Will the Asian Games provide Korean esports players with options to fulfill their military duties?

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Will esports players get the same treatment on par with traditional athletes when it comes to serving military exemption?


It was announced that esports will be added to the Asian Games, a comprehensive sporting event for Asian countries held every four years. Alisports, a subsidiary of China's largest e-commerce company, Alibaba, said on Tuesday that esports will be included in the Asian Games in partnership with the Asia Olympic Council.


Under the current Korean Conscription law, if a person wins a medal at an international sporting event like the Olympics and the Asian Games(a gold medal for the Asian Games), he will be granted a military exemption. As such, there are speculations that esports players may also fall under the same category.


Historically, if a sport is introduced in those events, it does not get an official sport status right away. Instead, it is played as a demonstration sport. However, the military exemption clause does not discriminate between the two. Regardless of whether it is a demonstration sport or an official one, the athlete who secures a medal will be exempted.


Regarding the issue, the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee said, "In general, it’s true that a gold medalist of the Asian Games is granted a military exemption, but there is no word regarding esports yet." The spokesperson told Inven KR, “It will be decided upon after further discussion.”

▲ Latest amendment in 2008 states that 3rd place and above in the Olympics and 1st in the Asian Games will be able to continue their careers in an alternative civilian service.
(Source: Military Manpower Administration)


Another point of interest is regarding which games will be named as esports in the Asian Games. In the past, Alisports has hosted WESG, a $3.5 million international esports competition, in which Dota 2, CS:GO, StarCraft 2, and Hearthstone were selected as official titles. However, which esports games will be included in the Asian Games has not yet been confirmed.


For various popular esports games like League of Legends, StarCraft 2, and Overwatch, Korea has shown strong performance. Particularly, Korean players have long dominated LoL and SC2 pro scenes, with Korean teams winning four Worlds and all of the BlizzCon SC2 finals. If these games are to be selected as official Asian Games sports, it’s very likely that top Korean players will receive military exemptions.


Mandatory military service has been one of the banes of Korean pro gamers. Due to the nature of esports, players hit peak performances during their 20s, and they must practice everyday to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of esports titles. Although the Korean Air Force operated an esports team for the original StarCraft to address some of the conscription issues most male pro gamers share, players were left to their own devices after Air Force ACE disbanded in 2014.


Most esports players retire in their 20s and have to deal with the military service on their own. What remains to be seen is whether the Asian Games can alleviate some of the burden so that more players can continue their careers.

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