Korea is bonkers for StarCraft. So bonkers that we often quarantine the country's love for the game as something to be avoided and/or ridiculed. Yet little by little, the Korean StarCraft scene is getting its dues overseas.
Part of that is thanks to dedicated websites like Team Liquid, who cover the scene religiously, but part is also down to an increasing "localisation" of Korean tournaments shown on GOMtv and, in some cases, commentated by Erik "Doa" Lonnquist.
GOM is a media streaming service that delivers a whole range of content to Korean PCs, but in the West it's mainly known for GOMtv, which broadcasts live StarCraft and StarCraft II matches.
Those not part of the scene may not have even heard of it, but for people who like watching other people play video games, GOMtv is probably the best in the world at what it does.
The Global Starcraft 2 League (GSL), which is currently holding its World Championships in Seoul and broadcasting it on GOMtv, recently put out the call for new commentators (or as they're called in the scene "casters") to join the likes of Dan & Nick (otherwise known as Tasteless and Artosis). Among countless applicants Erik Lonnquist (pictured above, right), otherwise known as "Doa", was picked out of relative obscurity and offered a contract casting the league's English-language broadcasts.
"I never dreamed when I applied that I'd be selected", he says. "For a small-time caster like myself it's a huge deal".
The only catch? The job was in Seoul. Erik was in the US. And the GSL weren't paying for his relocation. Luckily, thanks to an "ultra-supportive, ultra-cool gamer wife" who was "cool with her husband flying to Korea to commentate videogames", Doa was able to make the move, and is currently enjoying life (and work) in the Korean capital.
"While I love Starcraft 2, what I really enjoy about my job here is being in a scene where people dedicate themselves to mental competition every day" Doa tells Kotaku. But do you love it enough to be any good at it?
"I'm certainly not at the pro level in terms of skill, but I'm pretty decent" he says. "I do play all three races though, which makes it tough to progress sometimes. One of the great things about being out here is that I've got much more time to actually play the game than I did before. I'm also getting to know some pros here and am learning a lot from talking with them and watching them play first-hand. All of that adds up to my own skill with the game improving pretty rapidly."
As for the burning question of which StarCraft people in Korea prefer, the first or second, Doa can provide a somewhat unique perspective: not that of the casual player or the professional, but the e-sports broadcaster.
"From an e-sports perspective the clear long-term winner is Starcraft 2", Lonnquist says. "Graphically it's a lot more appealing to the viewer than the first game and the observing tools Blizzard's built into the game make it a lot more accessible to newer fans and even people who don't necessarily play the game. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't difficult to put SC1 down though. I've been playing it for over a decade and still get the urge to load it up all the time. I miss my Lurkers badly..."
Finally, and most importantly for an English-speaking man commentating on a "sport" still predominantly enjoyed by Koreans, I ask Doa about the gulf in acceptance and popularity between e-sports in his homeland and that of his new employer.
"I can really only speak to the American's perspective on it, but the feeling I get is that over the years businesses here have been more willing to put big money into sponsoring these types of events than businesses in the West have", he says. "There may also be the factor that there was more of a social stigma in the U.S. that said that video games can't be serious competitive events. While you'll find plenty of people in Korea that will tell you video games are a waste of time, nearly everyone plays some sort of videogame in some form. I've gotten the impression that it's definitely embedded in the culture now."
"Honestly though, e-sports is growing pretty rapidly everywhere right now. That stigma that used to exist in the western world towards video games is basically gone in my opinion. It seems like every week a new big-money e-sports event is being announced around the globe so expect to hear about Starcraft 2 (and other games) a lot more in the coming months."