In the competitive world of eSports, particularly during international tournaments, players and teams from Western and Eastern countries compete against one another.
Whether it’s Dota 2, League of Legends or Street Fighter, these high-level events attract competitors from all over the globe. However, it is interesting to note the cultural differences between East and West and how this affects professional gaming.
Certainly, in many major team-based eSports, Asian outfits often seem to have an advantage. Many of the top teams contain players of Asian descent, whilst comparatively few champions come from Europe or the US outside of a small number of established powerhouses.
Some people believe this is because Asian players are far more dedicated to practice and training, while others claim that Eastern gamers are simply more skilled than their Western counterparts.
In fact, one of the key reasons behind the Eastern dominance began in South Korea and it is to here we must turn to understand how the region came to be so strong.
One of Blizzard’s most well-known games, RTS Starcraft, was popular with fans worldwide, but it was an absolute sensation in South Korea. The game appealed to the entire nation and became massively successful. Almost half of Starcraft’s worldwide sales can be traced back to South Korea, with over 4.5 million copies sold.
Companies soon recognised that a niche could be filled as many people enjoyed both playing the game and spectating. This was particularly the case when more skilled players entered the scene such as YellOw, Reach and BoxeR, most notably after the release of the Brood War expansion. Tournaments began to be organised with prize pools for the victors and this in turn generated crowds who wanted to watch the action.
Soon enough, the players began to form teams in order to maximise their gains and participate more effectively in 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4 matches. Fans tended to enjoy these matches more and so these were given a higher priority. As a result, players were made to work in unison, playing as a team instead of as individuals, and this seeped into the general gaming culture, affecting other games too. The most successful League of Legends team of all time, SK Telecom T1, were formed way back in 2002, for example.
As well as this, Asian countries tend to have stricter social bias against gaming, leading to very limited hours in which to play them at home. Eastern internet cafes are far more popular as a result, which gamers can visit to play games in their own time. This is a far more social experience than the norm in the US and Europe, where playing a game tends to be done alone, certainly competitively.
Due to this, players from Asia (and particularly South Korea) formed better teams, both inside and outside of gameplay. Communication, co-ordination and co-operation took priority over individual play, while Western players tended to focus more on independent play and personal skill. Of course, many Eastern players are extremely skilled individually, and many Western teams work together impeccably, but as a general rule, this is what distinguishes the two competitive scenes in terms of strategies, characters and metas.
For instance, in Street Fighter – a single-player game – many of the world’s most renowned players are Westerners. These include Justin Wong, Ryan Hart and Alex Valle, with Justin holding the record for the most championships in the highly-vaunted Evo tournaments. In addition, in CS:GO, which is perhaps the most individual-focused of the team games due to the short fight lengths, Asian teams are practically unheard of. Even in the Eastern scene, the Australian team Renegades are considered the ones to beat.
On the other hand, there are 39 professional Asian teams in Dota 2 compared to 37 other teams worldwide, an obviously disproportionate amount. In the recent Dota 2 International, for instance, three of the final four teams were Chinese – Newbee, LGD and LGD:FY – although it is important to note that Team Liquid, from Europe, were the overall winners. They are one of the aforementioned powerhouses from the West though. Meanwhile, in League of Legends, there’s only one non-Asian outfit in the top 10 professional teams, Team SoloMid.
Overwatch is another team-driven game where this trend is seen as Korean powerhouses such as Lunatic-Hai, LW Blue and KongDoo Panthera dominate. While Western teams found success initially – Team EnVyUs with one Eastern player (Mickie) winning APEX Season 1 comes to mind – as time has progressed, the West has started to fall behind. The upcoming Overwatch League is a quality opportunity to see the East vs West match-up and assess whether the West can catch up.
As a result of all this, the games favoured in the two hemispheres are quite different – Western gamers prefer plays with a greater emphasis on personal prowess, whilst Eastern competitors have a greater focus on teamplay. Games like Quake and fighting titles are thus more popular in the US and Europe, whereas the Asian scene favours Dota 2, League of Legends and many RTS games.
None of the points covered above are necessarily an advantage or a disadvantage, even in team-based matches. Whilst an Asian team might work better as a unit, they might fare worse if divided or isolated. Similarly, even if Western gamers lack the ingrained teamwork that is a part of the Eastern scene, they are more able to achieve success individually and don’t require the whole team to perform well as consistently. Whether this is a permanent phenomenon or will change based on the growth of eSports remains to be seen, but following its development will certainly be interesting.