Major tournaments like Red Bull Battlegrounds to get love, seasonal "grand slams" on the outs.
The World Championship Series for StarCraft won't see any "drastic changes" but there are plans to tweak Blizzard's eSports league next year. Blizzard eSports manager Kim Phan discussed the StarCraft 2 developers' plans for eSports in 2014 in a Q&A on the Team Liquid forums earlier this week. While hard details were in short supply, her discussion revealed interesting and heartening intentions for how the next year of competitive StarCraft will work.
No More Grand Slams
One of the major changes on the table is doing away with seasons “grand slam” finals that pit the best of every region against one another. This is bittersweet news: the Season 2 finals featured some of the best StarCraft of the year, but they are undeniably in an awkward no-man’s land between the Grand Finals and regional finals.
Spotlight for Non-WCS Tournaments
The silver lining, however, is what Phan said might take their place. “We think the international moments from season finals could potentially be substituted by creating more opportunities for other major tournaments participating in the WCS point system. We hope to provide a greater spotlight and give more importance to the major tournaments such as DreamHack, IEM, and Red Bull Battle Grounds,” she explained.
This addresses one of the main issues that dogged WCS 2013: the place of non-WCS tournaments. While putting WCS points into play certainly made for some interesting storylines, like NaNiwa’s season suddenly hinging on his performance at IEM New York, IEM and DreamHack still felt like they had a tangential relationship to the broader StarCraft competition taking place over 2013. If the seasonal finals are to become a thing of the past, it would be terrific if they were replaced with bigger and better-attended international events.
Hopefully that will get easier thanks to another of Blizzard’s priorities for next year: getting the WCS out of other tournaments’ ways.
We think non-WCS tournaments are crucial to the StarCraft II ecosystem,” Phan promised, “and we do have plans to extend the WCS storyline to more tournaments. In order to do this, we plan to simplify the broadcast schedule for WCS to allow for other organizations to hold major events during the year.
This has been a major strike against WCS this season, one that’s made life especially difficult for developing talent to find a place to compete and gain exposure. Smaller events like Total Biscuit’s SHOUTcraft America and Evil Geniuses’ SC2L were forced into running at odd hours to avoid conflicts with WCS broadcasts, which in turn harmed their viewership and revenues. If WCS can avoid putting other events in the shade a bit more next season, it might help open the door for more diversity in pro StarCraft.
More Region Locking
To that point, Blizzard will largely stand by its approach to region-locking next year, while looking for ways to deepen players’ commitment to the region in which they are playing. This is to do away with the impression of some Korean players “carpetbagging” in non-Korean regions, although that has been alleviated somewhat as the WCS has gone on and players like Jung "Mvp" Jong Hyun or Lee Jae Dong have clearly committed to becoming stars of the European and American regions, respectively.
So while the system largely works, the next task Blizzard has laid-out involves making regional participation feel more participatory. This might mean adding laddering requirements to regional play, and Phan also mentioned that Blizzard is considering changes to how Challenger League works.
Some general ideas we have been considering include carving out a portion of player slots dedicated to legal residents that would guarantee players living in a particular region would always have a consistent chance to make it into Challenger League,” Phan said.
“Also, we are pushing for more of our broadcast content to happen in a physical studio environment, inevitably pushing players to commit to longer periods of time where they must reside locally.”
These are fixes that were advocated by some of the more pointed critics of WCS, like Chris “HuK” Loranger and Michael “Goswser” Dobler. While competing in Korea has long meant that foreign players must go and live there to have any hope of battling their way into Korean Leagues, the WCS initially made it easy for Korean pros to dominate other regions from the comfort of their own homes via a broadband connection. Now, it looks like both the spectator experience and the competitive playing field might be improved via some sensible tweaks to regional play.
But the most encouraging thing about Phan’s remarks might be the fact that she and Blizzard are making these commitments at all. After a tough launch for WCS, it was by no means guaranteed that Blizzard would be interested in doing the hard work to keep improving their eSports initiatives. Now, it sounds like Blizzard is learning the right lessons from its first year of league management, and is setting the stage for an even better one.
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