Many people have tweeted and written about this already but I absolutely must do the same. My mind wouldn’t be at peace otherwise since I’ve been a main component of WCS from the very beginning way back in 2012.
There’s many things I need to establish before I go on this relatively peaceful and thought out harangue. The first of which is, I understand that there are once again many arguments for either side and it really depends on personal opinion – which is exactly what I’m about to describe, my opinion. Hopefully though you take my words on board as I try convince you that we’re in a good place when it comes to WCS for 2016.
I already briefly covered this on Twitter, but the second part is any mentions of an agenda on my side in regards to backing up others is just unfounded. I say what I say because I mean it from my mind, not from anyone else’s. You can see that in my interview from back in 2014, where my opinions of the WCS system were not in line with the system back then http://teamacer.com/en/btsw_kaelaris.htm. If I were just a yes man, this would be different.
It just also happens to be that I’m a very positive person. I have zero time for negativity in my life. When I’m casting and you hear me excited, you better believe I’m damn excited. You don’t have to be edgy to be honest in your opinions, or to be perceived as honest.
OK! Down to business! Let us start by taking a look at DreamHack Leipzig and how things went. I think for the most part, the StarCraft community is not giving foreigners the credit they deserve when it comes to their level of play. Yes there are mistakes, even Koreans make them and admittedly foreigners make them more so. However, It’s a known fact that the human mind is selective, and I believe that may be happening here. When players like Hydra lost to Lilbow in WCS S3 last year, the community exploded. When Lilbow went even further and won the whole thing, the community exploded. When Hydra loses to Bly at DreamHack in a great series, is he not also worthy of recognition in his ability? viOLet hasn’t looked that good since 2013. He went 13-0 during the beginning of his tournament run and didn’t break a sweat, metaphorically. viOLet even mentioned in an interview after one of the victories that he practiced a lot on the Korean server, and that the foreigners don’t know how to respond to his play. Bly then defeats him 3-0 and then goes on to lose in the final 4-1 to Ptitdrogo who showed in that series just how much of a beast he is. His control and hold for the longest time on Prion Terraces with limited stalkers on either side of the Zerg army was nothing short of what you would see in Korean leagues.
After talking to a lot of the pros at DreamHack, the general consensus from them was that their fire (no Bly pun intended) for passion and competition has been reignited not only by LotV, but also WCS 2016.
Traditional sports have followed a pretty set way of doing things for a long time, and for very good reason. From national to continental to global. Steps here exist for a reason, and as you go along, the competition gets more and more vicious. The Global finals should be the equivalent to the Olympics. The best players who have proved themselves in their regions come together and battle for the crown of world champion. This is exactly what 2016 gives. And you know what? A lot of people are criticising the Western world for potentially getting crushed at BlizzCon. Well, yes probably! And there is actually nothing wrong with that at all! The USA in the Olympics, along with other nations like the Soviet Union/Russia, come away with the majority of the gold medals and crush the other countries. Does that make the thrill of global competition any less exciting? If you have global competition every other week, it’s no longer special. StarCraft is in a position where the hardcore fanbase has been very spoiled in this regard, to the point where I think some may never accept change, but that doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t also try and draw new people in or give the larger, equally as important, casual audience a good gate to greet them when they arrive or have already taken the first steps in.
I used to do fencing (stabbing wildly at people with a stick), and I wasn’t bad at it. My ambition and passion for it came in steps and they were achievable. If there wasn’t a clear way up, and suddenly I were to attend tournaments bi-weekly where the world champion or players of his caliber were there, would I still feel the same drive? Would that be a healthy environment to allow a scene to expand or motivate others to get involved? Probably not! But if I were to work my way up, and then at the world championship meet those players, but then get dominated, that is understandable. Some may argue that there is a clear way up in the previous systems, Online Cups, Challenger, Premier, World Championship. However, each and every one of those stages had you completing on a global level. National pride was only really rekindled when Lilbow and the French players started something at the end of 2015, but even that was lightning in a bottle. 2016 gives national and continental pride back for the most part.
