Over 10,000 rapturous fans roared with approval as Kim Jung Woo shrugged his way up the podium for the crowning moment of his young career. Kim -- a pale, delicately spoken 19-year old -- had just overcome a 2-0 deficit to beat the world's consensus top-ranked player (former child prodigy Lee Young-Ho) in an upset for the ages. The prize? A check cosigned by event-sponsor Korean Airlines for a hefty 40-million Korean won, along with the hard-earned respect of nearly an entire nation. The contest? StarCraft, the alien warfare strategy game played by millions across the world, and the national pastime of South Korea.
For EffOrt (as Kim is better known), this was as good as it gets: he had just become the 2010 winner of South Korea's OGN StarLeague, one of the biggest and most prestigious StarCraft tournaments in the entire world.
When Blizzard Entertainment releases StarCraft II later this month, it will be fulfilling a promise to its fans nine years in the making. Back in 1998, when the original title was released, no one in their right mind could have predicted that a science fiction based, real-time strategy game with a ridiculously steep learning curve would go on to become one of the most widely played PC games of all time. With 11 million copies shipped worldwide, it ranks 4th all time behind only The Sims franchise (with a staggering 29 million copies shipped of the original and its sequel), and Blizzard's other golden child, World of Warcraft (with 11.5 million copies shipped worldwide). Korea alone accounts for 4.5 million of those StarCraft copies, or roughly 40% of the world's shipments.