Watching e-sport in Seoul

A quick guide

Victory is 10 seconds away. The crowd is cheering louder and louder. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. The commentators are boiling over with passion. The sound effects of the game boulder around the arena. Everything is louder, more intense, more exciting. The death sentence is struck by a star player. The crowd goes wild.

First, a little history

The combination of internet infrastructure expansion and unemployment in the late 1990s are believed to be the onset an early growth of e-sports
The phenominal growth of e-sports in South Korea probably has its humble beginning in Thailand. The collapse of the Thai Baht currency was the onset of a financial crisis ravaging East Asia in 1997. But the crisis inside Korea itself was probably as much caused by huge cooperations expanding aggressively to try and perform on the global stages.

With financial crisis comes unemployment. But with the will to expand comes fast internet. The combination of the two is believed to be the foundation of why gaming became popular, so soon, in Korea.

Eventually, Korea left the crisis behind and have since demonstrated impressive growth in technology and economy. And it shows as huge amounts of money are fluxed into the e-sports scene. Nation-wide broadcasting, huge arenas, sponsors, competition prizes - and the list goes on.

Today, and for years, e-sports players in Korea are superstars. Many are known nation-wide, they have fans, they are interviewed, they are loved and feared by fans and foes.

Why?

S-Plex is a 17 story building dedicated to e-sports
Why even waste time watching someone play a video game? It's very simple: Seoul is the pioneer of the e-sports scene. In Korea, e-sport players are as famous as soccer players in Europe or NFL players in the US. The shows are professionally executed with commentators, announcers, huge screens, intermediate game shows, and so on. Additionally, the competitions and teams are backed by huge companies.

Let me put things into perspective. In Seoul, there's a 17 story building dedicated to e-sport. And that's just one of several arenas.

It speaks for itself that e-sports are most enjoyable to gamers, especially if you know the game. But that's not even a requirement. I would still urge non-gamers to at least consider the experience. It's fairly cheap and you will likely marvel at the effort and magnitude of events.

How?

League of Legends in the Summer 2018 at OGN Arena
It's easiest (and cheapest) to watch regular league games. It's rather difficult to acquire tickets for play-offs and finals. The price is still good, but they are usually sold out on the day they are put up for sale.

It also comes down to which game you want to catch. I really wanted to watch StarCraft 1 (KSL), but the venue was quite small, so the number of tickets was equally sad. I never played League of Legends, but I went anyway, because I really wanted to experience e-sports in real life. And it so happens that LoL really caught on for me, and I ended up watching several games.

You can usually find ticket information through the game developer's website. A lot of e-sport tickets are sold exclusively through Ticketlink. Take note that tickets are rarely sold at the venues themselves. Ticketlink doesn't offer the best user experience, but it gets the job done.

Prices were amazingly cheap when I was in Seoul (Summer 2018). Much more so than expected. I got hold of front-row League of Legends tickets in OGN Arena for a mere 4,000 won ($3.5 or €3). The best play-off tickets went for 10,000 won ($9 or €7.5).

Tickets are usually reserved online, and then exchanged to actual tickets at the venue. Ticket offices are usually in the same building, but not necessarily on the same floor as the arena.

The stadium commentary is in Korean, but some venues offer headsets and receivers with the English commentary. Usually, both the Korean and English commentators are present on the stadium itself. You may have to give your passport, license or other ID to the staff while you borrow the equipment. The commentary is extremely helpful, especially if you're not a hardcore player of the game.

Always bring some ID to the venues. You are not necessarily requested to show it, but you might need to give it to the staff if you borrow their headphone/receivers, or to prove your identify for ticket exchange.

Arenas

Nexon Arena

54 Seocho-daero 77-gil, Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul

Nexon Arena (넥슨 아레나) is located in the Gangnam district and has capacity for a little over 400 people. It's located in the basement of the building and is in walking distance from Gangnam metro station.

Vouchers are exchanged to tickets at the arena entry (same floor). You are given a wristband which allows you to leave the arena and building, and return.

You can borrow receiver/headset for English commentary right after you enter the arena. You will have to hand over ID, until you bring back the equipment.

If you're going to Nexon Arena, I strongly advise against Silver tickets. You sit on a higher floor, and apparently due to some regulations there's a fence which blocks out a lot of the screen. Yeah, it sounds totally off for an e-sports arena - even a popular one - but that's the deal. Try to get tickets on the ground floor.

OGN (S-Plex)

31 Maebongsan-ro, Sangam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

Personally, I really enjoy the OGN Arena. It's not that Nexon Arena is bad, but OGN is just next-level. It's much more dedicated and thought through. You can feel this is fully committed to, and designed for, e-sports.

Vouchers are exchanged to tickets on the ground floor.

FAQ

Can girls go?
Sure. In my experience, probably close to half the audience is girls, and a lot of couples also tend the games. And you have no doubt there's girls in the audience, when you hear the cheering ;-)

Are tickets refundable?
Depends on the venue, always check the information when you buy. In my experience the cancellation policy is very forgivable.

Can I buy tickets at the venue?
This again depends on the venue, but don't count on it.