Sunday, 8 September 2013

Spectating in Seoul: Watching the 3rd place Match of OGN Champions Summer 2013

Coming out of nearly 17 consecutive years of education leaves a person feeling a bit dazed and confused, and as I found myself in a situation with limitless free time I have been able to watch considerable amounts of professional League of Legends from Korea and other regions. Anyone who has talked to me enough probably knows that I am a big fan of the Korean League of Legends scene, whether or not they know what that means. So, naturally, I decided to use some of the money I had saved up through all of high school and university to go to Seoul, South Korea and watch some pro games live.  It fit nicely into my idea of going on a holiday without having to use up all my spare cash. At the time the OGN Champions Summer 2013 was wrapping up with their final on 31st of August and the 3rd place match between MVP Ozone and CJ Entus Frost being on the Wednesday just before, so being the dedicated eSports fan I am, I planned to go to both events as part of my trip.

The League of Legend matches are held at the I'Park Mall e-Sports Stadium in Yongsan

I arrived in Seoul, South Korea, late Tuesday afternoon after a 13 hour journey from my hometown Perth, in Western Australia and the next day, my first point of business was to check out the third place match. I knew there would be a line that would need to be waited in for tickets, as it is frequently mentioned by MonteCristo and DoA, the shoutcasters of the English OGN stream, that fans line up hours in advanced on the day of the match to grab a free ticket to watch the games in the OGN studio. The line is particularly long, apparently, when big teams like the CJ Entus teams and MVP Ozone are playing. Seeing as this was a CJ Frost and MVP Ozone (now Samsung Galaxy Ozone) match and for third place - the last match held in the studio for the summer season, I anticipated a large line. However I had no idea how large so I went extra early just in case. I also was expecting to get lost because I assumed the I'Park Mall in Yongsan was going to be huge, far beyond my native city of less than 2 million people experience. After travelling up what seemed like endless escalators and then being surprised to find myself on the 8th floor, I found myself taking the escalators up to the 9th floor to the my target destination with no idea what to expect.  I arrived at 10:30am and already there was about 20 people sitting in front of the doors. As twenty was not a huge number and people weren't flooding into the line (although 20 to come so early does well to indicate how dedicated the Korean fans can be) so I decided to come back later and in the meantime do some further exploring of the mall.

Line at about 11am, tickets were handed out at 5:30pm

At 12:30pm I went back up to the 9th floor, where the e-Sports stadium is (note: less of an eSports "stadium" more of a TV studio space - still impressive nonetheless). There was only a spattering of new people but I decided I couldn't be bothered wandering around anymore and sat down to wait with my Kindle and phone to read and work out my international roaming data package. People slowly trickled up the escalators to sit down in the ever growing line. To set the scene a little bit, the eSports Stadium is one of the only things on the ninth floor of the I'Park Mall. The other things that exist there are what I can only assume were some offices and then an outside area complete with some exercise equipment and a smoking area for people during their office breaks. The escalators were the only way to get to the ninth floor apart from some obscurely placed elevators and this resulted in all these Korean office workers walking back and forth past everyone sitting in line. I wondered if the people who walked past were perplexed by the bunch of mostly Korean teenage/twenty-somethings sitting around the ninth floor on Wednesdays but having absolutely no Korean I didn't ask. The line eventually went out the door into the outside area, with people having to wait outside at least two hours before they handed out the tickets. The long and short of this experience was yes, I did wait about 5 hours to get in but it was completely worth it.

MVP Ozone's booth from where I was sitting in the audience
The fans dedication to their favourite teams and the game is clearly evident in how many people were lining up from 10:30am but it can also be seen from what the fans themselves did in the line. Five or more hours sitting in a line, is a long time for anyone to do nothing so my fellow fans amused themselves with making signs for their favourite players. A few girls made an excellent Cloud Templar (jungler of CJ Frost) poster with the cutest purple elephant on it (Cloud Templar's nickname is elephant) and then also went on to make a really awesome Blitzcrank sign for none other than Madlife (CJ Frost's support player). A bunch of people behind me in line were watching a LoL Summer Lesson and  the girl in front of me had a picture of Shy as her phone background.

