A few hundred rapt Korean teens, 4 wall mounted LCD monitors, 4 uniform clad pro gamers, 2 live TV cameras, and 2 confused Canadian boys in the biggest mall in Asia. My friend Shane and I had wandered into a live taping of a professional match of Starcraft, the computer game which seems to be Korea's unofficial national sport. I found it odd when I was first flipping channels and found a station devoted to Starcraft competitions, but when I saw the players in the flesh, hands working horrifying speeds over their keyboards, and their red, white and blue racing jacket uniforms stamped by corporate sponsor Samsung, I was utterly agape.
We were lured into the small room by the cue of applause. It was packed with mostly teenage fans, although a few older men in business suits stood out in the crowd. The gamers were introduced on the screen in a blaze of fan fare (actually to the hijacked overture from Pirates of the Carribean) and the air was immediately filled by screams and the flashes from camrea phones.
The game itself played out quickly, but instead of the complacent over-the-shoulder type watching you might expect from a kid sister unable to understand her older brother's obsession, these spectators were on the edge of their seats for the entire 15 minute match. We picked out crowd members nervously biting their nails, or waving small banners with Korean slogans written on them. You could have heard a pin drop if it weren't for the rapid-fire laser sound effects, and the equally rapid fire Korean colour-commentary. So scratch that. There'd be no way a pin would have gotten any play.
When finally the shaggy-haired victor had mopped the floor with his rival bases, the players all shook hands sportman like, and emerged from the plexiglass box (yes, there was one) that seperated us from them. The screams and flash fire were quick to rekindle, and while Shane and I looked at each other and laughed in disbelief, the TV cameras swung close to bring total coverage to the audience watching at home.
This was only 15 minutes on Saturday night, and I had a busy weekend.
Tomorrow: ever wonder where you might be able to purchase a leather suitcase full of shrink-wrapped shiitake mushrooms for $500?
I didn't either, but at least now I know the place.
A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.