North Korean gamers are risking their lives to play Dota 2

Kenneth Williams • January 10, 17:19

Against all odds, North Korea has an active Dota 2 community with in-person events.

A North Korean defector has revealed that Valve’s MOBA is gaining popularity in his home country. He claimed that Dota 2 was a household name in the country and that players often secretly gathered to play. Such actions are highly illegal, but many fans are willing to risk it to play their favorite video game. While Dota 2 is no longer a popular game in South Korea, a budding North Korean scene has kept the game alive on the peninsula. 

The full interview is available on the Jang Seonbi YouTube channel. When asked about gaming culture, the defector stated that certain games were becoming extremely popular in North Korea. One of those games is Dota 2, which is illegal to download or play. Gaming fans would meet up in secret to share the game and play on LAN. He did not specify how North Koreans got access to Dota 2 or what version they played, but it was probably smuggled across the border through China like most other western goods. 

“I’m excited about how good it will be when the day comes when people can play games while interacting with each other,” he said, according to an unofficial translation.

Distributing foreign media is highly illegal in North Korea. In late 2021, the North Korean government sentenced a smuggler to death by firing squad for selling a flash drive with Netflix series Squid Game on it. The student who purchased it received a life prison sentence while friends who watched it were condemned to five years of hard labor each. North Korean Dota 2 fans could face similar consequences if caught.

What happened to Korean Dota 2?

Dota 2 in North Korea is a pretty outlandish idea, but it wouldn’t be the first time Valve’s MOBA has gained popularity on the Korean peninsula. South Korea once had a rising Dota 2 scene in the mid-to-late 2010s. The casual player base slowly grew while Korean pro teams posted excellent performances in international competitions. But now, the competition Korean Dota 2 scene

For the Korean market, Valve passed control of Dota 2 over to Nexon. The Korean gaming service already hosted servers for several international games including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, FIFA, and MapleStory. Nexon launched official Dota 2 servers in June 2014.

MVP Phoenix placed top eight at The International in 2015 and 2016, earning almost $2 million. Despite Korea’s international success, Nexon chose to shut down Korean Dota 2 servers in late 2015. The game is still available through Steam, but its popularity has considerably declined.

Even years later, Korean players still have a strong influence on the modern Dota 2 scene. Lee “Heen” Seung Gon is Team Secret’s coach, Kim “Febby” Yong-min is TNC Predator’s captain, and Kim “DuBu” Doo-young is a celebrated support on Team Undying. Maybe the budding North Korean scene will someday revitalize Korean Dota 2.

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