Korean e-sports player Kim Kwan-woo, the first gold medalist in the history of the Summer Asian Games, broke down in tears as he recounted a text message he received from his mother.
Kim Kwan-woo attended the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games Athletes’ Chuseok event at the Grand New Century Hotel Boao Hangzhou on Sept. 29.
Kim was joined by e-sports FC Online bronze medalist Kwak Jun-hyuk, as well as Goo Bon-gil, Oh Sang-wook, Kim Jung-hwan, and Kim Jun-ho, who won gold in the men’s team fencing sabre event the previous day. The silver medal-winning women’s foil team of Chae So-oh, Hong Seo-in, Hong Sena, and Hong Hyo-jin were also in attendance.
The day before, Kim defeated Chinese Taipei’s Hsiang-Yu Lin in the final of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games e-sports Street Fighter 5 in straight sets, 4-3, to become the first ever champion of the event.
Born in 1979, Kim Kwan-woo was living the life of an ordinary office worker when he got his chance to wear the “Taeguk mark” at the Hangzhou Asian Games, where esports was included as an official sport for the first time. He won the second round of the national selection tournament, earning a flight to Hangzhou with Yeon Je-gil, the winner of the first round.
Kim Kwan-woo was not considered a ‘gold medal favorite’ before the start of the Hangzhou Asian Games. This was largely due to the fact that he wasn’t a professional gamer, so his awards and accolades didn’t really stand out.
However, Kim’s confidence was boosted when he defeated Japan’s Kawano at EVO 2022, the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world, and then went on to defeat Taiwan’s Oil King, the winner of this year’s EVO 2023 Street Fighter 5. After a relentless run to gold, Kim stood atop the podium and set the national anthem ringing in the China Hangzhou Esports Center.
“When people think of e-sports, they usually think of PC games with a keyboard and mouse,” Kim said. “(Street Fighter) is a game with levers and buttons. I’ve been good at it since I was a kid, and if I was good at fighting games, I’d get dragged to play by my older brother in the neighborhood. I think I’ve gotten to this point because of my competitive drive to not let go of the lever even if I get hit in the side.”
The way society views esports has changed dramatically over the past decade. Faker (Lee Sang-hyuk), the living legend of League of Legends (LoL), a game that will be featured as an eSports event at the Hangzhou Asian Games alongside Street Fighter 5, earns billions of won in salary and is treated as equally or more than other high-level sports stars.
But for members of the “arcade generation” like Kim Kwan-woo, playing video games in school was considered a crime. It was not uncommon to be scolded or spanked by your parents if they found out you spent your allowance at an arcade. Even at school, they were taught not to go to arcades.
“When I was younger, the only person who scolded me a lot (for going to the arcade) was my mom,” Kim said, explaining, “She doesn’t know about this (Asian Games e-sports event) yet, and she’s an old lady, so it’s hard to find her, but someone else told her that I won a gold medal.”
“My mom sent me a text saying ‘I’m so happy and excited’ that was a little emotional and difficult to write,” he said, adding that his brother, a relative he hadn’t spoken to in a long time, also contacted him.
For Kim, winning Street Fighter 5 at the Hangzhou Asian Games means a lot. He’s been playing for coins in arcades for countless years, but the Asian Games is different.
“Most of my competitions are challenging, and I went into the national trials with the same idea,” Kim said. “I tried my best to win (the trials) and make the national team. I wanted to make a strong showing at the Asian Games, and I’m glad I got the gold medal.” 레고토토
Goo Bon-gil, who won gold in the men’s sabre team event at the Hangzhou Asian Games, also paid tribute to Kim and other e-sports athletes.
“Computer games require a lot of concentration (just like sports), and e-sports athletes are amazing,” he said. “I would like to say congratulations to the e-sports athletes who won medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games.”