South Korea’s eSports Military Exemption Reignites BTS Debate

The debate over BTS’ military exemption has exploded over South Korea’s recent decision to grant military exemptions to gold-winning eSports athletes at the Asian Games. South Korea traditionally grants exemptions to top athletes and classical musicians for boosting national prestige. However, the policy has always been a hot-button issue.

For example, football star Son Heung-Min avoided full military service by winning gold at the 2018 Asian Games. Despite BTS’s global impact and boost to South Korea’s economy, they haven’t received similar exemptions.

Members like Jin, J-Hope, and Suga are either currently serving or soon will be in the military. The controversy gained new life when a 2022 Gallup poll revealed that about one-third of South Koreans oppose military exemptions for K-pop artists, despite the potential benefits for groups like BTS.

Esports vs Kpop

As eSports make their debut at the Asian Games, and with South Korea being a chief force in this arena, the exemption debate has resurfaced. National team coach Kim Jeong-Gyun downplayed the issue, focusing on the players’ “sense of duty,” but the topic remains a critical concern for young eSports competitors.

Hanshin University’s Professor Choi Eun-Kyoung noted that these exemptions serve as a significant motivational factor for eSports athletes. Fan reactions have been divided, especially among BTS fans. While some decry the apparent injustice towards BTS, others commend the eSports athletes’ commitment. He pointed out that the recognition of eSports as a sport predates BTS’s international acclaim.

Some fans even suspect that BTS might decline an exemption to avoid potential government “exploitation.”

Though the debate over BTS’ Military Exemption may cool post-Asian Games … It leaves lingering questions about the value of modern cultural contributions and the future of national service in South Korea.

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