Digital gaming is a big part of South Korean culture.
Millions of people from various age groups spend an average of six hours and 41 minutes a week playing some form of digital game. This makes a good chunk of the population gamers – from the casual to the hardcore. The high number of more serious players have even spawned several dedicated gaming cafes or PC bangs across the country.
Overall, South Korea has the fourth largest gaming industry worth around USD 6.2 billion. Although China remains the largest gaming market in the world, Korea’s got them beat in terms of gamer penetration with 56% of its general population. China’s gamer penetration peaked at 44% back in 2018.
Smartphones are the most popular gaming device in the country with 53% of South Koreans playing mobile games at least once a month. Second is PC at 37% and then other consoles at 19%. This can be due mainly to the fact that South Korea boasts the highest smartphone penetration in all of Asia at 67.6%.
Although gamer demographics across most markets are generally skewed towards a young male audience, for mobile gamers in South Korea the largest subgroup is 21-35 years old (19%) followed by 36-50 years old (15%). This, along with the high penetration rate of gamers, serves as a testament to how far gaming has gone and how widely prevalent it is in the country.
In 2018, the mobile game market alone was worth around USD 3.2 billion with 40% of smartphone users spending money on mobile games. Role-playing games or RPG was the most successful genre with 90% of total revenue coming from this genre.
Although esports has been around as early as the 70s, it was South Korea that brought competitive gaming to the mainstream.
It was during turbulent economic times of the late 90s where esports in the country began. With the building of the broadband network, video games provided a fantastic reprieve from the financial realities troubling those times. And in 2000, the Korean Esports Association was created as an arm of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
The efforts of the organization further legitimized esports, providing its structure and a framework that would lead to its further development including the introduction of a minimum salary for professional players. It was forward-thinking this move that pushed Korea to become the gaming powerhouse it is today.
As the sport is widely viewed, esports players are even seen as celebrities in the country. A handful of schools and universities have even begun to propagate the inclusion of esports as an academic discipline aiming to channel students’ interests as a pathway to a viable career. The potential income offered to professional gamers does its share in promoting this idea as well.
Korea’s highest-earning esports player is Lee Sang-hyeok, more commonly known by his in-game name “Faker” with a total of around USD 1.2 million in tournament prize money and a net worth of around USD 4 million.
To learn more about consumer trends around Asia check out our other Eye on Asia entries like solo dining in Korea or Christmas in Japan. See you at the next one!