Pro video gamers in South Korea given same praise as athletes

By Paula Hancocks - It was once derided as the preserve of teenagers in their bedrooms, but e-gaming is now a multi-million dollar business on the global stage.

In South Korea, it has become a national pastime and top players are huge celebrities.

Mobbed at the airport, a sporting legend meets his fans. Lee Hyang-seouk -- better known as Faker -- is a 20-year-old world champion, is known as the god of League of Legends, one of the most popular video games around the world.

"I never dreamed of becoming a pro-gamer," he said, "so I never imagined becoming world champion. But I do like the attention and respect I get from so many people."

In South Korea, he is a superstar - tickets to watch him play live are coveted and fans get excited just to get close to the legend himself.

"I like Faker because he makes so many surprising moves," said one male fan. A woman said "I like his sometimes tough and reckless behavior during the game."

Faker even threw out the first pitch at a baseball game -- not his natural habitat, but it does show how big a celebrity he is here.

What about questions as to whether eSports is a real sport? "I think online games are very similar to sports in the way that people enjoy it together and there are competitions," Lee said.

"Winning is similar to winning a sports game, except it is a feeling in the brain instead of something physical like soccer."

Since his debut just three years ago, Lee has played with SK Telecom, rejecting lucrative offers from Chinese teams. And he enjoys having many nicknames - not only god but the Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan of his game.

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