How We Got Here.
To understand where we are going, we must first look at how we got to where we are.
- In March of 2013, IGN confirmed that IPL6, a major eSports tournament was cancelled not a month before it was supposed to take place in Las Vegas. The GM and founder of the IGN Pro League cited the number of competing tournaments vying for attention as the reason why they could no longer host such a major event. Professional Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and ShootMania Storm players were upset at the cancellation, and many teams were frustrated as they had already made travel and lodging arrangements, many of which were non refundable. The cost of tickets to the event, and accommodations at the hotel which was the tournament venue were refunded.
- Following the cancellation of IPL6, Blizzard stated that it was looking into hiring some of the now jobless IPL staff and possibly acquiring a portion of the business. However, they did deny that they were going to take over the operations of the IPL. On April 8, 2013, Blizzard announces that they were indeed purchasing the technology and assets of the IPL, and then created a team of people to handle their eSports interests.
- Blizzard announces the 2013 Starcraft 2 World Championship Series with a $1.6 million prize pool. The system works as such. There are three regions, Europe, Americas and Korea, and the competition takes place over the course of three seasons. The end of each season has a final, featuring the top players in each region, and it all culminates with a global final. The format will be familiar to many, as it is close to what the GSL used previously. There is one notable difference between the Korean flowchart and the American/European flowchart – the top two players from the Open Qualifiers proceed straight to the Challenger League Group matches and are guaranteed to be placed in the Challenger League next season, if not Premier.
The fact that Blizzard is putting on such a large and elaborate tournament is generally good for the sport, but it does have other consequences, and sometimes they are just plain strange. The first is that players are not region locked. In a perfect world, players would be competing in their home region. The Americas WCS tournaments would be only filled with Americans, Canadians, and people from South America. Exceptions can be made for players like Evil Geniuses’ DemusliM, who lives in America, but his nationality is British. These are things that most people would look at and go, “Well, that makes sense.” That’s not how it works in real life. What happens in reality is that you have Koreans, who are simply the best at Starcraft 2, playing in “foreign regions” because chances are, they’ll do better. The top player in the Americas region is Korean. You actually have to go down the standings list quite a ways to 23rd place to find a player in the Americas region that actually lives here – HuK, from Canada, and there’s the problem. Blizzard has stated that the goal of their 2013 WCS is to find the best Starcraft 2 player in the world, which is fair. However, naming their separate regions geographically makes no sense. Naming them after geographic areas implies that they are searching for the best player in each region who will then go the global finals. The two goals are mutually exclusive. Let’s put this into a hypothetical situation. Take the 8 players in the leaderboard, and say you’re going to go into your “real” geographic region, and we are going to pull the top two players and send them to the finals. Korea would be sending Leenock and GuMiho, currently ranked 1st and 3rd. Europe would be sending NaNiWa and SortOf, ranked 2nd and 13th. Representing the Americas would be HuK and Scarlett, ranked 23rd and 29th. Region locked, we would have all those players in other regions making it to the final who the current standings would imply are certainly better than the players currently in America and Europe. There have been separate other complaints about the lack of further regions, leading players in Taiwan, China, Australia and Southeast Asia complaining that either they have to play against Koreans or deal with the lag and compete in the Americas and Europe regions.
The next portion is just who Blizzard has chosen to partner up with to run these tournaments, namely MLG in the United States and ESL in Europe. Though large names, they do leave out some notables, such as NASL and Dreamhack. Blizzard has made it such that winners of third party tournaments do receive points in the WCS system. They’re are two tiers of points available, and presumably more points are given to the larger tournaments. Dreamhack was the first non WCS tournament whose winners received points. At this time, there are no public guidelines about which tournaments are considered Tier 1 and which are considered Tier 2. With such a large prize purse, and Blizzard deciding which tournaments are eligible for WCS points or not, it’s worrying to some of the other names in tournaments. Blizzard has become the largest bully in the room, being able to dictate terms at will. Most recently , the Shoutcraft America tournament moved a date because of the conflict with the a WCS Americas event.
What is most worrying however, is the rumors coming out that NASL, the North American Star League. Now, NASL was the first major North American eSports league that rivaled its Korean counterpart, the GSL or Global Star League in players and prizes. It set the standard for things in the North America. The fourth season of NASL ended in late 2012, and there has yet to be any sort of noise from NASL about a possible fifth season or plans for the future. There is an alleged announcement in the works, but all of the talk is that NASL will be switching games, from Starcraft 2 to Dota 2 or possibly World of Tanks. This was first noised about on a recent episode of State of the Game, and some of the NASL casters have been asked point blank about what’s going to happen and there has been no confirmation or denial either way.
As it stands, Blizzard is running their World Championship Series, and feel that “the time is right to level up Starcraft 2 as an eSport.” But the question at hand is if what they are doing to sort of take their eSports future into their own hands cause an overall detriment to the community? A lot of people aren’t pleased with how things are turning out, and Blizzard has admitted that there were some unforeseen issues so far. Yes, one of the advantages that they have espoused unity in tournament scheduling, and this is true, tournament scheduling to avoid conflicts will be avoided, so long as others follow Blizzard’s lead. So what are your thoughts? Has competitive Starcraft 2 improved or gotten worse with these new developments?