South Korea's eSports superstar 'Faker' in line for military exemption after Asian Games gold

Gold medallists South Korea’s team pose for a photograph during the medal ceremony for the League of Legends Esport event of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province on Friday, September 29, 2023. - AFP

HANGZHOU (AFP): South Korean eSports star Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok is in line for a controversial exemption from military service after his team won gaming gold at the Asian Games on Friday.

South Korea beat Taiwan 2-0 in the League of Legends final in front of a packed crowd at the 4,500-seat Hangzhou Esports Center.

Lee, 27, remained on the sidelines after telling South Korean news agency Yonhap the previous day that he had "a body ache and the flu", but he still collected gold.

"I was sad not to be playing in the gold medal match," he told reporters after the final.

"However, from a team point of view, everyone did a good job, so I think winning the championship is the best, however it is done," he said.

Spectators chanted "Faker! Faker!" as his team walked out toward the podium at the award ceremony, and screamed as he received his medal.

Any athlete from South Korea can skip full military service if they win gold at the Asian Games.

Star footballer Son Heung-min famously did so with the men's team five years ago so instead did just three weeks' basic military training.

With South Korea still technically at war with North Korea, all able-bodied South Korean men must usually serve at least 18 months in the military.

Exemptions are controversial, even more so for eSports, which is making its debut as a medal event at the Games and is still seen by some as out of place at a major multisport international event.

Typically granted to elite athletes or classical musicians on the basis of promoting national prestige, the exemptions are highly sought after.

They are also rare. Fewer than 100 exemptions for "arts and sports" were handed out last year, official statistics show. - AFP

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