3. There's tons of illegal gambling and match-fixing scandals

south korea gaming

Sports and gambling are inseparable, and professional gaming is no different. In 2015, an unnamed informant tipped off the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA) that a group of elite-level gamers cheated the system for financial gain. Like Sonny Liston throwing the World Heavyweight Title bout in 1965, members of South Korea's Team Prime intentionally lost matches to cash in on illegal bets.

After an official investigation, South Korean law enforcement implicated twelve perpetrators and arrested nine, most notably Coach-manager Gerrard (Park Wae Sik) and pro players YoDa (Chol Byeong-Heon) and BBoongBBoong (Chol Jong-Hyuk), who also received suspended prison sentences and hefty fines. Two of them, Gerrard and YoDa, are also banned for life. The rest can presumably redeem themselves with good behavior.  

Was it worth it? Probably not. While illegal sports betting may account for millions of dollars, the Starcraft II cheaters pocketed only between $5,000 and $20,000 for their virtual dishonor.

In YoDa's case, the gangster-brokers that bankrolled Prime's shady doings paid him at first, then used his past cheating a bargaining chip, blackmailing him into throwing future matches for free.

And this isn't an isolated incident. A similar scandal emerged in 2010 when gambling websites bribed numerous Starcraft players to rig games. And in 2014 a Korean pro-gamer attempted suicide after publicly confessing to fixing League of Legends matches. Gaming might be something you do while you're bored or watching a TV show you only kind of like, but for some, it's a matter of life and death. 

4. Addiction is so bad that the government has set up rehab centers


Learning nothing from the failed drug policies of the past, some Korean legislators still seek to battle addiction with aggressive law-making. Hot on the heels of the not-so-successful gaming curfew, a recently-proposed law aims to classify video games as an addictive substance, similar to drugs and alcohol. If passed, games would be treated as a regulated, controlled substance.  

Obviously, this violates all sorts of civil and artistic rights, aka the same personal freedoms that nations have waged war to protect. And in addition to that whole free speech thing, an addiction law could cripple the Korean gaming industry.

Plus, people who know what they're talking about argue that games aren't the problem -- addiction is a manifestation of deeper issues and used as a temporary escape from reality. Yes, a study found that Korean youngsters spend upwards of two extra-curricular hours gaming, but that may be because their schooling is very demanding. How else would they relax? At least they aren't trying crack. Western adolescents, for comparison, spend plenty of hours in front of the television and probably just as many on CoD.

To combat addiction, the government has set up rehabilitation centers across the country. Like a combination between a halfway house and summer camp, the centers hope to treat the growing number (estimates range from 10-14%) of teenagers who've lost themselves chasing the virtual dragon.


In 2015, a camp in Muju received 5,000 youngsters teens and forced them to give up their electronic devices for the several-week-long program. At camp, the recovering gamers undertook hiking or rock-climbing excursions to get reacquainted with nature, and also rediscovered themselves through "therapy" sessions in which they discuss the consequences of their addictions.

But one thing that stands in the way of proper rehabilitation is the lack of reference material. Electro-addiction is uncharted territory with no established treatments, so one enterprising Dr. Lee Tae Kyung bases his therapies on obscure German sci-fi from the '70s. Michael Ende's novel Momo chronicles a bleak future in which "Men in Grey" convince humans to give up socializing and leisure activities - exactly what gaming addiction does, according to the good doctor. 

To re-socialize his charges and help them ditch their bad habits, Dr. Lee fosters analog friendships and face-to-face interactions between patients. He also utilizes established drug rehab practices, like music therapy jam sessions, personal counseling, and even a modest bedtime of 10:30 P.M. At least these kids won't be able to stay up late enough to watch the news these days.