Gangnam is famous for being a ritzy, chic neighbourhood. Fashionable duds, rich athletes, and big-budget TV productions are commonplace in the wide streets of the gleaming business district to the South. In a technologically-advanced country like South Korea, it’s no surprise that some of the sports legends aren’t known for their physical fitness, but for their strategic minds and mouse speed: these are esports players, and Seoul’s Global Starcraft League is the grand-daddy of all esports competitions.
Starcraft and Esports
Esports aren’t new anymore. From the beginnings of competitive video gaming (think Donkey Kong arcade cabinet high-score contests), nerds around the world have hungered for a competition that lets them tower over their peers. But no esport is more well-known than Starcraft, and South Korea remains the world leader in esports competitors and tournaments.
Big-money Starcraft competitions have been around since the video game first released in 1998. The game’s release coincided with the spread of the internet and rise of PC방 (“PC bang” – PC gaming cafe) all over South Korea. Teenagers and adults alike across the country fell in love with Starcraft, and naturally, a competitive scene began to emerge around this 1v1 game that pitted your wits and speed against a stranger behind another computer screen.
Very few ever make it to the GSL Studio’s Hall of Fame!
Today, Starcraft’s sequel, Starcraft 2, is the world’s most respected esport, with a long pedigree of success and huge viewer numbers. Hundreds of thousands of gamers and fans tune in to tournaments of all shapes and sizes around the world every week. No Starcraft tournament, however, is more respected than Seoul’s Global Starcraft 2 League, simply known as “the GSL.” With live matches twice a week from the GSL studio in (where else?) downtown Gangnam, the GSL can be roughly compared to the Premier League in professional soccer. The six-figure prize pools, crowds of fans, and promise of eternal glory draw the best and brightest Starcraft 2 players from all around the globe. If you want to experience some Seoul Starcraft, the GSL is a must-see on any cultural tour of the city!
GSL Studio Location
The GSL Studio is tucked away on the second floor of the Medytox building, at 626 Teheran-ro, Daechi 2(i)-dong, Gangnam-gu. Getting there is simple – just take the green line (Line 2) to Samseong station, go out exit one, and walk straight ahead for about 2 minutes. The studio will be on your left, just before a large police building that overlooks the Han River. If you’re not sure you’re at the right place, look for the small “AfreecaTV” sign on the second floor of the building. Enter through the revolving glass doors and take the elevator or stairs up to floor 2. Oh, by the way, if you’re peckish before the matches start, Cry Cheese is on the way to the studio – it’s Seoul’s answer to In-and-Out Burger, and it’s one of the few authentic-tasting burger experiences available in the city.
Map of the GSL Studio
Once you’re inside the GSL studio, simply grab a free ticket from the attendant at the front desk. I’d recommend that you also bring earbuds and a form of ID. You can trade your ID for a small radio box that will allow you to listen to the English commentary on the matches. The Korean commentators are piped directly into the sound system at the studio: They are always incredibly excited about the matches, but unless your Korea is very good, it might be more distracting than entertaining. Hang on to your ticket, by the way. The GSL always has a raffle after the last match, so you could win some cute Starcraft swag, like a photobook, a shirt, or even an adorable little plushie doll!
I’ve been going to the GSL almost twice a week since I arrived in Seoul. I always enjoyed Starcraft casually when I was growing up, but seeing the best of the best compete for big prizes is a completely overwhelming experience. If you’ve ever played Starcraft, you will immediately appreciate the skill of all the players on the stage. They’re performing 400+ actions (mouse clicks and key taps) per minute under the hot stage lights. The speed and precision of their hands on the keyboard is often compared to a concert pianist who is improvising an incredibly complex fugue. And all this in front of a crowd who is roaring at every great play. Don’t worry though- the players wear thick, noise-cancelling earphones, so when the fans are ooh-ing and aah-ing at a secret strategy, the unsuspecting opponent won’t be tipped off.
An infamous final – TY vs Maru
GSL Times and Dates
There are three seasons of the GSL every year, which take place over the course of about three months each. Matches take place on most Wednesdays at 6:30 PM, and on Saturday afternoons at 1:00 PM. However, the schedule is often flexible due to other major international Starcraft tournaments, so if you’re having trouble finding the information, head over to r/starcraft or Teamliquid.net to ask for the schedule updates. In addition to the three main seasons of GSL each year, you can also catch two GSL Super Tournaments, which are 4-day lightning rounds for the top players. And the crown jewel of the GSL year is a tournament called “GSL vs. The World” where, you guessed it, Korean Starcraft pros team up against the rest of the world to see whether the roster of all-star non-Korean players has any chance against the stable of Korean OGs. Spoiler alert: it rarely goes well for “The World” team, though in recent years Korean dominance in the sport is beginning to be seriously challenged! Scheduling of all GSL events can be last-minute and not communicated well in English, so fan sites are usually the best place to find the most up-to-date schedule.
If you do make it out to Seoul and want to stop by the GSL, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I’m one of the backup English commentators for the matches, and when I’m not behind the caster’s desk I usually can be seen at the studio with the other foreigners who have made their esports pilgrimage. Find me on twitter @CreightonOlsen, or check out my Twitch page, where I stream amateur and pro Starcraft matches regularly.
When you visit Saudi Arabia, you wouldn’t miss Mecca. You wouldn’t fly all the way to Agra and skip the Taj Mahal. Likewise, no trip to Seoul would be complete without a visit to South Korea’s unique sporting phenomenon: The GSL.
- Creighton Olsen is a Starcraft commentator and personality who currently lives in Seoul, South Korea.