As a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, a character played by any other player may be as skilled. What would eSports be, without personalities and storylines, but an extrasolar plateau of unidentifiable mechanical gods? It is true that the very core of professional eSports will always be about competition at and elevation of the highest possible level of play. Yet if that was all of what players could offer to the fans, the scene would never have grown nearly as big as it has.
Something to connect an IGN to a face. Flair.
True Korean eSports diehards often fondly recall the golden years of StarCraft: Brood War, laced with the most colourful personalities to ever grace an eSports scene. The craziest of them all was Samsung KHAN firebathero. Immediately after securing a clutch win for his team in the 2008 Shinhan Bank Proleague Grand Finals, he proceeded to hurl a bowl of rice towards the enemy team, shed his uniform to reveal a swimsuit, take a running dive into the ocean, come back yelling and dripping, throw popsicles to the fans, ask for disco music, and use the stage as his personal dance floor. The crowd of 30,000 went wild.
Compare firebathero's monumental hilarity to a relatively recent incident in StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, where Jin Air Rogue jokingly flaunted his self-proclaimaed "sexiness" with an attempt at a narcissistic gaze towards the camera. It was a fun little moment, of course, but one could not help but feel underwhelmed at the sheer insignificance of the gesture.
In recent years, the Korean scene - especially in League of Legends - has heavily suffered in terms of retaining and nurturing entertaining personalities. Some of it can be attributed to the most free-spirited of players either heading overseas (KaKAO, GBM, Imp, Piglet, DanDy, Mata, Spirit, Huni) or retiring (MaKNooN). A finger should also be pointed towards the ever-growing toxicity of the Korean eSports community which has become an Ingsoc of sorts against players who speak or act out.
While the problem of fan backlash impeding spicy trashtalk can be observed in multiple regions, this degree of blandness currently seems to be endemic to Korea only; countless industry insiders are expressing concern and brainstorming solutions for the dwindling number of domestic players with an actual attitude. What comes out of these years of latent boredom certainly should be a point of interest.
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