Arrival in Seoul
About a month and a half ago, I got some of the best news of my life. I was going to Seoul, Korea, to witness the finals of Azubu OGN The Champions 2012 Spring in person. Now, as someone who has more than half of his life invested in eSports, I don't need to explain that this made me burst into the mother of all happy dances.
Fast forward six weeks, and my legs are protesting the limited room available to them in the Boeing 747 cruising about 5000 kilometers above the Ural mountain range. I begin to understand why someone would want to fly business class. Five more hours of physical discomfort later, I touch ground in the majestic city of Seoul, home to over 45 million people. After picking up my luggage, letting Korean customs make sure I'm not a terrorist, and finally making my way towards the airport exit, two Azubu employees are waiting for me. One of them is holding a sign with my name on it. This feels weird, as I've always considered myself just a regular guy. Apparently, the rising eSports industry begs to differ.
I introduce myself and meet the wonderful Azubu Kevin and Azubu Hanee. Both of them are very friendly, speak great English, and help me on my way towards the hotel. On the very comfortable bus ride towards Gangnam Best Western hotel, I meet Saty, one of the lucky winners of Azubu's contest. He likes Starcraft, LoL and DotA. I'm relieved, because I have someone to talk geek with during the sixty minute trip. Saty tells me that he was actually in the second pool of winners, because apparently a lot of folk couldn't believe Azubu would pay for ten random people to experience Seoul and The Champions Spring 2012 in person. So in the end, only four people actually made the trip. What a shame.
At the hotel another Azubu employee was waiting for us, and checked us into our rooms. She told us to rest a bit, and be in the 2nd floor lobby at eight pm local time for a meeting. I dropped my luggage, grabbed my photo camera, parted the curtains of my 10th floor hotel room, and took this photo:
Why would you turn on the 42" TV set to see some Korean commercials, when you can just look out of your window and see one a few kilometers away?
Later that day, down in the lobby, I met Trevor (TorcH), Rachel (CSN SelzterPlease), Dana (JforJade), Andreas (AL Hammer), Tobias (Readmore Meiji), as well as Brandon and Jordan, two more guys who won the their trip thanks to the Azubu 10 winners event. We got some more info on the upcoming days, as well as a cure for our growling stomachs: excellent Korean order-in food. At this point the press folk were seperated from the contest winners, and we met with eSports' original gangsta: Mister Can Yang.
He was nice enough to take us out for Korean barbecue - "Korean BBQ NEVER fails" - and introduce us to Soju. Soju is a 20% alcohol drink made from sweet potatoes, and (mixed with beer) the drink of choice in Korea. I should also mention that it goes down like water. After having a mandatory shot of pure Soju, we dug into the food. Can taught us how to eat BBQ Korean style:
> Fill it with a bed of rice
> Season with whichever spicy sauce is at hand ("PUT MORE" - Can Yang)
> Add meat of choice
> Wrap it all up and enjoy!
The food was indeed delicious, liquor flowed aplenty, everyone got to know eachother, and it turned out to be an exhilarating first night in Seoul.
Azubu Offices & Namsan tower
On the second day we all had to be ready at 9:30 in the morning to visit the Azubu Seoul headquarters, and thankfully nobody was experiencing much jet lag. Soju-lag was the common affliction though. Luckily the lavish breakfast buffet in our hotel had us forgetting our headache very quickly. Right on time, Kevin showed up in the Azubu company van, and started loading it up with sleepy foreigners. After some smooth navigating through Korean traffic, we arrived at the Azubu offices. The office space resonated quiet and peacefulness, and the comfortable chairs and watercooler soon became everyone's new best friends.
After informing the Azubians that the western press had arrived, Kevin returned to us bearing gifts. Everyone received a bag filled to the rim with very cool and unique Azubu swagger, including a miniature statue of Azubot. A few moments later we were introduced to a bunch of important people such as Mr. Lee (Managing Director), Robb Cheek (General Manager) and Cyrus Panahizadi (Honorary Chairman). We also met most of the other employees, and were shown around the offices. Through Mr. Lee's office jampacked with a sick rig, video games and consoles, as well as the 2nd floor being livened up by LoL meme photos and calendars, one thing immediately became obvious: Azubu loves games and gamers.
When the office tour ended, the others went downstairs to grab lunch. I stayed in and took the opportunity to interview Robert Cheek, the results of which will be available shortly on this website. After a very pleasant and inspiring conversation, I also had the chance to discuss the Korean LoL scene with "Nate-Dogg", Azubu's eSports manager. After lunch, everyone gathered back at the offices and it was time for the press to leave.
We experienced the highly efficient Korean subway system, and upon arriving in the shopping district, Tobi, Trevor and I indulged Rachel and Dana in their shopping trip. While the girls were exhausting store after store, we had some mantalk and shot a few snaps. Here's a photo of Dana rocking some unique K-Pop music video swagger:
After browsing, more browsing, and then some, the ladies were finally satisfied, and we caught another subway ride to our meetup point. There we were rejoined with Hammer and the contest winners. A quick spin through Seoul in the Azubu van, and we found ourselves at the bottom of N Seoul Tower, and facing a 1,3km climb upwards. I also learned something about Hammer there: when he sees a fountain, he wants you to draw him like one of your french girls.
Namsan (South Mountain) at the top of which N Tower is perched, offers a lot of great nature in the heart of the city, and a stunning panoramic view. This is one of those instances where photographs do a much better job than words, hence:
If you ever visit N Seoul Tower, you'll come to find a lot of the safety fencing there is nothing short of laden with locks and hearts, left there by couples pledging their eternal love to one another in this unique way. After allowing some time for Kevin and Tobi to seal in their newfound manlove, we took the most entertaining elevator ride in the universe up to the restaurant in N Tower. The elevator ceiling doubles as a projector screen, and during the ride up an animated movie of the elevator launching out of N Tower and into the infinite reaches of the galaxy is displayed.
Once inside the lofty restaurant and properly seated, Azubu treated us to a classy six-course meal, during which the group bonded further over the great food and cheerful conversation. When everyone finished licking their chops we took some group photos, rode the elevator back to earth, and unanimously decided on some more snaps. A succinct selection:
The busy day left everyone yearning for some much-needed sleep, so we decided to hit the sack early, in order to be well-rested for the big finals day.
I'd like to thank SK-Gaming for granting me the chance to step my game up and be a real esports journalist, Azubu for the fantastic trip and taking such good care of me, and Jordan Tai for some of the images used.
Check SK-Gaming.com tomorrow for part two of this incredible journey!
Hope you enjoyed, and don't forget to leave a comment in the appropriate section!
* Writer and artiste extraordinaire
* Previous Lead League of Legends Editor for SK-gaming
* League of Legends Livestreamer
THE NEW JERSEY