My Trip to Korea: 2018 GSL Finals

I’m back from my Asian adventure to both Japan and Korea, and there was a lot of gaming related activities to share with everyone.  I’ve decided to start with the most time-relevant event, my trip and attendance at the 2018 GSL Finals for Starcraft II (Warning: Spoilers ahead!!).

GSL Logo

For those unfamiliar, the GSL, or Global Starcraft II League, is the top Starcraft II tournament in the world.  The tournament is held in South Korea, and is typically composed of entirely Koreans.  The GSL was one of the first big Korean tournaments to stream its matches online, starting way back on the GOMPlayer and today available for free on Twitch.

The seeding and structure of the initial participants is a bit confusing, but the tournament itself begins with 32 players who play two “group stage” rounds, with the top two of each group advancing between rounds.  Each group is made up of four players, who play what amounts to a double elimination bracket amongst the four to determine the top two.

After the initial group stages, the final eight players play in a single elimination bracket, with each match going to a best-of-5.  The finals is a best of 7 match for a $37,000 first place prize.

I just so happened to be in Seoul on the Saturday that the finals were being held.  I originally did not think I’d be able to go, given that I was with others that weren’t interested in Starcraft, and I wasn’t going to be able to get to the studio early enough to get tickets.  As it turned out, our hotel was just a quick subway ride down the street.

Seoul Subway Map

The FreeCup Studio is located in Gangnam, which is located in Seoul.  The tickets went out at 12pm that day, and you had to show up in person to get them.  Doors would then open at 3:30pm and the matches began at 5pm.

FreeCup Studio Map

We had planned a tour of the DMZ on the South Korean/North Korean border (which was an incredible experience by itself) and thus I wouldn’t be able to get down to the studio until closer to 5.  I feared all the tickets would be gone or I at least would not be able to watch the finals in the studio itself (they had an overflow standing room in the basement).

GSL Front Studio Sign

We got down to the studio building, and knew we were in the right place with the above sign just outside directing us to the second floor (otherwise, I would’ve been lost).

GSL Entryway

You take the elevator and get down to the studio which was already packed with all different kinds of people.  I got lucky – they still had tickets available and the standing in the back of the main studio was still open.  I got tickets, made a cheer (handwritten sign the audience holds up during the match), but failed to get one of the little translator boxes.  It ended up working out despite not knowing Korean, as I at least understood what was happening in the game.

GSL Pregame View

One thing I quickly noticed was how small the studio was in comparison to how its depicted on stream.  They do a good job of making the place seem quite large on Twitch, but its super compact in person.  There are numbered chairs filling out most of the space, with large cameras hovering over the crowd, and the player booths up on the front stage with a huge screen behind them.

GSL Pregame View 2

We had a bit of a wait until the matches started, and I got to see various Korean pros walking back and forth from the front row and back to the green room.  There were also quite a few non-Koreans that had come out to watch the Finals.

GSL Pregame Lights

Eventually the light show began as the players, Stats and Maru, were introduced.  Stats was a previous GSL winner playing Protoss and part of an American e-sports team, while Maru is a Terran who hasn’t been able to perform in the GSL despite a long history of hype since he started playing at age 14(!).

The full match can be watched below:

It was quite thrilling to see the matches played out live in the studio.  I haven’t been following the SCII scene as closely as I used to, but I was familiar with both players.  My significant other knew absolutely nothing about the game but had come along, so I was explaining what all the exciting moments meant.  This had the effect of reacquainting myself with one of my favorite RTS’s of all time.

GSL Maru Victory

In the end, despite my cheering for my fellow Protoss brethren, the in-form Maru managed to counter several strong openings from Stats to win 4-2 and secure his first ever GSL.  The celebration was a bit anticlimatic — they have the winner walk out and take the trophy alone and they blow some confetti out for a quick sec and then hand them an oversized check.

In sum, it was an awesome experience to get to attend one of the premier e-sports venues in the world.  I’ve been a longtime fan of watching SC2 premier level competition, and to be in Seoul during the actual finals worked out perfectly.  I’d highly suggest anyone that happens to be in the area to check out a GSL event if possible.  There’s nothing else quite like it.


8 thoughts on “My Trip to Korea: 2018 GSL Finals

  1. I have never played StarCraft II or experienced an e-sports tournament. It seems strange to watch two players fight in a computer game, I am used to playing the games myself so it seems weird to not take part. It did seem good that the organisers provided a translator box so the spectators could follow the game if they did not know the language, but the award ceremony did seem anticlimactic though.
    What was shown on the screen? Was it the game from the two player’s viewpoints? Was it easy to follow the game? Was it a major tournament? Were the two players have high rankings?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The screen did display the game from an “observer” perspective so you could see more than either player could. I’d say it was easy for me to follow, but for a complete new player it might be overwhelming. Both players are very highly ranked.


  2. That subway map reminds me of the London Underground. It’s impressive how popular StarCraft is over there. Years ago I used to watch loads of SC2 videos on YouTube, but the Western scene seems to have died out since then.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like an awesome trip. I can’t say I’ve ever been to Japan or Korea, so I’m glad I got to see some of it through your article. I have seen a couple of e-sport events live at cons, though nothing to this magnitude. They were regional tournaments for League Of Legends, and Super Smash Bros. Wii U. Getting to see something at this level, live has to really be something though. Watching players pull off stuff not thought possible. Glad you were able to get out there to experience it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Attending an e-sport match sounds like a lot of fun. There is a lot more energy present than someone not in the know would give it credit for. I’ve been to Japan and China, but I haven’t visited Korea yet. Nonetheless, that subway map reminds me of navigating the Shanghai Metro.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was my first experience at an actual e sport match and it makes me want to try for a big event in the US. I’d like to visit China at some point – Korea has a lot less English than Japan but was still straight forward enough to get around

      Liked by 1 person

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