.
A rival is needed for quick growth, but outside MVP, no team provides a stable practice environment. Even with successful CS 1.6 players such as Kang “Solo” Keun-chul and Kim “Glow” Min-soo returning to join MVP, it’s unreasonable to expect noticeable results from MVP within the year.
For Korean teams to grow, there needs to be a regularly held Korean tournament. Recently, Twitch teamed up with Versus Gaming to hold the VSL CS:GO Beginning
series of tournaments, filling that need to some degree.
Recently, Blizzard’s latest game Overwatch has dominated the spotlight, and CS:GO continues to be low-priority. However, if tournaments such as the VSL continue to be held, Korean teams should be able to slowly increase their competitiveness and eventually achieve results on a global level.