It's a well-established fact that South Koreans take their gaming very seriously. The country sports a thriving professional gaming industry, known as e-sports in the gaming world. The tournaments and events are held in lavish, high-tech stadiums and attract huge crowds. The various leagues are followed by millions of people around the globe, and the top performers are veritable celebrities, attracting sponsorship deals and endorsement contracts with companies like Samsung and SK Telecom.
The most popular of the e-sports games is Starcraft. There are 12 professional Starcraft teams, and 11 of them have corporate sponsorship. It is the most popular game at World Cyber Games, the Olympics-like international video game tournament held in South Korea every year, backed by Samsung and Microsoft.
However, nothing tarnishes the reputation of a professional competitive community like a sweeping cheating scandal. Gamepron reports that a large portion of the top players are being investigated for intentionally losing matches, giving team replay tapes to gambling sites, and for various other game rigging deals with the bookies that cover the games. As all the teams and players involved get swept up in the scandal, many of the most influential and talented competitors are being asked to retire.
As details of the scandal continue to surface, it is becoming clear that the e-sports industry knew about much of the illegal conduct, and was trying to solve the problem in-house before bringing authorities in once the rigging practices simply moved deeper underground.
Under South Korean law, the names of the players investigated cannot be revealed while they are under investigation. This hasn't stopped the speculation machine that is the Internet, and all the top players' reputations and careers are at stake now.
In the relatively young yet burgeoning e-sports movement, a scandal like this has the potential to shake up the industry, what some would call the subculture, of professional gaming in South Korea. While change may be for the better, the players will have a hard time getting back the hard earned respect of the fans, and the industry as a whole will suffer.