I feel it’s very easy for people from other scenes to look in on StarCraft’s WCS and criticise. League of Legends for example only ever has Foreigner vs Korean actually happen perhaps 2 or 3 times a year max? Usually resulting in the Korean team taking the victory unless in very strange circumstances (I’m thinking WE taking out the Korean favourites at IEM Katowice last year). Then looking at Counter-Strike, Asian regions have never supported the game quite like Korea took to StarCraft, and even when they do seldom peer into the world of FPS, they navigate quickly to counterparts like CrossFire. The success of both these games has relied a lot on personality more than skill, which is no secret. And when skill has been the determining factor, players from regions that are more personable have been at the top because they haven’t had to compete with regions that have had 10 years of experience over them. Do you believe people would have gone as crazy about their esports endeavours if you didn’t have someone like Ocelote screaming his lungs out back in the day? Or if a team responded to xPeke’s backdoor with a quiet demeanor? These kinds of moments are filled with empathy from the spectator, so much so that even I know about them without admittedly followed League very closely. Emotion like this, and it’s especially something that LCS has done well in their feature pieces, has been something that StarCraft has been deprived of because of some of the points I’ve explained above, such as the discouragement felt by up-and-comers.
At DreamHack Leipzig we got a little bit of that back. Look at how Bly and Ptitdrogo reacted to their victories towards the end of the tournament. These kinds of reactions in CS:GO and LoL are emphasized and amplified even more because of the team based atmosphere, the camaraderie (some French in there for ToD) of human interaction and the embrace of one-another’s emotions after a clutch play or well fought victory. StarCraft hasn’t had that properly for a long time until recently. StarCraft and any other game out there are completely different beasts in nature because of how ingrained the practice regiment is in Koreans and their culture over what is almost 15 years of refinement. The Western scene never had this properly.
For me while casting WCS, yes commentating Koreans playing picture perfect is fantastic, but also commentating on relatively equally matched foreigners is also extremely entertaining. Much like many forms of entertainment, you don’t have to have the very best players in a game for the combat between one-another to be exciting. Why would people be fans of the lower divisions of football if they didn’t have a place? Why do many people support their local club in traditional sports? Of all places the one exception could be the Premier League as it’s the most beloved league in the world, but I’m willing to bet that the number of people that support their closer clubs parallels it, if not surpasses. To me, with 2016 WCS, we are restoring normality, not making radical and sensational change for the worse.
I will still always say that WCS 2012 EU finals for me was one of the greatest experiences of my StarCraft career, and I get the impression that many spectators feel the same way. It was brought up by many people during community feedback sessions that this feel was magical. Sure the production may not have been as crisp or clean as tournaments can be today, but it captured something very special. A continents champions coming together to qualify for the truly global stage. A distinct progression milestone in a circuit. Giving western talent the opportunity to once again find that kind of will and determination to get up and be the champion of their region.
What is the most famous picture of Stephano you can think of? For me, it’s this.
StarCraft is unique in that, yes we technically can have global competition all year round, but just because we can, and have done for a few years now, doesn’t mean we should.
I thoroughly enjoy watching Korean StarCraft as much as the next person, and if you’re a complete die-hard, truly hardcore fan, then yes, wanting to watch the very best of the best day in, day out is what will appease you. Proleague is yet to start, this will help you sate that thirst, and it’s a huge component which people need to consider. But if you want StarCraft to grow and continue to be successful, you need to nurture players that are relatable, and give more casual fans someone to cheer for on a more personal level. Your fellow countrymen provide that.
While thinking about what I wanted to write in this, other thoughts came to light and I have to agree with Dario in that, Korea’s structure is too top heavy in regards to prize pool. From what I know though, and I may be wrong, but that’s just how Korea has always been. A change would definitely help there if people are concerned about Korea. But just as people are concerned about Korea and are calling for change, you cannot dismiss that concern for emerging talent and local scenes in the Western hemisphere was not warranted when changes were proposed and implemented.
Korea will always have the highest skill level, and yes they deserve to be world champions, and probably always will be.
Change is scary, but do not fear the change, it’s sometimes necessary.
A continued thank you to Blizzard for making the most beautiful games on the planet. I’m still utterly rubbish at StarCraft, but I adore it all the same, and probably always will.
I don’t expect to convert from this, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree. But I would ask people to give this system a chance.