Wolf schröder: ‘In esports, the Best in Korea is the Best in the World’

Wolf Schröder broadcasts and commentates on professional eSports league games watched by gaming buffs all over the world. As a young boy in his hometown Atlanta, the united States, Schröder made friends with Korean gamers who shared StarCraft game strategy tips with him. While in college, the amateur game presenter was offered a job by a Korean cable TV network.

I visited the Nexon Arena Studio in Gangnam, the upscale district in the southern part of Seoul, on the night of April 3, when an SSL Series 2017 game was held as part of the StarCraft II League. It was one of the full league games in which a total of 20 Korean gamers were to compete for nine weeks. I arrived an hour before the game started, but many people had already taken their seats in the studio. Most of them were young, and among them were many foreigners.

eSports Fever Runs High
The game was streamed live via Naver, SPOTV GAMES, eSports, and YouTube, and a VoD service was also promised. As it was a big game, however, many people had come to see it in person.
eSports refers to video games using electronic systems, such as computers, video networks, or video game consoles. eSports buffs don’t just play games themselves, they also watch streamed games between pros and take part in the gaming industry’s cyberculture. Korea has a particularly advanced eSports fan culture. Whenever games are held on specially built stages at Seoul Plaza in front of the Seoul City Hall or at Busan’s popular Haeundae Beach, joyful shouts or dismayed sighs from thousands of spectators sweep through the entire area. Blizzard Entertainment, the American global video game maker of smash hits like StarCraft, holds media events in Korea whenever it rolls out a new game.

Wolf Schröder, a freelance eSports broadcaster, is known for his unique style of broadcasting marked by breathtaking moments in the game interspersed with personal stories about the gamers.

On March 26, Blizzard Entertainment CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime showcased “StarCraft: Remastered” at COEX in Gangnam, ahead of its release this summer. Morhaime is well aware that Korea is one of the countries that determine the success or failure of new video games. Blizzard created StarCraft I in 1998, but it was Korean users that led the evolution of online games into eSports.
Who better than Wolf Schröder to explain the amazing eSports fever in Korea? To listen to what he had to say, I met him at the Nexon Arena Studio before the game started.
“StarCraft was an inexpensive game that was playable for free in cheap PC-bang [internet cafés or LAN gaming centers]. The company OnGameNet, now known as OGN, created a tournament called the OnGameNet Starleague (OSL), which officially started in 2000 and ran through 2012,” Schröder said. “During this time, the game grew in popularity along with the OSL, and viewership increased. Big sponsors like KT and SKT entered the scene. With telecom companies on board, other big name sponsors like Woongjin and Samsung joined in, and even the beer brand Hite had a team. StarCraft was broadcast on television by OnGameNet and then eventually on a new channel, MBC Game. For gamers, to be able to see their favorite game on television with professional players and big sponsors was incredible. Nowhere else in the world was eSports this popular, and Korean gamers were proud. That attitude still exists today.”
Schröder seems to have a thorough grasp of Korea’s online game history, as if he had been here from the beginning when the industry first kicked off. As to why Korea is such a trailblazer for eSports, Schröder cited Korean gamers’ strict adherence to their coaches’ instructions as well as their tireless practice and strong sense of teamwork, built through group training.

An Atlanta Boy Spellbound by Video Games
At one time, StarCraft was considered a highly addictive distraction, frustrating Korean parents who wanted their children to concentrate on their studies. Meanwhile, far away in Atlanta, the United States, the game was changing the fate of a young boy. Wolf Schröder first encountered StarCraft at the age of 10 and was immediately caught in its spell. He then found out that some Korean boys in his school were better at it than him and not only enjoyed multiplayer games but even developed their own game apps by using editor apps. Those Korean boys were not only good at games but also at math. As he befriended them, Schröder became mesmerized by the world of StarCraft. He also had the chance to try his first Korean food at their homes. He quickly acquired a taste for dishes like bulgogi and ramyeon as well as snacks like Ppushyeo Ppushyeo (a noodle snack) and Choco Pie.

Schröder’s strength is his storytelling ability. He turns breathtaking gaming moments into exciting sagas by blending them with personal stories about the gamers rather than flatly commentating on the games. He does so because he doesn’t like gamers and fans overseas to regard Korean gamers as machines or robots.

After entering Georgia State University, Schröder launched the Open Wolf Cup tournament, named after himself, and started a one-man online broadcasting program. A computer and a microphone were all he had, and he broadcast live from his apartment. As many as 128 gamers took part in the first tournament and the $50 cash prize came out of his own pocket. He also volunteered as a presenter or commentator for tournaments organized by other people. He quickly racked up broadcasts of around 100 games at 14 tournaments, in which some 130 gamers participated. Indisputably, he is a first-generation StarCraft presenter.
To his utter disbelief, in his sophomore year, Schröder was offered a job by a Korean cable TV network.

