South Korea Grapples With Line Between Pro-Gaming and Gaming Addiction

By Bryan Le 09/10/19

Where is the line between professional gamer and person with gaming disorder?

Young Asian Pro Gamer Playing in Online Video Game
Pros do it for a living. Shao-chun Wang |

South Korea, a country where e-sports flourishes, is grappling with a difficult question now that gaming disorder has become officially recognized by the World Health Organization: Is professional gaming actually gaming disorder?

The answer, they’ve determined, is… not really. The WHO has a pretty narrow definition of gaming disorder, where video gaming takes over a person’s life to a point they neglect their family, friends, and job in favor of playing for an extended period of time.

Pro Gamers Practice Self-Discipline 

Representatives for professional gaming leagues say that the way in which pro-gamers play is quite the opposite of this.

“Addiction is akin to social isolation. People who are addicted often display lack of interest in the world other than their obsession,” said Kim Jong-seong, a senior manager at the Korea e-Sports Association. “But esports is the opposite — it’s about bringing individual gamers out into the world to teamwork, connect with the mass and possibly gain fame.”

The key difference, he argues, is in the self-discipline practiced by South Korean career gamers.

“Furthermore, professional esports is systematic. For example, if the players spend 12 hours training, they would have specific hours for solo play training, group play training, with regular nutrition intake hours and workouts in between.”

Not only that, but these gamers aren’t neglecting their professional life and financial responsibilities--they’re taking care of them by playing. Expert and sponsored League of Legends players in the country took in an average of 175.6 million won ($145,000 USD) last year. These surveyed gamers are also younger than the average salaryman at an average age of 20.8 years old. The oldest surveyed was 26, while the youngest was just 17.

Can the Quest to Go Pro Lead to Gaming Addiction?

But there is concern for those who toil away at these games to try and go pro but just can’t hack it. These players dedicate themselves to their game of choice at a young age, and experts worry that these youngsters could become addicted to gaming in the process.

“Some scholars point to individuals’ innately impulsive nature as what causes substance addiction, but in the case of behavioral addiction like video game addiction, we don’t have enough evidence yet and socio-psychological factors might play a larger role,” said Prof. Ahn Woo-young, who researches psychology at Seoul National University.

Examples of such socio-psychological effects include the availability of gaming in South Korea’s multitudes of internet cafes as well as children having to occupy themselves with digital entertainment waiting for their parents to return from busy work lives.

Pathologizing Gamers

“A rising number of young people around the world are becoming more passionate about games,” said Arnold Hur, the co-president of esports company Generation Gaming. “However, instead of embracing this trend, many societies have chosen to ignore or even stifle this growing interest. In doing so, passionate gamers are often at risk of becoming marginalized — perhaps even to the extent of being labeled as having a ‘gaming disorder.’”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter