Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok could be forced to take a break from competitive League of Legends, as the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed that esports stars wouldn’t be given exemption from partaking in South Korea’s national service.
Since 1957, South Korean men have been required to enlist in the army for two years between the age of 18 and 35.
Most people tend to serve their time during their early 20s. This is obviously a big problem for competitive gamers, given most players tend to peak around the same time and therefore risk wasting their best years.
However, MND usually grants South Korean athletes that show “exceptional performance” exemption from serving in the military, as they are already doing a service to their country.
For example, athletes that receive gold medals at the Asian Games are often allowed to skip national service. There was some debate over whether esports athletes would be granted a similar pardon after it was confirmed as a demonstration event at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, which takes place in August.
Will players like Faker be excused?
Faker previously told Korean broadcaster KBS that he would like to see esports athletes that perform in the games pardoned from military service. However, his request being granted seems unlikely.
InvenGlobal contacted the MND to ask whether gold medalists in esports at the Asian Games would be excused.
The MND responded:
“There are no clear rules to whether ‘a demonstration event shouldn’t grant military exemption.’ However, eventually we came to a conclusion that in this Asian Games, esports does not relate to military exemption nor monthly pensions; a case for it doesn’t even exist at all.”
This means that gold medalists in esports in the 2018 games will still have to perform their military service. However, it is expected that medalists in the 2022 games, with esports set to become an official event, will be offered the same benefits as other athletes.
Missing two LCK seasons could potentially cost Faker $5 million. The SK Telecom T1 player reportedly earns $2.5 million a year as one of the world’s best League of Legends players.