Over Your Elo, Under Arrest

By Clark Belanger

In recent years, South Korea has created several laws regarding video games. While these laws have largely concerned the health of citizens, such as limitations to combat video game addiction, the most recent South Korean law relating to video games has sparked controversy. This new law criminalizes citizens and organizations that participate in “boosting” practices.

Boosting is a form of cheating, where one video game player employs the services of another, or an organization, to win games with the player’s account for the purpose of reaching a higher rank. The impact of boosting is that it allows players to receive both in game and real world rewards. For example, some video game tournaments only invite players to participate if they are of a certain ranking. The practice of boosting is popular around the world, but maybe nowhere is it more prevalent than South Korea, where video games have such a strong social significance.[1] In South Korea, boosting is such a lucrative business that numerous boosting corporations have begun to advertise their services.[2]

However, as previously mentioned, boosting is cheating. All competitive-game developers prohibit the practice of boosting in the terms and services of their games.[3] The major problem with boosting is that it disturbs the competitive balance of the game, which hurts the overall gaming experience for other users.[4] Nevertheless, boosting persists, therefore, game developers have chosen to go beyond their own enforcement powers to lobby the South Korean National Assembly to institute further fines on individuals who are caught boosting.[5]

In December 2018, the South Korean National Assembly passed an amendment to the Game Industry Promotion Act.[6]  The amendment criminalizes any “act that interferes with the normal operation of the game by arranging or providing the service to acquire the score or performance of the game in a way that is not approved by the game-related business operated.”[7] Those who are caught boosting will be fined up to 20 million won (roughly $18,000) and two years of prison.[8]

The rationale behind the new law was to combat the emergence of predatory companies that advertise boosting services to gamers, including minors. According to Representative Lee Sang-sup, who is a long-time advocate for video games and esports in South Korea, argued, “Most of the popular games are suffering from professional dealer game companies.” He further stated, “It has been a cancerous thing that hurts the e-sports ecosystem as well as the casual gamers as well as the general users. But now that the amendment has been passed, it will help to create a healthy e-sports ecosystem.”[9]

However, the new law is not without criticism. Opponents of the law argue that the government should not be policing conduct within individual video games.[10] Rather, the video game developers should police their own games, including boosting which is a violation of essentially all developers’ terms and services agreements.[11] Additionally, these critics believe that the criminal sanctions are too severe. Instead of monetary fines and possible jail time, violations for boosting should be limited to bans from the games in which the violation occurred.[12]

While these arguments may seem persuasive in a vacuum, they fail to consider the policy trends of video game legislation in South Korea. Under the Game Industry Promotion Act, the South Korean Assembly took major steps to address gaming issues relating to the economy, cultural life, and healthy gaming.[13] Specifically, the act places greater administrative and investigatory authority in the hands of the government.[14] Further, Chapter VII of the Game Industry Promotion Act establishes penal violations for a variety of acts by both video game developers and individual persons.[15] In the larger context of the Act, the December 2018 amendment does not appear to be overstepping prior norms.[16]

[1] Ping Zhou, South Korea Computer Gaming Culture, ThoughtCo. July 19 2018, https://www.thoughtco.com/south-korea-computer-gaming-culture-1434484.

[2] Id.

[3] Silas Le, South Korea Seeks To Punish People Who ELO Boost In Competitive Games, TechRaptor. Dec 4 2018, https://techraptor.net/content/south-korea-elo-boost-law.

[4] Id.

[5] Owen S. Good, South Korea Criminalizes ‘Boosting’ With New Law, Polygon. Dec. 9 2018, https://www.polygon.com/2018/12/9/18133391/south-korea-boosting-esports-league-of-legends-law.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Colin Stevens, South Korea Makes Boosting Other Players' Game Levels Illegal, IGN News. Dec. 10 2018, https://www.ign.com/articles/2018/12/10/south-korea-makes-boosting-other-players-game-levels-illegal.

[9] Hayley Williams, Boosting For Profit Has Been Outlawed In South Korea, Kotaku. Dec. 10 2018, https://www.kotaku.com.au/2018/12/south-korea-outlaws-boosting-for-profit/.

[10] Id.

[11] Liz Lanier, South Korea Makes Commercial “Boosting” Services Illegal in Video Games, Variety. Dec. 10 2018, https://variety.com/2018/gaming/news/korea-bans-boosting-services-1203085525/.

[12] Nicole Carpenter, South Korean Law To Punish Boosters Passes In The National Assembly, Dot Esports. Dec. 7 2018, https://dotesports.com/overwatch/news/south-korean-law-to-punish-boosters-passes-in-the-national-assembly.

[13] Game Industry Promotion Act, Statutes of the Republic of Korea. http://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_mobile/viewer.do?hseq=28802&type=part&key=17.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.