Why aren’t FPS games popular in Asia?

With the Intel Extreme Masters making their third stop around the world in Taiwan last week, it seems like this Asian event was not getting anywhere near as much attention as the European and American finals. That’s because of the simple reason that the Quake scene in Asia is not known for their skilled players and many people are banking on the old Quake 3 favourites Sajruz “ProZaC” Malekani and Zhibo “Jibo” Fan to come through these qualifiers.

However, perhaps these two will not be the ones to watch in the future. Asia has a long and strong history of gaming and professional gaming, just not in the first person shooter genre.

Korea was the first nation to really bring professional gaming to the mainstream media in a professional way. Hosting the first World Cyber Games, non-Korean gamers could then have a small taste of the life of a professional Korean gamer. Cars would follow the WCG busses to the venue, schools would take trips there, gamers wearing the WCG jackets would get hounded for autographs and receive free goods from stores.

It’s no secret that Starcraft matches are televised 24/7 on two dedicated channels, OnGame and MBCGame. Professionals there can earn upwards of $100,000 per year. They get their faces on candy bars. The corporate support and endorsements are something which the rest of the other professional gamers around the world can only dream about.

In Japan, competitive gaming has been a little more “underground” with the majority of the action happening in arcades in the fighting game genre. Daigo Umehara (known as Ume or The Beast) hails from Tokyo and is best known for his epic comeback in his Street Fighter III match at Evolution 2004. Even today Ume beat American Champion Justin Wong in Street Fighter IV to take home the gold at Evolution 2009, which is no small feat. Fighting games in America have a huge audience, with 23,000 people tuning in for the final of Evolution.

Even with such great accomplishments, Umehara is not a professional gamer. In a recent interview with Eurogamer, he says that:

“Playing games professionally is not really an option in Japan. If I did really want to do something with my gaming skills in the industry, I think I would have already done so by now. It’s only relatively recently that I started to receive invitations to overseas tournaments with prize money. In Japan, games are something you play for enjoyment; you don’t expect anything in return.”

In China, competitive gaming has seen considerable growth in recent years. So much that two topImage from MYM Warcraft III players XiaoFeng “Sky” Li (from China) and Jae ho “Moon” Jang (from Korea) were given the honor to carry the Olympic torch through china en route to the Beijing National Stadium! Like Korea, a large portion of their competitive gaming audience is focused on an RTS game but it isn’t Starcraft; it’s Warcraft III.

But when writing about Korea and it really being the epitome of professional gaming, exactly how popular is pro-gaming there? We have all seen the stadiums full of people watching Starcraft, but how popular is it amongst the general public? Do the professional players really have rockstar status? Even with all the information available to us online, when you yourself are involved in competitive gaming and follow the scene, of course you’re going to pay attention to it. But what about those who don’t? Is the popularity as widespread as football in the UK? It makes you wonder when you hear about new reality programs where famous popstars want to become professional gamers.

Why aren’t FPS games popular?

Obviously, Asian nations are not strangers to gaming but perhaps we need to turn to history to see why games like Counter Strike, Halo and Quake are not popular when they have had so much success in Europe and America.

One giant in the Asian (and global) gaming industry that I simply can’t ignore (no matter how much I want to) is World of Warcraft. In 2008, the game already had over 10 million players with 5.5 million of them coming from Asia, and the rest mainly split between Europe and America. Over in China, the popularity of internet cafes is steadily growing and the majority of the gamers choose to play the addictive MMORPG. To make this game a televised competitive sport would be opening it up to the largest gaming audience in the world.

Korea has been the prime example to the western world of how much potential competitive game has if only it could reach a large, mainstream audience. But is it too late for western society to embrace gaming as a true profession? Since the 80s, those who have had interest in computers, consoles and gaming have had to carry negative labels and stereotypes.


Forget about Atari for a second and look at the other console dinosaurs; Nintendo and Sega. They were huge dominating forces in making gaming a worldwide pastime. Both being Japanese companies, console gaming and arcade gaming is what Japan was and still is mainly focused on. These arcades were the places to be as a young teenager – adult. This could be the reason that fighting games have always had their place in the Japanese competitive gaming market, as they are one of the most social games that you can play in an arcade. The popularity of gaming arcades in Japan has declined with the introduction of home consoles but now it is growing again. Check out this awesome 8 story arcade in Kawasaki City.

Since the Japanese have grown up with so many classic titles from their own nation (Mario, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken etc) I guess there was very little room on the market to push the growth of first person shooters.


After the bloodshed of the 2nd World War, the import of Japanese consoles was banned for many years in Korea, and only in 2001 did the government barely begin to lift this ban. This paved the way for PC gaming to become dominant in its early stages. Because Korea is a small country with a densely packed population, when the country was connected up to the internet, the whole place was wired at once. In early 2002, Koreans were very early on the internet bandwagon, being the 4th largest internet user base with 26 million internet users.

Also because of the heavily packed cities, the Korean communities are close. Apartments are small and crowded and most families didn’t have enough money to buy their own PC or they simply didn’t have the space to fit it in their home. So instead, youth would buy time at internet cafes, known as “PC Baangs”.

