BTS fans stunned as South Korean esports stars can skip military service with Asian Games gold
Several fans of South Korean boy band BTS have expressed their dismay at learning that the esports players representing the country can be exempt from military service if they win gold medals at the 2022 Asian Games.
Esports players from across Asia have traveled to Hangzhou, China, to compete at the 2022 Asian Games, where esports is making its debut as a medal event.
The lineup of video games being played features League of Legends, Dota 2, Honor of Kings, PUBG Mobile, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, Street Fighter V, and FIFA Online 4. Hearthstone was initially on the list before being excluded after negotiations between Blizzard Entertainment and Chinese publishing partner NetEase fell through.
For the South Korean players competing at the Asian Games, a gold medal will also lead to an exemption from mandatory military service. All able-bodied South Korean males must serve in the military for 18-21 months by the age of 28.
Soccer star Son Heung-min was granted an exemption after helping the South Korean national team win gold at the 2018 Asian Games. He was only required to complete basic three-week training.
An exemption would prove particularly important for League of Legends star Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok, who turns 28 in May. The T1 mid laner, widely recognized as the best League of Legends player of all time, missed four weeks of action earlier this year because of a wrist problem.
BTS fans unhappy as esports players could skip military service
According to news agency AFP, exemptions are typically granted to “elite athletes or classical musicians on the basis of promoting national prestige.”
The news of esports athletes potentially earning exemptions is likely to reignite a debate in South Korea that began when it was rumored that the government was considering allowing the members of BTS to skip service so that the boy band’s progress would not be interrupted.
But in October, all seven members announced that they would complete their service. On Friday, Suga became the third member of the band to enlist, after Jin and J-Hope.
“If everyone gets an exemption for winning gold medals, then you have to include those in esports,” Kim Myong-won, a Seoul resident, told Nikkei Asia. “But it does sound strange that you can be exempt for sitting in front of a computer and playing games.”
On social media, several fans of the boy band have expressed their shock at learning that esports players could skip service.
“I don’t see how this is fair,” one fan wrote on X/Twitter in a post that has racked up over 5 million views.
“This really makes me question how the South Korean government determines what national prestige is and how people contribute to it,” another user wrote.
“Does esports boost/spread their culture more than music, the arts and global relations? I wonder how much money esports contributes to their economy versus BTS and other artists?”
The 2022 Asian Games’ esports competitions began on Sunday, September 24, with the first Honor of Kings and FIFA Online 4 matches. The League of Legends tournament kicked off Monday, September 25, with South Korea breezing past its group opponents to secure a playoff spot.