The highlight of the lining up had to be when the teams themselves went up the escalators and past everyone in the line to go into the studio. This was made even more exciting by the fans reaction to the teams walking past - the girl who had Shy as her phone background let out a little shriek and exclaimed excitedly to her friends, while everyone stood up and started talking excitedly. It was pretty adorable really. I am not really a typical "fangirly" person about anything, at least outwardly, but it's impossible not to get excited about CJ Frost walking past a mere metre from you especially when the people around you are so genuinely and outwardly excited about it. The players themselves look fairly ordinary, most of them are quite young looking and with their team polo shirts and matching pants at first glance look more like a well disciplined school group then highly focused and trained athletes. There was even the part of the late, dawdling students played by RapidStar and Ganked By Mom (Frost's midlaners), RapidStar appearing to drag the bowtied hipster GBM past all his adoring fans into the studio a few minutes after the rest of Frost had entered. I have always wondered whether the fact that eSports professionals just don't look like traditional athletes will make eSports harder to accept as a mainstream sport/activity that can attract crowds with numbers competitive to that of football or basketball (progamers tend to look rather young and "nerdy" whereas a traditional sports professional may be the same age but due to the need to be at their physical peak look a lot older and more obvious in their role).

A few other foreign fans in the line spoke to me because being one of the only Caucasian people there they assumed I could speak English and probably looked like I knew what was going on because I was sitting among all the Koreans (in reality I was just copying what everyone else was doing and hoping no one would give any important/complicated instructions in Korean because otherwise I would have been completely lost). In trying to work out what exact time they gave out tickets the girl with the Shy phone background helped us out with what time it started which then led to a conversation about our favourite players/teams. Her favourite player was Shy (hence the phone wallpaper) and she asked me if I was a fan of Frost. I am more of a fan of MVP Ozone but seeing as she had a limited English I just mentioned Frost and that my favourite player was Madlife (Madlife is my favourite player on Frost). To which she exclaimed "God!" and I think part of me died inside of happiness (Madlife is known as "God" due to his godlike plays in game).

It was like a crazy collision between my experience of watching endless OGN Champion matches on the English stream at home in Australia and then being in Seoul waiting to see the actual game, in the flesh, far away from what I am used too. Already I knew that Koreans call Madlife God because MonteCristo and DoA mention it and there are always fans signs at the events. But to hear it from an ordinary Korean fan just affirmed that what I've heard sitting at home was all true and it was amazing.

The Korean casters on the left and the English casters on the right. Korean casters are heard in the studio & on Korean stream/TV channel. English casters can be heard on the live OGN global internet stream.
That is probably a little bit of an exaggeration but I've always felt that the language barrier always created a separation between the Korean scene and the foreign/non-Korean fans (despite the English commentators being live on set). It's very difficult to completely understand a scene in which you don't speak the language or understand much of the culture. South Korea was a place I scarcely even thought of before getting interested in eSports. It doesn't feature much in the mainstream news for any reason other than the on-going tensions between it and North Korea and from a tourist's point of view it's not really a popular destination for Australians compared to places like Indonesia or Japan. For this summer's OGN season more translations of players interviews have been available thanks mainly to Chobra's efforts for OGN's global audience and the English commentators do their best to translate the general feeling of the scene on to the stream. However, as a foreign fan, the language barrier only allows you to view the scene through limited avenues (no matter how talented and brilliant these avenues are), rarely hearing things from the Korean players or fans themselves. The Korean fans dedication and excitement for the game, teams and players is always mentioned and you can hear about it endlessly.  But knowing what it's like is almost impossible until you are actually there. And I was there, at the live event, and it made me so happy and excited to be able to experience it, despite the language difference, because I too, love the game, teams and players.

Thanks for reading! You can find me on twitter @gerarda or leave a comment below! =)

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