By Park Si-soo
The prosecution indicted 11 former and current professional players of StarCraft, one of the most popular military strategy computer games developed by Blizzard Entertainment, for deliberately losing matches for financial gains.
It is the first time ever that fixing of what is called electronic sports (e-sports) in Korea has been detected.
Three gambling Web site operators were also indicted for brokering the 11 players and illegal gamblers.
StarCraft is the most popular online game here, accounting for nearly 70 percent of Korean e-sports.
According to the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, the gamblers, who also run a training institute for professional gamer hopefuls, lured the 11 players, including nine incumbents, into deliberately losing their matches in exchange for receiving compensation ranging from 2 million to up to 6.5 million won ($1,760-5,730).
At least 11 StarCraft matches were rigged, the office estimates, and the gamblers racked up huge returns from an online gambling Web site using such pre-determined results.
“They paid greater compensation to high rankers,” said a prosecutor familiar with the case. “Lured gamers informed contenders of their strategies in advance or loosened their defense at the very end of a match, leading to a dramatic reversal in a showdown.”
Prosecutors are widening their investigations.
Though it’s the first case of this kind, it didn’t come as a surprise to e-sports players and industry watchers here since there have been rumors regarding fixed StarCraft matches in recent months.
In fact, the latest indictment came after the Korea s-Sports Association (KeSPA), a governing body of the nation’s e-sports, asked the prosecution to investigate suspicious gamers in March along with some professional gaming teams.
Then, some of the pro-gamers were suspected of having received bribes to work as brokers between gambling manipulators and e-sports players.
Computer games now have a long history worldwide, but Korea has a different online culture from other countries as some are professionally played as a spectator sport.
For more than a decade, Koreans were arguably the most enthusiastic supporters of e-sports. Professional gamers participating in TV-aired online matches of StarCraft, clad in uniforms featuring astronauts or characters from science fiction movies, have become iconic as evidence of what the broadband boom in the country has led to.
It has cable television channels wholly dedicated to footage from online matches with stadium-style backdrops. Some of the best pro-gamers are treated as celebrities by the younger generation.
Currently, several teams and individual leagues for StarCraft, including Ongamenet Starleague and MBC Starleague, meet regularly. The finals of the competitions have attracted tens of thousands of fans to watch them on television or as live spectators.
Korea has 12 teams of StarCraft gamers, including an Air Force team, as part of the 21 computer games categorized in e-sports. The number of pro- and semi-pro gamers here reached 180 in 2001, but soared to 763 in early 2007.
The culture has now spread worldwide and several international and continental pro-gaming leagues are in operation in North America, Europe and Asia. South Korea, no doubt, has long been a pivotal leading power in the industry.