The Western world may be confounded that a fortune could be amassed by excelling at video games. But in South Korea, where at least one third of the population plays online games, gaming events are broadcast on national TV and thousands of fans flock outside events just to meet players - this unlikely rock-star lifestyle became a reality for Lim Yo Hwan.
“Slayers Boxer” as he was known online was dubbed the Michael Jordan of Starcraft, which is considered the Cadillac of online gaming in South Korea. As a result, he enjoyed national sporting icon status, screaming female fans, bodyguard escorts, a published autobiography in 2003 and a reported annual take of over $500,000.
So, why does a man once voted by MTV as one of gaming’s top ten most influential players want to switch to a career in poker? Well, just ask his predecessors.
Frenchman Bertrand ‘Elky’ Grospellier once lived in South Korea to partake in its lucrative gaming industry as one of Starcraft’s top ranked players and is now famed for a switch to poker that brought him hair raising success and a sponsorship deal with PokerStars. While Scotsman Iain ‘TillerMaN’ Girdwood, though perhaps less renowned, also made the transition in 2004 and within six months was sitting at the highest stakes online and paying off his mother’s mortgage.
According to reports in the Korean media, Lim will be playing in live events on the Asian Poker Tour and World Series of Poker in 2014. His high media profile and million member fan club make him a likely target for professional sponsorship as he already promotes ‘FulPotPoker’ a play money social media poker room that operates in the Asian market.
Lim says poker is “just like Starcraft” and only seems concerned about “spinal problems” while playing, but he enters the game at a much tougher time than those before him and it will be very interesting indeed to track his progress on the felt.