State of Play Review

State of Play focuses on one of the most interesting aspects of video games (read: eSports) and not only is the documentary entertaining, but also accessible to those who have never heard of StarCraft before.

Ever since StarCraft was released in Korea, the game became a sort of national past-time. People play the game in their free time, StarCraft matches take place in massive stadiums in Seoul and most of those matches are even shown on TV. But what about those young people who play StarCraft professionally? What did they give up in order to play the game at a high level? What does it mean to play the game professionally? State of Play is a documentary that follows the lives of three StarCraft players: pro-gamer Lee Jae Dong, semi-pro Kim Joon Hyuk and pro-gamer wannabe Park Yo Han.

Lee Jae Dong State of Play

Lee Jae Dong.

Lee Jae Dong has made it. He plays StarCraft professionally, he participates in big tournaments, he has sponsors and even groupies. But he suffers the consequences of playing StarCraft for so long. He’s 23 years old and he’s reaching the age when most players are thinking about retiring. “What kind of industry makes you retire when you’re 28?”, an old friend of the family asks the pro gamer. I kept asking myself the same question. But as soon as he considers leaving the professional scene, he reflects on his own life and how different it was to the life of most teenagers in his country. He didn’t follow the educational path most youngsters usually go through, he never had time for a girlfriend and he doesn’t know a lot of people outside of the StarCraft scene. Suddenly, he feels like he might have wasted his life.

Kim Joon Hyuk is a semi-pro player. Like most young people in Korea, he started watching matches on TV and decided to play the game. Unlike most kids in Korea though, he became so good at StarCraft that he was accepted into an academy where he will eventually have the chance to enter a team. Becoming a part of this prestigious academy meant moving far from his friends and family and due to his homesickness, Kim Joon Kyuk doesn’t do as well as expected.

Kim Joon Hyuk State of Play

Kim Joon Hyuk.

Finally, Park Yo Han is a 16-year-old who desperately wants to become a pro player. Since his dream is to become a professional StarCraft player, he doesn’t do well in his studies and his family doesn’t support his hobby. In order to prove them wrong, Park Yo Han enters a semi-pro tournament to measure his skills against that of other players. He loses one of the first matches he plays. “The game was bugged”, the kid explains to his family.

Although disguised as a documentary about a highly complex real-time strategy game, State of Play is a film about sacrifice and finding whatever it is you want to pursue in life. The three players might have something in common (they all play StarCraft,) but their lives are completely different: one struggles with fame, another player struggles with the pressure to succeed and the youngest kid simply doesn’t know what he wants yet.

In a sense, State of Play could have been about anything. But the fact that it’s about a video game isn’t a problem in itself. In fact, you could watch this documentary with someone who has never heard of StarCraft before and that person could still enjoy the film. The problem is that since this documentary tries to capture the attention of people who play video games on a regular basis, a deeper explanation regarding StarCraft would have been more than welcome. After all, the one thing we are explained is that StarCraft is big in Korea, but the film never clarifies why. Why is the game so strategic? Why is it so popular in Korea? Why is it such a cultural hit?

Park Yo Han - State of Play

Park Yo Han.

Soon enough, the documentary makes reference to famous events. First, the fall of 2011 scandal in which professional players fixed matches. Second, when StarCraft II comes out, Korean players (who at that point had been playing the game for over a decade,) suddenly feel the pressure to learn every single aspect of the new game. This is a nice touch, since people who have been playing StarCraft for years will probably remember both events.

In the end, State of Play is a great documentary that focuses on one of the most interesting aspects of video games (read: eSports) and not only is the film entertaining, but also accessible to those who have never heard of StarCraft before. To a certain extent, it may seem too accessible, but State of Play is still worth watching.