Like the arcades in Japan, PC Baangs were major social places, like bars and clubs are to the western world. It was a mainstream part of youth culture. Even the layout of PC Baangs are social, with a large loveseat attached to two computers so that guys could sit with their girlfriends. Because of the ban on console imports, this allowed PC Baangs to only offer PC games and it just so happened that Starcraft was there. People claim that its popularity is mainly because Starcraft was in the right place at the right time. Would it be different had Quake or Counter Strike been available?


Since hosting the World eSport Games Masters in 2006, the rest of the world was able to get a peep at professional gaming within the country of China. Having great representatives already in Warcraft III, it was natural that the WEG was a huge event for the Chinese fans. From there, China then went on to host other events such as the WCG, WSVG and CGS Pan-Asia finals. For the Warcraft III player Grubby, he claims he couldn’t even go to the toilet at WSVG 2007 without fans storming him just to get some kind of signature. In 2008, construction was completed on the Wuhan Optical Valley Electronic Sports Stadium. Yes, a gaming stadium.

Similar to Korea, Chinas cities are densely populated and Internet cafes are a popular youth hangout. But mainly the youths are focusing on MMORPGs and MOCGs (multiplayer online casual games). But don’t count on China following in the footsteps of Korea. The Chinese government has put anti fatigue/anti addiction systems in place which allows them to monitor who is playing, when and how much they’re playing.

The gaming channels in Korea do dedicate some timeslots to other games such as Counter Strike, but almost always around 3am. Perhaps a reality show with a famous Korean pop star bootcamping with some of the FPS legends could also swing the interest in the direction of other games.

What can be done?

So in order to make FPS games such as Quake Live and Counter Strike popular in the largest gaming nations, I would say that the first step would be to make sure that these games are readily available in internet cafes. Maybe running promotions for these games in the internet cafes would draw more attention away from the growing popularity of MMORPGs.

The next big thing is to have “idols” in those games in that country. People tend to mainly cheer for their nation especially in tournaments like WCG and ESWC, and if there were some ass kicking FPS players from China, Korea or Japan it’s sure that the country will pay attention. Just like in sports, if your nation is doing well (eg: Canada + ice hockey, NZ + Rugby etc) then the media will cover it, people will pay attention and care. Send some FPS talent over to Europe for that period and see how helpful it really is to train amongst the best. It’s very difficult to improve when there is no one “better” to practice against and only the rawest of talent can acheive anything from this.

There’s a lot of potential and with some strong marketing pushes from some FPS developers in these internet cafes I think we could see a positive turnaround for FPS games. It’s proven that the audience is there, it’s just a matter of reaching them. If basketball and football can co-exist peacefully, certainly there is space for other types of games to engage such a large, gaming-savvy audience.

Every nation has its own story to tell and for those which I didn’t include, it would be really interesting if you could leave a comment (or send tweet @Helloliefje) about the state of gaming in your country.

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  1. becks says:

    no cooller in tags, no win.

  2. D.Devil says:

    Good job! 🙂 I can agree to basically everything you said. The obvious problem is that there is no strong lobby for promoting FPS in Asia and it's mostly easier for organizers to adapt to sian preferences instead of trying to change their habits. But the key factor is really the lack of stars; the two winners of IEM Asia aren't even proper Asians.

  3. D.Devil says:

    Good job! 🙂

    I can agree to basically everything you said. The obvious problem is that there is no strong lobby for promoting FPS in Asia and it's mostly easier for organizers to adapt to sian preferences instead of trying to change their habits. But the key factor is really the lack of stars; the two winners of IEM Asia aren't even proper Asians.

  4. benno says:

    #1 [+]
    and wasnt it "on the lan"?

  5. AyT9 says:

    It's just a famous quote from Cooller, his english is not perfect 🙂

  6. nitpicker says:

    Mortal Kombat is an American game, and it's _far_ from a classic.

  7. Dave says:

    So many factors came together and combined to form the critical mass that propelled Starcraft into such popularity in South Korea. This has not even come close to happening with the FPS games.. despite millions in internet cafes playing Counterstrike.. despite huge high-cash tournaments for Quake3.. etc, etc.

    The only chance I see, of breaking in.. quickly.. is if the Quakelive designers, actually sponsored or helped sponsor a small tournament between the top Starcraft players of Quake Live. As a novelty thing, they all get one week to practice, then they bash it out as a bit of fun.. that kinda thing would make it onto the TV screens.. people would get a taste of wow, there's something in FPS's, that same tension, excitement. Supporters have to build up a relationship with the players, to know the history, to connect, and when you reach a critical mass of supporters.. in a small tournament like that, they'd already be connected to the players..

    Something like that could really set the spark.. for a frenzy of Quake Live gaming.. if supporters and new players sensed it might be the next big thing.. money and fame.. get practicing. Anyway, wishful thinking.

  8. Liefje says:

    Haha, that's actually a great idea Dave… now to get it to the people who can make it happen ;D

  9. Nilzie says:

    They are not. Maybe not in Japan though. But look at Sudden Attack in Korea, and CS in China. That is all. So this article is completely wrong.

    • Liefje says:

      How can it be completely wrong, we only see a couple of good CS teams come out of China that are able to compete with the top international teams. If the community was huge like you say it is, why aren't more playing on a high international level?

      Sure I was mistaken because i've never even heard of Sudden Attack until now but thats kind of the point of writing this article, so that people can share their knowledge about these somewhat unknown communities. I googled a lot for FPS communities in Asia and pretty much found fuck-all so it's up to geniuses like yourself to shed light on the situation.

  10. Cyn1c says:

    There are so many things to tell you about, but I’d rather not because there’s nothing you and I can do about it 🙂

  11. Cyn1c says:

    There are so many things to tell you about, but I'd rather not because there's nothing you and I can do about it 🙂

  12. Cyn1c says:

    First of all, sorry about the double post.
    The reason why you'll find most of us avoiding this topic is that it ends up being a rant or atleast, it feels like one. You can start off by reading this interview as it'll give you the gist of what's actually going on in this part of the world:

    China, Korea and Japan are much ahead of us due to reasons cited in this interview alone. To be honest, I feel very jealous when I see a Singapore server up for almost every FPS game I've ever bought.

    I know you'll have more questions after reading it all. Just let me know and I'll answer them for you or at least point you in the right direction.

  13. Liefje says:

    I'm really surprised that there were so many tournaments at that stage. But I mean that iview is from what, 2004 / 2005? Are there still a lot of tournaments going on?

  14. Cyn1c says:

    The number of tournaments dwindled with time. We had a rather big event down in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) called Vixture which was sponsored by EA. Most of the games played there were EA games (of course!) with Crysis being the biggest of them all. $40,000 was the prize purse overall which is the biggest ever we've seen so far.

    Games like Quake are limited to small time lan parties but when it comes to tournaments, it's mostly Counter Strike 1.6, DoTA and some racing game like TrackMania or NFS. We did have a tournament (Quake) a year back but Ashr had to ragequit because of pathetic organization at the venue.

    To be honest, we have so much talent here and we see it go to waste with each passing year. Most of these 13-14 year old school kids who're at the peak of their reflexes are limited to pub/private servers. I attended Microsoft's Halo3 ODST launch event here in New Delhi, India. They had spent so much money on that launch with 2 Indian moviestars at the venue. They setup X360 units and LCD TV sets along with Kiosks. I wish they had channeled that money for a Microsoft sponsored gaming event + Game launch with a tournament thrown in for the same game.

  15. Liefje says:

    $40k?! OMG! I'm shocked to hear about the prizes and events that are there. Perhaps the pros need to relocate? 😉

    It makes me think why they aren't able to do this in Europe / USA and perhaps the reason that they can have so much cash for the prize is that the overall costs to run an event in India would be cheaper?

  16. Cyn1c says:

    It's a misconception that these are recurring events. Well, here's the sad truth. Vixture won't be coming back. It was a one time event. EA pulled out of North India. If the pros relocated, they'd probably jump off a cliff due to frustration.

    You can visit http://www.byoc.in to see the frail attempts of keeping gaming alive.

    Organizing an event for a US/European company here would be much cheaper, yes. But you need a sponsor who understands the pulse of the gamers. All the instances I've listed so far are things from the past. Right now, we're all talk, no show.

  17. Liefje says:

    🙁 that's too bad!

  18. vxcriss says:

    I'd launch a theory… It's cause the whole asian combat culture and combat history is oriented towards martial arts and supernatural, while the western culture is all about science and the big boomstick. It's just in their genes to like swords and magic while westerners like guns. If you look at the SCI-FI manga genre you'll notice they are obsessed about swords, they have those huge robots with sharp tips and pointy edges and swords and stuff and they fight each other on melee most of the time. You rarely see fire weapons, and if you do, they are generally lasers and all sorts of beams and magic-looking "powers". My theory is that they love their swords and their magic as much as we love a nice M4 burst and a 'fire in the hole'. This would explain why FPS games are not so popular.

  19. Liefje says:

    haha, that's a good theory.. I like it 😀

  20. Eric says:

    Its because RTS is better as a spectator event. 2 people battling it out and proving whos better, the reason its more entertaining in Starcraft is because you get a feel for the kind of person they are through their playstyle.

    Quake and CS are hard games for sure but Starcraft (at the korean pro level) just takes it to the next level, and its easy for "heroes" to rise in this kind of game who show their amazing and unique strategies and playstyles.

    I honestly don't believe an FPS (as much as I love the genre) can become mainstream spectator like an RTS can.

  21. puMe says:

    u guys are fuckin dumb, it's obviously cause asians are smarter that they are able to follow RTS easier.

  22. Tech84 says:

    Europeans and US gamers prefer FPS games while in Asia with the exception of Japan who I think is more focused on fighting games where top players of Tekken and Stret Fighter a Japanese, while Korea and China are fans of RTS games namely starcraft and warcraft.

  23. Bill Cooke says:

    “Why aren’t FPS games popular in Asia?” IMHO they didn’t play Project Warlock 😉

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