My First Korean PC Bang (Not Porn)

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Trust me, that no smoking sign is just for show

My First PC Bang

Growing up in Brooklyn, I had one local internet cafe. I used to go there everyday as a kid to play counter-strike because I could never get a copy for myself as a 9 year old with no allowance and a mother that would be quick to throw all my video games into a garbage bag and hide them for months at a time. It was a nice place with about 10 computers that people used for printing and kids would jump on for a casual hour of gaming. My $6 lunch money would be spent the same way every day, $3 for a half hour of gaming, $2 for some chicken taquitos, and $1 for a hot chocolate. The place closed down after about 2 years and opened up again on the other side of the neighborhood and served only as a computer repair shop that held classes from time to time. By the time it closed down I had my own machine that was powerful enough to play the games I wanted to play. I hadn’t gone to any places like this again until this last year when me and my fellow officers of the Hunter E-Sports club threw LAN events in a cyber cafe in a Korean neighborhood in Queens an hour away by public transportation. When I first became interested in E-Sports, I heard plenty about Korean PC-Bang culture, and how they were THE place for kids to hang out in after school. Today I visited my first PC Bang.

As of this writing, I have been staying in the apartment of an English teacher in Korea in Gireum that I met through couch surfing, his roommate, and another couch surfer hailing from Berlin after spending 10 months bumming in Australia. I don’t see too much of them, the two residents work during the day and leave before I wake, and I come back from Starcraft events or meeting with people after they have gone to sleep. There was one day where I brought the German couch surfer with me to Starleague, but I will have to write about that in another “Post From Memory”. This morning was no different, I woke up, took a shower, and after writing the first half of my “Post From Memory #1” took a walk around the neighborhood.

I found a nice side street with a lot of shops and small food joints and stopped by chicken spot. By the way, Koreans LOVE fried chicken. Everywhere I go there seems to be a chicken spot within two blocks of each other and there definitely isn’t a shortage of KFC locations in Seoul either. This spot didn’t have a menu. I was hoping for some variety, but the woman brought out the only option: double-fried chicken. Basically they fry the chicken, leave it out until someone orders some, then they fry it again and serve it. Not my favorite, but I ate it anyway.

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That same nice side street.

Right across the street from the chicken joint is a PC Bang. I walk up three flights of stairs and I’m greeted by a small young woman who gives me a card with cute Maple Story type anime characters and a barcode on it. She points me to a computer and I walk towards it. The place is empty because it is too early for the kids to be out of school. The only people there were three or four older men chain smoking and playing Tera, WoW, and some MMOs I can’t recognize and me. The room is smoky, grimy, and dark. I’m excited and this is exactly what I wanted. I try surfing the web, but no matter what URL I put in, it goes to some crappy Ask Jeeves looking search engine. After about ten minutes I realize I can get to English language sites by going to Google and searching for them from there. I start downloading the western client for League of Legends and open Starcraft II, which hasn’t been updated since Wings of Liberty.

After downloading 4GB of Starcraft updates, at 15MB/s, I log on to my account and queue for a game. I am afraid to play the first of my placement matches on the Korean server. I don’t understand anything in the Korean client so I can’t change my hotkeys or change the setting that allows me to target enemy structures. Why Blizzard would turn that off by default will always leave me dumbfounded. My first match is against a guy with a non-Korean name. Ends up he has no idea what server he’s on and also doesn’t seem to know how to play. I 10 pool him and he pulls all of his SCVs to try and kill 6 zerglings. I end it quickly with a few banelings and call it a game.

The second game was against a Korean player who is a little bit better. This game is a little difficult because the internet may be great, but the machine itself doesn’t have the processing power to apply LoL patches and play a game of Starcraft at the same time. I’m lagging. Hard. After a long fought game with lag spikes that make it impossible to micro, I out macro my opponent and completely overpower him with broodlords, roaches, and a dozen swarm hosts spewing locusts from right outside his natural. I wish I had taken a picture of what happened next, because besides it being funny, I would have loved a translation. The other player starts typing rapidly a bunch of Korean then sending me messages of just keyboard slams. He refuses to leave the game and I gladly destroy all of his structures.

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One minute after my second match, the LoL client finishes installing and I jump on to talk to friends and play a few games on the North American server. (I will probably have a Korean account soon.) During this time, a lot of kids start coming into the PC Bang in waves. Some stop to watch me play top as Renekton, but soon leave once they realize that I’m a scrub.

When I leave, the room is completely packed with kids and those same three old men. When I look at the games they’re playing, it is almost completely League of Legends. I didn’t see a single person playing Starcraft, but at this point I’ve already accepted that it just isn’t very big in Korea. I don’t think my dream of seeing Life pull a Firebathero-esque ceremony in front of thousands of fans on a giant stage will be coming true anytime soon.

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