Thursday, March 2, 2017

Overwatch Bounces Back With Season 4 Start Alongside Holiday

Overwatch is up nearly 9% between February 28th (15.88%) and March 1st (24.24%). Even larger differences were seen near the last week of season 3 (28%~), and the lowest point during the off-season (14%~). Last week I wrote a blog post about Overwatch's sudden drop in numbers after the new account policy and season 3 end. I was interested in how quickly (if at all) Overwatch would catch back up to League of Legends. Turns out it didn't take long at all. Overwatch is once again vying for the top spot with LoL. However, it took a specific sequence of events for Overwatch to fall so low, and it rose again in a similar fashion. The start of season 4 in Korea coincidentally occurred at the same time as a public holiday. March 1st, "Movement Day" in South Korea, saw a large turnout for PC rooms and especially Overwatch. 

The graph to the left displays how many users were at PC rooms each day. This kind of fluctuation between weekdays and weekends (2/25-2/26) is normal. The interesting thing is that there were slightly more users midweek on Wednesday (3/1). While families were enjoying the nice weather over the holiday, many gamers sought some midweek refuge at the PC room. Furthermore, Overwatch is again, nearly tied with LoL for the number one spot. Some questions arise from these statistics. Namely, did the new account policy have any effect whatsoever? Or is this huge fluctuation only due to Overwatch's off-season between season 3 and 4. Let's look at the Overwatch specific graph for the last week. Graphs courtesy of

According to this graph, Overwatch had an over 50% increase in users at PC rooms between the last day of the off-season (2/28) and the start of season 4 (3/1). I believe that this huge surge in players does not dismiss the new account policy as having no impact on Korea. The start of season 4 occurring on a a holiday most definitely created a huge surge in numbers. The statistics will have to be looked at for at least another week while things calm down. Then we will have a better idea as to what happened in Korea with the new account policy. There is however one definite point of interest which can be drawn from these past two weeks... In Korea, games are all about competitive ladders. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Visit to Techno Mart: Korea's Electronics Supermall

This weekend I decided to take a trip to Techno Mart in Gangbyeon to pick up some peripherals. Most PC rooms are outfitted with high enough quality products, but the fact that I do not have to invest into building a PC while in Korea allows me to test more peripherals. It all started because I wanted to purchase a Logitech G1.

The Logitech G1, a mainstay of nearly all PC rooms across South Korea. Great little mouse that has stood the test of time. The lift off distance is problematic, but I can't see any downsides to playing RTS and MOBA type games with this mouse. The G1 has gained quite a following through the years, and some South Korean eSports pros can still be seen using it. If I wanted to buy one in person, I knew Techno Mart would be the place to go. Thankfully the weather was great, so I decided to take the bike out.

Had to fuel up at McDonald's first though! The ride takes about a half hour from where I live in Guri to Gangbyeon. Luckily I can stick to the bike path for almost the entirety of the trip, no near death experiences on the road today. 

Lock the bike up and go! Techno Mart is part of a huge mall with nearly anything you could want to buy. Clothing, food, instruments, and most importantly electronics. The good stuff is on floor seven, the computer floor. 

From hardware to peripherals, Techno Mart has it all. There are numerous different sellers on the floor, so it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Some are certainly more welcoming, knowledgeable, and helpful than others. You can usually haggle a bit on larger ticket items, but I haven't had much luck with cheaper products. On the other hand, many sellers will have the same items, and the prices do vary. Take your time when shopping at Techno Mart! Most of the owners don't speak English well from my experience, but I speak enough Korean that they usually don't bother trying. 

Although I would never buy one while in Korea and primarily using PC rooms, I love keyboards. This shop specialized in keyboards, and had a wide variety of brands and switch types. Maybe the coolest thing I saw today was this little box from Corsair designed to let shoppers feel the difference between switch types. Blues all the way baby.

How cool is that. A keyboard signed by professional Starcraft player YellOw (홍진호). I was never the biggest fan of Starcraft, but I do like YellOw, especially with his appearances on Korean variety shows. Cool to see how an eSports player can transition like that in Korea. The worker there was friendly, but made sure to explain to me that this was only a display model. I'll have to come back and buy a keyboard here before returning to the US. After a bit of browsing it was time to get what I came for, a G1.

I decided to go back to a man I purchased some things from previously. Nice middle aged guy who runs the shop with his wife, very knowledgeable and energetic about peripherals. Although out of frame (ㅠㅠ), he did have a G1. Unfortunately, after asking if I could buy one he laughed a bit. It is then that I realized this would be no easy task. On to the next one! How hard could it be to find this cheap, silly, little mouse? 

Too hard it turns out. There were probably 50 G1s on that floor with cut cords, but not a single one for sale. I returned back to my go to shop and bought a Cougar Speed 2 (Large) mousepad ($25), JBL earbuds ($22), and a Logitech G102 ($20). The G102 is Asia exclusive as far as I know. It is modeled after the G Pro, and considerably cheaper. I decided to go with it after reading all the positive reviews on the forums. The owner of the store was knowledgeable as always and explained to me the differences between the G Pro and G102, notably the sensor. 

So in the end I still don't have a G1, but who wants one of those anyway? It's a mouse for ants and will click if you blow on it. Also, you know what they say about 1000dpi, it's 600 too many. Don't even get me started on that LOD, I could play without putting the thing down... I bought one off Gmarket and it will probably get here tomorrow >.>

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Overwatch Falls Over 10% With Season 3 End and New Account Policy

If you walked through Korean PC rooms the past week you couldn't help but notice...something was different. Overwatch has absolutely tanked in player numbers inside PC rooms in South Korea. It's due to a combination between Season 3 ending and Blizzard's policy change regarding foreign accounts. Overwatch, which accounted for roughly 28% of users in Korean PC rooms a week ago, is now at 16.15%.

"Effective February 17, 2017, we will be adjusting our account policy so that only players with valid game licenses in their account home region will be able to play Overwatch in Korea."

Here is how this works in Korea. I have two accounts. Account A has a copy of Overwatch purchased, whereas Account B does not. Before February 17th, I could play Overwatch in Korean PC rooms on both of these accounts. After the update, I can only play on account A.

"Please note that the policy will not affect players who hold valid Korea-based accounts playing in IGRs."

Now account C comes into play. This is my Korean account that could only be created with my Korean phone number. I needed my Alien Registration Card to register this phone number, which is effectively linked to my identity. Account C is unaffected by the new account policy, and thus does not require me to purchase Overwatch in order to play.

The images ( show a steady decrease in Overwatch players from around the time the new policy went into effect, on February 17th. Overwatch, which was at a steady 28%~ for the past month or so, has fallen to only 16.15% (as of 2/26). League of Legends has risen roughly 5% since then, with Sudden Attack and Fifa also seeing small increases in players. I go to the PC room nearly every night, and the same people I see every night who were playing Overwatch are now playing League of Legends. So why has Overwatch seen such a steep drop in numbers? There are probably three reasons at play.

Reason #1: Season 3 has ended.
The end of season 3 on February 22nd (in Korea) has resulted in many Korean players taking a break from Overwatch. Instead of brushing up on skills during the off-season, many players have opted to spend their time with other titles (notably LoL). Although CPL may be dead, the mantra of "Play hard go pro" is alive and well in Korea. You will seldom see people fooling around in quick play matches. It is all about laddering here, no matter what game you play. However, Overwatch's numbers fell off a bit before the end of season 3. This drop in players started around February 17th, when the new account policy went live. I suspect that two groups of players were impacted by this change.

Reason #2: Hackers?!
Players have been up in arms for a while due to Korean users hacking while using their US made accounts. However, would such a mass amount of players up and quit the game just because they could not play it while hacking anymore? Living in South Korea has shown me first hand what a competitive culture it can be. The length to which people go to be better than (more so APPEAR better than) others is astounding. I have never in my life seen people GG out of seemingly lost games so quickly before coming to Korea. So the hacking reason is feasible. I am still a bit skeptical of the drop in numbers largely amounting to hackers though. It just seems irrational to hack in a public space.

Reason #3: Young teens (under the age of 15).
I believe this also accounts for the drop in numbers. In Korea, Overwatch has a 15+ age restriction. Remember when I said that Korean accounts (and nearly everything else gaming related) are linked to your identity. If a 14 year old creates a KR account with their phone number, they will not be able to play Overwatch. Using US accounts was a way for young teens to circumvent this block. I teach middle school aged students in Korea, and despite being around the ages of 13-14, many of them have told me they play Overwatch. So now these young players have to convince an older friend or relative to let them use their account, or pay the $40 for Overwatch. Not such an enticing situation when League of Legends is there for free.

