Top 10 Most Popular Esports in Korea – Best of 2019

The gaming industry in Korea has been on fire over the last decade.  Esports has been embraced in Korea unlike any other place on earth.  If you walk along the streets of Seoul you are sure to see multiple “PC bangs” (computer game rooms) near every main metro station.  Esports is now a worldwide phenomenon, however, the Korean market is a bit different than the global market.  While DOTA 2 is the biggest Esports game globally, in Korea this is not the case.  It is important to know which games are embraced by the Korean gaming community when trying to understand the typical gaming consumer in Korea.    Esports in Korea will continue to grow as they hold more world-class Esports tournaments.

Furthermore, Korea continues to televise Esports on many of their channels.  It is not surprising to hear from a young Korean male that his dream is to become a pro-gamer.  So this list is based on what are these young Koreans playing in PC Bangs, what are they watching on TV, and which games are considered Esports games.

Here are the Top 10 Most Popular Esports in Korea for 2019

1) League of Legends

League of Legend Esports in KoreaThe most popular Esports in Korea is League of Legends or more commonly called LoL.  It is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game that was developed by Riot Games.  Players control “champions” which have special abilities and battle against other teams.  The goal is to destroy the other team’s “Nexus” (main base).  As the game is played the champions strength level is increased through kills and experience.  The game is very similar to DOTA 2 yet LoL is more popular in Korea because it came out first (2009 compared to 2013).  With most of the top gamers playing LoL and dominating, many did not end up transferring over to DOTA 2 even tho it offers a bigger payout for pro gamers.  This could change when DOTA 3 comes out.

2)  Overwatch

Esports in Korea OverwatchFor a while, PUBG was the top multiplayer first-person shooter game in Korea.  However, it seems like Overwatch has surpassed it.  Overwatch was developed by Blizzard back in 2016 and it is described as a “hero shooter” game.  Players are put into two teams of six with each player selecting from a group of over 30 different characters (heroes).  Players have to work together to secure and defend control points on a map or escort a payload across the map.  Overwatch was a big hit during the beta testing phase and got globally praise when it came out.  Overwatch generated over $1 billion in revenue during its first year and has over 40 million players.  In Korea, it is played more than LoL in PC bangs.  However, currently, Korean pro-gamers are not dominating the Overwatch Esports circuit.

3)  PUBG

PubG Esports in KoreaPUBG also is known as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is an online multiplayer battle royale game developed by PUBG Corporation.  It was inspired by the Japanese film Battle Royale and is the Korean version of Fortnite.  Up to 100 players parachute onto an island and need to search for weapons to kill one another while trying not to get killed.  The map area decreases as time goes on, forcing players to fight each other.  The last player or team standing wins the game.  When PUBG launched Koreans embraced it.  Therefore when Fortnite came out Koreans stayed with PUBG since most of their friends were on it.  PUBG was able to corner the Korean market first and plus it is a Korean product.

Korean consumers and gamers will support Korean gaming companies over global ones.  Furthermore, PUBG Corporation spent a lot of money into marketing the game in Korea.

4)  Starcraft:  Brood War

Esports in Korea Starcraft Brood WarStarcraft: Brood War is still very popular in Korea.  It is still played on TV and some of the most famous pro-gamers like Jaedong in Korea come from Starcraft: Brood War.  You might say that Starcraft is Korea’s national pastime.  One might say Starcraft is what started Esports altogether!  They birthed professional StarCraft leagues, pro StarCraft players and televised matches on cable.  This was because the game itself tests the gamers ability to think and react rapidly something Koreans love. The game is so popular in Korea that it has become a part of Korean culture.  When Blizzard launched StarCraft in the late 90s, Korea already had a strong online infrastructure and a very fast internet connection.  Therefore PC bangs started to spring up all across Seoul which introduced a lot of Korean youth to online gaming.

