HANGZHOU, China (AP) — South Korea’s League of Legends team beat Taiwan on Friday at the Asian Games despite being without its star player, capturing not only the gold medal but also winning an exemption from military service at home.
In South Korea, the law exempts athletes, classical and traditional musicians, and ballet and other dancers from military service if they have obtained top prizes in certain competitions and are assessed to have enhanced national prestige.
Whether online gamers should be included in the exemption has been a matter of discussion in South Korea, but there was no sign of any dissent at the Hangzhou esports arena during the gold-medal matches, where many in the crowd waved South Korean flags and cheered loudly as their team bested Taiwan.
It was not as if the dominant South Korean team needed the extra incentive, as it went undefeated in the tournament, including against rival China as it advanced to the final round.
South Korea’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok — known to most as the League of Legends GOAT — was ill and did not play in the best-of-three final against Taiwan. Since he played in earlier games, however, he also will be granted the exemption from military service that all able-bodied men are required to perform between the ages of 18-28, which came just in the nick of time for the 27-year-old Lee.
His teammates picked up the slack admirably, however, beating Taiwan handily in two games powered by strong performances from Park Jaehyeok and Choi Wooje.
“I was sad not to be playing in the gold medal match,” said Lee, who still got the largest round of applause on the podium as the gold medals were handed out. ‘However, from a team point of view, everyone did a good job, so I think winning the championship is the best however it is done.”
Earlier in the day, China’s League of Legends team hung on to take bronze, overcoming a strong challenge from Vietnam.
As the global games market continues to boom in numbers of players and revenue, esports took its place this year at the Asian Games as a competition sport for the first time and so far it has been an audience favorite. It is the only event for which organizers have had to introduce a lottery system for tickets.
The esports competition features five PC games and two mobile games, covering both multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, and single-player genres.
League of Legends is one of the most popular games, where two teams of five champions face each other in a bid to destroy the other’s base.
The purpose-built 4,500-seat esports arena was packed for both of Friday’s matches, with onlookers watching the gamers on a circular stage below, and following the action on massive television screens above.
Some dressed as League of Legends champions as they cheered on their teams.
Players, using their personal keyboards and mice, sat in gaming chairs at monitors next to each other at long tables, communicating through headsets.
Esports was first featured at the last Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a demonstration sport and proved incredibly popular so was added to the competition this year in Hangzhou.
In addition to League of Legends, the lineup consists of: Arena of Valor Asian Games Version (also known as Honor of Kings); Peace Elite Asian Games Version (also known as PUBG Mobile); Dota 2; Dream Three Kingdoms 2; Street Fighter V: Champion Edition; and EA Sports FC (also known as FIFA Online 4).
Competition forms vary with the genre but gold medals will be awarded for each game.
China took gold on Tuesday in Arena of Valor, with Thailand winning gold in EA Sports FC on Wednesday and South Korea winning gold in Street Fighter V on Thursday. Kim Gwanwoo, the South Korean who won the Street Fighter gold, is 44 so the military exemption was not in play.
Newzoo, a research company that specializes in tracking the global games market, projected in its annual analysis released last month that the number of players worldwide will reach 3.38 billion in 2023, up 6.3% year-on-year. Annual revenues are expected to grow 2.6% to $187.7 billion.
The International Olympic Committee has looked longingly at the potential of video gaming and virtual sports to help attract and stay relevant with young audiences, and created a formal esports commission this month with a focus on virtual sports.
AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports