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Coronavirus hits Korea‘s gaming scene

As the number of people infected by the novel coronavirus increases daily, the gaming scene in Korea is suffering -- especially esports.

The most popular esports league in Korea, the 2020 League of Legends Champions Korea decided on Tuesday to postpone the start of the second round-robin event for the spring season, following the first, initially held without spectators to prevent the spread of new coronavirus.

“2020 Woori Bank LCK Spring has decided to take a temporary break from the first round ending on March 6 (Friday) to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of LCK members,” said an LCK post on social media Tuesday. “The timing of LCK resumption will be announced afterward depending on the progress of COVID-19.”

Gen.G, the team currently tied for first place in the LCK, said in response by email to The Korea Herald, “Our utmost priority is to protect the health and safety of not only our fans but our players as well. The players are practicing under a safe environment and Gen.G is doing everything to protect our players’ well-being and safety.”

Asked if any changes will occur if the games went online as happened with the Chinese league, which announced the resumption of matches totally online from Friday last week, Gen.G said that the team’s preparation and strategy would remain the same as before.

The Overwatch league scheduled for March at DDP has been canceled. (Gen.G Esports)
The Overwatch league scheduled for March at DDP has been canceled. (Gen.G Esports)

The Overwatch league planned the first ever international league for esports this year, with 20 teams from cities around the globe, including Korea’s Seoul Dynasty, participating. The plan was for international players to fly across the globe and play home and away matches, making it a truly global league. However, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak around the world, the ambitious plan by Blizzard entertainment has met a roadblock.

“In order to protect the health and safety of our players, fans, and staff, we will no longer be holding the March Seoul Dynasty Homestand event in Seoul on March 7th and 8th,” Seoul Dynasty posted on social media on Feb. 24. 

“Although we are very sad as we were not able to play in front of Seoul fans this March, the health and safety of our fans and the players are the priority,” Seoul Dynasty player Hong Jae-hee, also known as “Gesture,” told The Korea Herald. Similar Overwatch events with Chinese teams have also been canceled.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was also scheduled to have a global event in Berlin in April, but has postponed the event and is conducting preliminaries online instead. Nexon announced on Feb. 24 that the Kartrider league has been postponed until further notice.

An esports management company associate said in response to the prolonged situation, “Our office staff are working remotely, holding regular meetings via conference calls, and we have held online fan meetings through our social channels to communicate with the fans.”
Cyber cafe business from Jan. 28 to March 2 shows a marked decline due to fears of the novel coronavirus. (Gametrics)
Cyber cafe business from Jan. 28 to March 2 shows a marked decline due to fears of the novel coronavirus. (Gametrics)

Another part of the gaming scene affected has been in the decline of usage of internet cafes, locally known as PC bang. On Feb. 23, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae asked parents to keep students away from PC bang to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, leading to a noticeable drop in business in the days that followed. News reports of confirmed patients visiting the cyber cafes contributed to their decline as well.

Gaming companies have encouraged people to stay away from PC bang by ending premium events there earlier than scheduled and compensating players. Games like Fifa Online 4 and Maplestory allowed players to obtain PC bang bonuses from their home computers.

Companies including Nexon, NCSoft, Kakao Games and Netmarble, among others, have instructed employees to work from home or go on paid vacation as a precaution against COVID-19. The gaming industry is on higher alert now as an employee at a game company, Eyedentity Games, was confirmed with the virus Tuesday. While updates and development have not been affected yet, customer support service by phone is not available for many gaming companies. Online support services remain in operation, although with significant delays.

By Lim Jang-won(