It has definitely been a surprising week in the PC rooms for me. It will be interesting to see what happens to Overwatch once season 4 starts (March 1st in Korea). I am skeptical of it immediately reaching LoL's numbers again. However, look out for a big boom on 3/1 when S4 starts. I expect Overwatch's numbers to soar, as the beginning of S4 coincides with a Korean public holiday.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Look Inside a South Korean PC Room

I'm six months into my one year contract for teaching in South Korea now. Many things have changed, but there is still one constant. On any given night, you can find me in a PC room. Today I'll be showcasing a local PC room (피시방), in Gyeonggi-do, Hammer.

The setup at Hammer (해머)

Setup at Hammer is pretty standard. 30~inch monitor, way too big for my taste, but large monitors seems to be a draw in Korean PC rooms. Off brand "gaming" headset, which gets the job done. Most PC rooms sport mechanical keyboards too. Brands will vary, but more than anything it has made me realize those top of the line SteelSeries (or insert other gaming brand) keyboards really aren't worth it. Lastly, a Logitech G1 optical mouse, the most widely used mouse across all PC rooms. Good enough that I'll probably buy one and bring it home to the states. 

The main screen is set up for ease of access to all the most popular games in South Korea. It is important to note that you will need a Korean phone number to create an account for most games outside of Blizzard titles and League of Legends. In addition, if you want to play anything on Steam (SUCH AS COUNTERSTRIKE), you will need to download steam and the game. All downloaded items are wiped after logging off the PC. Currently the most popular games are LoL, Overwatch, Sudden Attack, and Fifa. It is also worth nothing that Brood War is right behind those games in 5th place with 4.44% usage. In conclusion, a great place to play if you enjoy those titles, and a small inconvenience if you play various Steam games. It usually takes me about 30min~ to download CS:GO.

One great thing about PC rooms is that you can order food and drinks while playing, which will then be delivered straight to your computer. Most PC rooms have various snacks, ramen, coffee, and other beverages. However, Hammer has a kitchen and more extensive menu. The food is priced well enough that you don't have much reason to leave if what you want is on the menu. 

My go to meal, Chicken and rice, topped with a bit of mayo and okonomiyaki sauce. You also get the standard Korean side dishes, kimchi and radish. Overall, a good meal for 4,000원 ($3.50~). 

Most PC rooms have rather up to date PCs. Hammer boasts a strong i5 at 3.4ghz alongside an Nvidia GTX 1060, in addition to 8gb of ram. 

Hammer's PCs have great specs, and they are a bit ahead of the curve in comparison to other PC rooms in my area. Especially considering that none of the popular games in PC rooms are too graphic intensive.

Can't forget the smoking room. Every PC room has one. Be prepared for a lot of spitting, which gets unbearably disgusting very quickly. I've been told by Koreans that this is supposed to combat mouth cancer or something...dude you are smoking... Anyways the rooms are usually well ventilated and outfitted with large windows to make sure you get back in time for your queue. However, the stuffiness and spitting usually pushes me to smoke outside when things get busy. 

Hope you enjoyed my first post about Korean PC rooms. I'll be writing more articles about PC gaming in South Korea in the future.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Should We Be Skeptical of WESA?

Richard Lewis recently interviewed James Lampkin, vice president of pro gaming product and content at ESL, about WESA (World Esports Association). I would like to take some time to examine the statements made by Lampkin and cross reference them with information presented by key members of the eSports community. 

"We as organizers tried and were not successful at making it work with more than one organizer at the table" (James Lampkin).

I'm not sure which organizers were contacted when four major players in that business seem to have been left in the dark.

"So on the executive committee there are 5 members. Two from ESL, two team owners, and a commissioner. It was negotiated that way so that in the event of a decision we could not agree on, the commissioner would break the tie" (Lampkin).

So we have two votes that will always be the same (ESL), two votes that have the potential to differ (team owners), and a guy who wants this to be the next FIFA to break the tie just in case ESL does not get their way (commissioner).

"WESA represents the interests of players by including them in the decision making process" (Lampkin).

Players =/= team owners, who are the ones with the actual voting power. Furthermore, I find it alarming IF these "teams" are being paid large sums of money to take part in WESA. Why you have to pay people such large amounts of money to get on board with something entirely in their best interest is beyond me.

"That doesn’t mean we think there won’t be an external players union" (Lampkin).

Thanks for the warning, because judging from the current information available, a player union must come sooner rather than later. Be afraid boys, be very afraid.