5)  FIFA Online 4

FIFA Online 4 Esports in KoreaFIFA Online 4 is a multiplayer online football game developed by EA.  Their previous game FIFA Online 3 was a massive hit in Korea.  It was the #1 online sports game based on traffic and revenue in Korea.  Koreans are crazy about soccer and it shows in their passion for FIFA Online.  EA partnered with Nexon to launch FIFA Online 4 in 2018.  The game focuses on re-creating real-life soccer matches in a computer game setting.  Players of FIFA Online 3 were able to transfer their game data and assets onto FIFA Online 4.  It should take off where FIFA Online 3 ended.

6)  Starcraft II

StarCraft II is still not as popular in Korea as StarCraft: Broad War.  However, many of the pro starcraft players are now playing Starcraft II.  it is a sci-fi/real-time strategy video game developed by Blizzard.  The original StarCraft was for years the top game in Korea during the 90s.  Therefore there was great anticipation for Starcraft II to come out.  The game has three species the gamer can choose from.  Terrans are the human race, Zerg is the insect-based creature race, and Protoss is the technologically advanced alien race.  Players must gather resources and build up their army against their opponent in real-time.  Their tournaments in Seoul attract thousands of fans and can fill stadiums during tournament matches.  Just like with Starcraft:  Brood War, Starcraft II has gotten big Korean corporations like Samsung and SK to sponsor Esports teams.

7)  Heroes of the Storm

Hero's of the Storm Esports in KoreaHeroes of the Storm had their official tournament circuit canceled so don’t expect to see Heroes of the Storm on this list for long.  It is a crossover MOBA video game developed by Blizzard.  The game features playable heroes and different battlegrounds based on Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft, and Diablo universes.  It has a broader playstyle than a traditional MOBA, it is classified more like an online “hero brawler”.  Koreans love MOBA video games which are why Heroes of the Storm was so successful in Korea.  There are many pro-gamers succeeding on Heroes of the Storm.  Furthermore, the success of Heros of the Storm in Korea shows how much Koreans embrace Blizzard games more than many other games.

8)  WarCraft III

Warcraft 3 Korean EsportsWarcraft III is a fantasy real-time strategy computer video game developed by Blizzard.  It is set several years after Warcraft II and focuses on four races, Humans, Orcs, Undead, and Elves.  Players must collect resources, then train units and heroes to defeat the enemy player.  The Korean Warcraft Scene has been dying for some time now.  In addition, many pro-gamers have left the game altogether.  Furthermore, there are almost no WC3 tournaments going on in Korea anymore.  Currently, the WarCraft 3 scene is dominated by Chinese players and many Korean players have moved on to other games.

9)  Dota 2

DOTA 2 Korea EsportDota 2 might be the most popular Esport in the world it is not the most popular Esports in Korea.  It is a MOBA video game developed by Valve Corporation.  DOTA 2 is very similar to LoL, it is played in matches between two teams of 5 or fewer players.  Each player controls a “Hero” who have special abilities. As the game is played the hero’s strength level is increased through kills and experience.  To win the match a team or player must destroy the other team’s “Ancient” (main structure).

It is considered one of the greatest video games of all time and it is currently the most played game on Steam.  It does not rival LoL in Korea, however that might change in the future.  Nexon the top Korean gaming company has been investing a lot into getting Korean pro-gamers more involved in DOTA 2 and the upcoming DOTA 3.

10)  Hearthstone

korean esports HearthstoneHearthstone is an online digital collectible card game developed by Blizzard.  It is based on WarCraft and uses similar characters, elements, and relics from the WarCraft series.  The game became popular in Korea because it allowed for cross-platform play, which allowed players on any device to compete with each other.  Players compete against other players buy taking turns playing cards from their decks.  Players use mana crystals to play abilities or summon minions to attack the other player.  The game ends when one player destroys the other player’s hero.  Korea holds an Esports event called Masters Tour Seoul.  There they invite over 350 Hearthstone players to Seoul to compete in the top-level Hearthstone event.