South Korea’s announcement that eSports athletes can earn a military exemption by winning gold at the Asian Games has rekindled an old controversy — one that involves the global K-Pop titan, BTS.
In South Korea, any male who clinches a gold medal at the Asian Games is exempted from the usual 18-month mandatory military service. With eSports now being included as a medal event, top-tier players — like team captain Lee Sang Hyeok (also known as “Faker“) —have much at stake. Though these exemptions have traditionally been reserved for elite athletes and classical musicians, reflecting their role in promoting national prestige, they are also a point of contention.
To provide some context, Son Heung Min, a renowned footballer and Tottenham Hotspur striker, avoided the full military stint after the national football team secured a gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games.
Yet, BTS, despite their colossal contribution to the country’s economy and K-Pop’s immense global popularity, were not considered for an exemption.
Members like Jin, J-Hope, and Suga have either enrolled or are soon to be in the military.
The debate was further stoked when, in a 2022 Gallup survey, around 33% of South Koreans expressed opposition to potential military exemptions for K-Pop artists, despite the intention to ensure uninterrupted progress for groups like BTS.
With eSports’ inaugural appearance at the Asian Games and given South Korea’s dominance in this field, discussions around these exemptions have surged once more. Although the national team’s coach, Kim Jeong Gyun, downplayed the debate emphasizing the players’ “sense of duty,” it remains an undeniable concern for young eSports athletes.
Professor Choi Eun Kyoung from Hanshin University pointed out that these exemptions are a significant motivation factor for eSports players.
However, reactions, especially from BTS fans, have been mixed.
While some lamented the perceived injustice towards BTS, others appreciated the eSports players’ dedication and emphasized that eSports’ recognition as a sport predates BTS’s global fame.
It's crazy how that govt is ok with giving military exemption to these e-gamers instead of bts who has been contributing billions in sk economy,to say currently no gamer is eligible for it bcz none has that gold medal in asian games,bts economic impact is bigger than that medal🤷♀️
— sara⁷ 🥢 (@ot7enthusiast) September 24, 2023
Me being a fan of both feels weird about this comment. Because for one I know that bts deserves an exemption. But also being a fan of esports opens my views about how hard working and deserving these players are of recognition. They don’t deserve to be discredited. https://t.co/6QQBZ3CXnT
— 💜hazeliiya⁷✘⁵💜 (@hazeliiya) September 24, 2023
🤣 at this argument over military exemption. Esports have been on the discussion to be an official sports long before bts got famous internationally and brought “income” and “recognition”. Its not about exempting the players..its about esports being recognized as sports.
— michi (@michi4noone) September 25, 2023
I know for sure BTS would definitely not want their fans to shit on/discredit the esports players they look up to just because of this military exemption rule if you get gold in an International Sporting event.
Take it out on their government. Do not even drag (+)
— 에라이 ㅅㅂ (@monmwon) September 25, 2023
Some fans even alleged that if BTS were granted an exemption, they might not even accept it to avoid any potential “exploitation” by the government.
Y'all have to realize if BTS were granted an exemption they never would have taken it. You just know their government would use the fck out of them if they were given one https://t.co/1O2HlDjTmS
— Kleo⁷ (@Venusonfire1) September 24, 2023
I think this point matters the most; I do think BTS deserves exemption, but this way, the SK government can't hold anything over their head. Imagine the tannies being drummed up for government BS like the Jamboree, "we exempted you so you have to be there". https://t.co/ItL2UBQFBl
— Damanique (she/her) ⟬⟭💜⟭⟬ ⁷ (@damanique) September 24, 2023
The debate might simmer down after the Asian Games, but the questions it raises about national service, recognition, and the value of modern cultural contributions will remain pivotal for years to come.