“Mom! I need $1 to play sports!”
This is a famous comment that captures the negative perception some people had of esports since 10 years ago. In 2018 however, esports has been selected as one of the demonstration events for the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games. Korea scored a couple of gold medals, the national anthem was played, and it was treated the same as any other traditional sports. This is the age we are living on now.
Since early 2000, ‘pro gamer’ has been at the top of the list of dream jobs for young people, and for many people in the present, that dream is not just a dream, but a goal that can be reached. According to the esports evaluation 2017, the esports industry in South Korea is valued at approximately 73 million USD, a 14.9% increase compared to the year 2015, and experts say that this incremental trend will remain steady for some time.
Despite the growth of esports though, very few adults have any clear answer when their children ask them how to become a pro gamer. Game Coach Academy, an esports academy, was established to be that answer. An esports academy; the name itself sounds quite strange; many who hear about it likely ask, “why would you pay to learn how to play a game?” Although the size of the esports industry has grown, people are still skeptical about the necessity of esports academies. Some say it’s just another attempt to join in a growing industry, while others worry that it may unnecessarily privatize esports education. We had an interview with Seung Heun Lee, Director of Game Coach Academy, to talk about these issues.
Q. Game Coach Academy, the name sounds quite foreign to the public. Please give us a short introduction.
We are the first esports academy approved by the Office of Education with the best facilities in South Korea. Pro gamers are praised by teenagers very much nowadays, but there is no place that properly teaches them how to become a pro gamer. How many teachers out there at school could give a clear path to becoming a pro gamer?
This has been the purpose of establishing the academy. It is part of the main businesses of Big Picture Interactive, and it also runs Overwatch and PUBG pro teams under the name of Element Mystic. We also manage the Rainbow Six tournament with Ubisoft.
Q. There must’ve been many difficulties when starting the academy at first.
In the beginning, we didn’t have our own private space. We received some venture capital and rented the place only when there was a demand, and the number of students began to grow day by day. So, we decided to expand and had our office in Guro Digital Valley. We did our best to make ourselves an official academy by complying with the requirements of academies proposed by the Office of Education and then started online marketing. After having a number of players and providing a variety of content, we began to go viral.
Q. The academy was the first to receive official approval as an esports academy from the Office of Education in June 2017. Didn’t you face any difficulties?
Our first branch in Guro Digital Valley is under the Seoul Nambu District Office of Education, and it went much smoother than anticipated. We met all the requirements they were asking for an academy, so it went quite well, without a hassle.
Q. There are so many teachers who couldn’t reach the pro league because of boosting and trolling. Can you tell us how the recruitment is done?
It’s similar to how normal companies hire employees. One’s personality and whether they committed boosting are crucial, so we check our own network to see if the person is suitable or not. The role is to teach students, thus the ability to deliver knowledge to others is also very important. It means nothing when you can’t tell them how to play even if you are really good.
It wasn’t easy to find teachers when I started the business. I listed up all the available former players who could possibly join, and many of them were quite skeptical about it as the business wasn’t settled in yet. However, it’s getting much better after getting approval from the Education of Office which proves that we are a legal place of work, and we’re continuously sharing our vision with them.
Q. There are two class types; an esports class for those who want to be pro gamers and hobby class. What’s the ratio?
Most of them are in the esports class. I suppose it’s probably 9:1. Those who are in the hobby class are salarymen, and they usually quit coming after 3 to 6 months of subscription since they achieved their goal.
Q. We are told that it’s about $200 a week for hobby and $500 for esports. There isn’t any past case so this will probably become a market standard, but the price is quite high, and some are worried that the pricing is a bit too much.
Although it’s once a week, it’s a 6-hour class. It’s fairly longer than any other academies. The price, time, and the number of classes were based on other existing entertainment academies. We had ups and downs in the beginning and this is the current tuition fee we came to after analyzing all the data.
On top of that, students’ parents are relatively young as students themselves are quite young, and many of them are positive towards esports.
Q. The most fundamental question of all; do we really need to go to an academy for the game?
Many parents or guardians don’t really know much about students who want to become pro gamers. Personality is one thing; many of them surely know that verbal abuse leads to sanctions, but don’t take it seriously. Improvements on this help improve their skills as well. It’s not just about how often you play the game, and we are here to show them the right way to play.
In addition to that, the most popular games nowadays are team-based, and you can’t really learn the aspects of it by yourself. You can’t have scrim experiences, and you are here to learn things that you can’t when you practice by yourself. Ultimately, your personal potential is the most important element in order to play the team-based game well. We have classes to harness the potential of those who are in the low tier and teach the fundamentals of team-based games to those who are in the high tier.
Q. We heard that the academy supports an international prestigious university entrance program called EScorts. Can you tell us more about it?
Many universities including Huajia University in China and Ming Chuan University in Taiwan are making esports faculties, and we are helping students enter the school or international pro team by cooperation via our network.
Q. Major pro game teams are planning to open their own academy as well. What’s the unique strength of the Game Coach?
I believe there used to be a couple like that before, but I doubt how well they are run right now. We have our own expertise that we learned from many mistakes in the past, and I am certain that we are more competitive than them. The teams will make the same mistakes we have made before, and we are confident we can go ahead of them.
Q. What business would you like to do next?
We recently opened another branch in Hongdae and are tidying up the place. We are also trying to team up with public education, and we are interested in foreign markets as well. Broadly speaking, we would like to work towards making a system that helps amateurs improve.
Q. Would you like to say a few words for those who are interested in an esports academy?
I hope that they won’t come here just to break away from their daily life. We can see it from how they do here. One person can spoil the whole atmosphere and four or five can suffer from that. We even had to force a few to go back. This place is for those who are really interested in becoming pro gamers. If you don’t have some vague determination, but instead are really passionate about becoming a pro, we are here to help you out.
Realistically speaking, not everyone can become a pro gamer even if they go to an academy. However, you will have no time to regret even after quitting if you’ve done everything you could’ve. We generally teach things about the game, but we also take charge in mentoring students so that they become good gamers. And it’s not only pro gamers; we also give advice and support to those who are looking to work in the esports industry.