The world of esports has unexpectedly become involved in controversy as South Korean esports players compete for military service exemptions by winning gold medals at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Many BTS fans have been astonished and bewildered by this news, which raises concerns about the standards used to award such exemptions.
A medal competition for esports, a fast expanding business, has been added to the Asian titles. It will feature a variety of titles, including FIFA Online 4, League of Legends, Dota 2, Honour of Kings, PUBG Mobile, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, and Dota 2. Hearthstone was first included but was later taken off after Blizzard Entertainment and its Chinese publishing partner NetEase failed to reach an agreement.
This year’s Asian Games have an important new twist: South Korean athletes who win gold in their respective competitions will also be exempt from serving in the country’s mandatory military service, which must be completed by all physically capable South Korean men by the age of 28 and typically lasts 18 to 21 months.
The famed League of Legends player Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok, who will turn 28 in May, would be one of the exemption’s most notable beneficiaries. The best League of Legends player ever is commonly regarded to be Faker, the mid laner for T1. His recent absence due to a wrist injury has highlighted how crucial it is to win a gold medal and receive the associated military exemption.
The exclusion from military service, which is frequently given to “elite athletes or classical musicians on the basis of promoting national prestige,” has given rise to an ongoing discussion in South Korea. Rumours that the government could permit BTS members to forego their military service initially sparked this debate, which many fans found divisive. But in an unexpected move, all seven BTS members said in October that they would carry out their military obligations. The remaining members intend to join them after Suga, Jin, and J-Hope, who have already enlisted.
The possibility of esports competitors receiving military exemptions has made the discussion even more complicated. Seoul resident Kim Myong-won explained his perplexity by saying, “If everyone receives an exemption for winning gold medals, then you have to include those in esports. But it does seem odd that you can be exempt for playing video games while seated in front of a computer.
Many BTS fans have expressed their surprise at the idea of esports athletes avoiding military service on social media platforms. “I don’t see how this is fair,” was a comment made by a user on X/Twitter that received over 5 million views. Another commenter questioned how the government chooses what constitutes national prestige and how individuals contribute to it, stating, “This really makes me question how the South Korean government defines what constitutes national prestige and how individuals contribute to it. Is esports’ culture boosted or expanded farther than that of music, the arts, and international relations? In comparison to BTS and other musicians, how much money does esports bring in to their economy?
On Sunday, September 24, the 2022 Asian Games’ esports competitions began with tense bouts in FIFA Online 4 and Honour of Kings. On Monday, September 25, the League of Legends competition got underway, and South Korea quickly earned a playoff position by defeating their group rivals.
The argument over whether winning players should receive military exemptions is becoming more heated as the Asian Games’ esports competitions progress. It is unclear how South Korea’s government will respond to the mounting calls for fairness and equity in deciding who is deserving of the highly sought-after exemption from military duty given that the entire world’s attention is focused on this developing sector.