Editor's note: this film is no longer available for online viewing. 

Enjoying rock star status with hordes of adoring fans, professional gamers are national celebrities in South Korea.

Attracting millions of spectators and selling out stadiums, Seoul, the South Korean capital, is the Mecca for gamers and the home of the StarCraft pro-gaming tournament.

As top players earn huge sums of money in sponsored teams, being a StarCraft player is not only a wise career move, it is also the path to respect in a highly competitive society.

In State of Play, we follow the champion pro-gamer Lee Jae-dong as he copes with the pressure of staying on top of his game and pressure from his family not to lose sight of their traditions and culture.

The StarCraft tournament is watched by millions of fans [Al Jazeera]


By Steven Dhoedt

State of Play is, on the surface, a film about competitive sports. But this time the sport in question is rather unusual. StarCraft is a video game, something people, especially in the West, don't usually consider a professional sport.

In South Korea, Seoul serves as the epicentre of the StarCraft Pro League. Players of StarCraft do not excel through extraordinary physical or athletic performance, but possess unbelievable levels of concentration and ultra-fast reflexes. Their playing speed is measured in APMs - the number of "actions per minute" a player can execute with their keyboard and mouse.

Like most athletes, these players are very young when they start their professional career. Most quit school at 15 and embark on an extremely strict training schedule. Parallels can be easily drawn with the lifestyle of professional gymnasts or figure skaters.

My urge to tell this story was triggered by South Korea's unique culture.

The micro-world of the StarCraft Pro League is like a mirror of South Korean society - a society so competitive that it almost seems logical that a simple video game would result in a professional competitive sport. South Korea is a country that aims high. It's a country in full development that wants to prove itself on all levels - technologically, economically and politically.

Lee Jae-dong trains between 10 and 12 hours a day, seven days a week [Al Jazeera]

State of Play opens a window on South Korean society and the rather unknown subculture of e-sports. However, this film is really about the contradiction between work and play. Can a game still be a game when it becomes work?

Johan Huizinga pointed it out in his book, Homo Ludens, that man is - in the first place - a creature of play. Play is important in shaping a culture. Play and spontaneity are of crucial importance in the development of a child.

"All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."

Globally, hundreds of thousands of young players are seriously contemplating a professional career as a gamer. Annually, millions of viewers attend the leagues or follow the tournaments online. As competitive gaming is gaining momentum all over the world, it is time to show the true face of e-sports. This is not a world of gaming addicts or social outcasts. Neither is it a world in which everyone achieves their dream and lives happily ever after.

My aim is to show that e-sports, even if they are still in their embryonic phase, represent a respectable spectator sport, bringing joy and excitement to millions of people. For the athletes, it demands years of training and dedication to reach the top. As with all good sport stories, State of Play depicts a journey of victory but also of defeat, of hardships but also of friendships.

Ultimately, the film asks the same question that so many athletes ask themselves; what does it take to be the best?

Professional gaming is considered a national sport and television channels broadcast matches regularly [Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera