Let's be honest, Korean dramas take one of the top spots when it's about most-watched dramas. They are not too short/long, they don't have annoying dubbing, and they have a production standard we want to see of more. If you are one of the people who watch mostly Korean dramas, maybe this article can motivate you to check out a new genre and a new country.
In the last few years, I have been getting more and more into E-Sports and Gaming dramas, mostly from China. In this article, I want to introduce four different dramas of this specific genre to you as well as explore more of the similarities/differences between them and how realistic they really are.
Bei Weiwei is a computer science student, as well as a passionate and high-ranking player of the MMORPG game A Chinese Ghost Story. After her online husband dumps her for another player, she forms a pair with the top-ranking player in the game. Little does she know that the mysterious gamer is the most popular guy on campus and her secret crush Xiao Nai.
Ji Xiang Kong is a professional E-Sports player for one of the top Chinese teams, Legend. One day he meets Qiu Ying, an aspiring reporter working in a video news company. While they start off on the wrong terms, they soon start supporting each other in their pursuit to fulfill their dreams.
Through a coincidental encounter, Tong Nian, a popular cover singer, and online icon meets Han Shang Yan, the owner, and boss of the E-Sports team K&K. Being immediately smitten with him, she starts her journey to pursue her love interest and break through the walls of the cold and work-focused man and win his heart.
Ye Xiu is the number one player of the highly popular online game Glory and the top E-Sports team Excellent Era. One day, he is suddenly replaced as captain and cut from his team. Not ready to give up just yet, he starts working as a network manager at an internet café and pursues a new path in his life that might turn the world of Glory upside down.
Technically, Love O2O is not an E-Sports but an online gaming drama, but since it features a lot of PK (=player kill) fights and the regular POV delve into the online game itself, I decided to include it here. Also, while Gank Your Heart and The King's Avatar do feature a game at their center, Go Go Squid! focuses on CTF (=cybersecurity "gaming") but since it was portrayed so similar to the other dramas, I think it fits very well into this article. The King's Avatar is the only drama not featuring a romance story unless you count how much the players love the game itself.
Similarities aka re-emerging topics, themes, and tropes
Gaming and E-Sports dramas feature one main theme that is present in pretty much every drama/movie of the genre: to achieve something. Whether it be to fulfill the protagonist's dream or pursue someone's love interest successfully, it always has a set goal that is usually shown at the beginning of the story.
In Love O2O, it's the romance between the main leads, as well as graduating from college life into the job market. Gank Your Heart features two different goals for the male and female lead: getting the world championship for China and becoming a successful gaming commentator. In Go Go Squid!, it mixes the championship dream from Gank Your Heart with the romantic aspirations of Love O2O. The King's Avatar revolves around rediscovering your joy for something from scratch and working together to achieve something. *enter dramatic speeches about how it is important to follow your dreams and believe in yourself :)*
But this is not the only similarity. This genre plays a lot with the colour scheme. Clothes will not just be the same all the time (unless it's a trait of the character) and the surroundings will always feature unusual or inventive and colourful design/colours. We have the all-pink milk tea shop in Gank Your Heart but also the "bunker" in Go Go Squid!. If you decide to try a drama of this genre, it will definitely come with some visually surprising and pleasing images.
The third big similarity is a whole lot of like-able supporting characters. Most of the time, it is the other team members, but sometimes it is also a friend someone made along the way. They are also half of the drama's comedic potential. How deep the story delves into their background depends on the specific drama, though.
In general, you can find multiple overlapping topics and storylines going on in these dramas. Of course the romantic aspect in three of them but we also have quite the patriotism going on in Go Go Squid! and Gank Your Heart.
Differences aka surprises, hooks, and twists
E-Sports dramas do not feature a lot of plot twists like your usual melodrama, and there will be no sudden "he is your son" or "we have been fated since we were children" trope going around. I watched all four dramas and the atmosphere for each of them, albeit similar in some scenes, is very different from each other.
While Love O2O focuses on the romance and fluff, it is quite slow-paced. Gank Your Heart is fast-paced and features a unique look behind the scenes of E-Sports players and the whole industry (whether that look is realistic, is another question). Go Go Squid! revolves mainly around the lives around E-Sports players and other involved parties, resulting in less screen time for matches and industry information. Lastly, The King's Avatar is the most in-game-focused drama of the four. I think about 40%, if not half of the drama is set in the game itself, meaning the gaming itself will deliver some of the adrenaline compared to when you just see a small screen and the commentary and acting is the reason why you even get what is going on (fortunately the series does feature good enough CGI to pull it off).
So even if dramas sound the same, the way it is being delivered is very different and can turn out quite unusual. And for those of you who are not satisfied with just the gaming, chasing your dreams, slow-motion entries, and occasional romance: E-Sports dramas do feature themes like loyalty, betrayal, peer pressure, and way too much online bullying. It's not as if these dramas were totally free of tragedy.
I have written a lot of good things about these dramas now, but what about the "reality" behind them? First and foremost, I am not a professional E-Sports player. I mainly work in IT and play way too many computer games. So my opinion might not be a hundred percent accurate either.
Recently I have read a lot of articles about how we should know that movies and dramas deliver entertainment and not just facts sometimes. Gaming dramas are no different. Just from a technical standpoint: Running in games is mostly done by clicking on the A key and not letting go. But if you are an E-Sports player in a drama, it always (without exception) works with clicking the key again and again and again. It's a mistake appearing in all the dramas.
Love O2O - The game looked like a real game (although many gaming scenes were used repeatedly) and the characters mostly stay with the original A, W, S, D keys, as well as some special keys and the mouse to fight and trigger special attacks. This drama actually portrayed it more realistic than a lot of others. The players also did not hammer on the keyboard as if their life depended on it in every fight.
Gank Your Heart - The players did stay with the right keys for the most part, and the game itself was convincing. The filming crew did do good though and mostly featured the characters' faces and reactions or random mouse clicks and did not reveal too much of the actual operation presented in the game. Smart choice. The one disappointing occurrence in this drama is the constant free time the players and everyone else had. I'm sure waiting for someone in a milk tea shop half the day, every other day is not included in the practice schedule.
Go Go Squid! - When it was right before a competition, they showed how the people involved did not have much time, although I do have to say, they mentioned it more than they executed that one. If someone did not have time to meet, skipping a few hours ahead until practice is over is a common occurrence in this drama. Since Go Go Squid does feature coding instead of gaming, I will be honest though: show me one person who writes code with A, W, S, D, and the mouse. Coding involves almost no mouse action at all, maybe to switch lines or windows, but that is pretty much it. They could have fixed that portrayal mistake.
The King's Avatar - The King's Avatar can only be said to be over-the-top regarding keyboard action. While they do stay in the general area of the right keys, they click way too many times considering how much constant running seems to be going on in the game. Compared to the other games, it is a lot more developed, and a 3D CGI animated game and also features the look of a more modern game. The keyboard is overdone though.
Overall, most dramas try to stay somewhat realistic but pack it in their own genres and rather make it a little more unrealistic than changing the story. So when you watch, be prepared to delve into a somewhat realistic E-Sports world but keep some skepticism in the back of your head.
AN EMERGING GENRE
In the last years, dramas like these have been getting more popular. At the moment it is mostly China producing them, but I am not complaining since China has done pretty well with this genre and the episode count might be long sometimes, but it is definitely worth it to get a full-fledged story. I recommend checking out these shows and spending more time exploring this emerging genre.
The one thing I appreciate about these dramas is the fact they are happy dramas, and you know there won't be death, failure, or tragedy at the end. So give your heart a break and enjoy some computer action.
If you are a total fan of romance, I recommend checking out Love O2O or Go Go Squid! first, while if you prioritize action and adrenaline, Gank Your Heart, or The King's Avatar might be more suited for you. Also do not forget to check out the second season of The King's Avatar, even if it might take a while until it finally airs.