Wolf Schröder, wearing a cap emblazoned with the Korean national flag, poses for the camera.

“I was invited to Korea to work as a broadcaster by GOMTV. They were looking for new broadcast talent to move to Korea and commentate on StarCraft II,” Schröder said. “Since I had quite a bit of experience in casting live tournaments, I was a natural fit for them. I had a long résumé, but actually had done an offline broadcast in a studio just once before. I was excited to ‘level up’ professionally and take my career to the next step, and Korea was the place to be!”
In 2011, he quit college and flew to Korea, where he signed a one-year contract with GOMTV as a game presenter. By the time the contract expired, he had gained enough confidence to stay on and work freelance. He currently broadcasts five or six games a week, mostly StarCraft II, Heroes, and Overwatch, for GOMTV, AfreecaTV, and SPOTV. He broadcasts these games in real time on YouTube for his fans all over the world and his work sees him frequently travel overseas.

A Unique Broadcasting Style
Schröder’s strength is his storytelling ability. He turns breathtaking gaming moments into exciting sagas by blending them with personal stories about the gamers rather than flatly commentating on the games. He does so because he doesn’t like gamers and fans overseas to regard Korean gamers as machines or robots.
Schröder believes this image of Korean gamers is a result of their outstanding skills. Aware of this, Korean gamers sometimes say to him, “Put in a good word for me, Wolf!” But he keeps his distance from them for fear of losing his objectivity as a broadcaster and gathers information about them mainly through the media or their acquaintances.
As Wolf Schröder gained recognition, the organizer of the 2016 KeSPA Cup recruited five presenters, three Koreans and two foreigners, which turned out to be a success. When Schröder interviewed the Korean gamers in fluent Korean, he attracted wide attention and was given the Korean name Kim Eul-bu (a rough transliteration of “wolf”). Since then, he has been more actively exchanging messages with his Korean fans on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
About 10 game presenters with an international reputation, including Schröder, now live in Seoul. Schröder meets them frequently, though he keeps a healthy distance from gamers. As far as eSports is concerned, being the best gamer in Korea means being the best in the world. The same is true for game presenters. Of the 10 or so foreign game presenters, Schröder cited Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, Duncan “Thorin” Shields, and Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith as his role models. They are all League of Legends commentators and presenters. “Their analytical style and quick ability to process and convey information is very impressive,” he said.

Schröder, second from right, broadcasts an eSports game in the foreign broadcasters’ booth at the Nexon Arena Studio, where an SSL Series 2017 game is underway as part of the StarCraft II League.

Love of Korean Food
Schröder says he considers himself Korean. On social media, he stimulates his followers’ appetites with postings of himself enjoying Korean food. The revelation that he takes Korean food on his trips to the United States incited a huge response from his fans, and a photo of him using two forks like chopsticks, joking that he was more comfortable with chopsticks than with forks, brought a flurry of comments.
Last winter, Schröder posted photos of himself participating in the candlelight protests at Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, calling on the then President Park Geun-hye to step down. When the Constitutional Court finally removed her from office, he congratulated the Korean people on their victory, the result of enduring the long cold winter in the streets for the future of their country. On the day, he said he hoped everyone would have a good meal and enjoy the rest of the day. He received thousands of “likes” for that posting, with many fans saying, “Yes, there’s no doubt he’s Korean!” Indeed, when he returns from trips to the United States, Schröder jokes that there’s no place like his home in Korea.
Schröder’s love of Korea clearly extends to its food. He still remembers the taste of grilled pork tenderloin he ate at a restaurant in Mapo, north of the Han River in Seoul, where the staff at GOMTV took him on his first day at his new job.
“Korean food is by far the tastiest. I get to eat it all the time,” he said. “The flavor here is really strong, and food is always served piping hot, and is usually fairly spicy. When I first moved here, many Koreans told me they found it difficult to travel to America because the food there tasted bland or empty to them. Now I understand why! This is of course without mentioning that almost every Korean restaurant is open until late at night, they serve soju, and they’re all reasonably priced. Don’t go to America and try to spend the same amount of money on Korean BBQ. Expect to pay double or triple. A bottle of soju for 10 dollars or more.”
Since his love of Korean food is widely known, he has been asked many times to appear on TV cooking shows or give interviews. But this 28-year-old young man seems to know better. He knows that he has no time for such things, and that he is an eSports presenter — no more, no less.
Over the past six years, since he first settled near the GOMTV studios in the Mokdong neighborhood in northwestern Seoul, he has moved six times to find a better place. He is still dreaming of a house from which he can see the Han River when he raises the blinds in the morning. He believes it won’t be long before his dream comes true.

Kim Hyun-sook CEO, K-MovieLove
Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
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