This blog was sent to me by a top North American pro-gamer who would prefer to remain annonymous on his thoughts of the WCS format and structure for 2013.
Blizzard’s recent announcement of the World Championship Series format for 2013 allows players to play in any region they choose to, thus creating the highest level of competition possible by eliminating spots given to potentially “mediocre” player residing in non-Korean regions. Koreans will now have an even playing field, no longer being limited by their nationality to qualify for the prestigious WCS. It is only fair. And yet, this change in Blizzard’s WCS represents a complete perversion of the fundamental concepts that made WCS 2012 so great.
The simple, explicit goal of the WCS is “to identify a true global champion,” which it does; however, the manner in which this is accomplished has many implications which extends the scope of this goal. In WCS 2012, national, and consequently, continental, representatives were selected by the qualification process, to compete in a true worldwide competition at the end of the year. The best of the best from each region competed for national and regional pride, culminating in the exhilarating continental and world finals. In effect, although the primary goal of the WCS was to identify one single global champion, it had also created local champions and heroes, each with their own unique background and storyline. It is the storyline of these players that makes events like Dreamhack’s WCS EU tournament so exciting to watch. In fact, Dreamhack’s WCS EU was one of the most watched tournaments in Wings of Liberty’s lifespan, if not the most watched tournament. This point clearly refutes the argument that spectators have no interest in watching “lower-skilled” competitions: there was not a single Korean at WCS EU. In fact, these types of tournaments can be even more exciting to watch than traditional tournaments.
Consider, for example, the Olympics: an incredible competition involving the best athletes from each country. Each player fights for national pride, and even if everyone pretty much always loses to the Americans in basketball (to choose one sport), the competition is still a great spectacle to watch. Viewers get to cheer on their home teams, see which countries really are the best, and always hope for that one day when the underdogs defeat the Americans. But, imagine if the Olympics decided Blizzard’s 2013 WCS format was a good idea, and allowed players to qualify from all regions, regardless of where they resided. Wouldn’t it sound ridiculous to you to hear, “Please welcome our South Korean team … the Los Angeles Lakers!” or, perhaps if they had to change the names around, “Please welcome to this year’s Summer Olympics 2016 … the Chinese Celtics!” The Olympics would simply become an extension of the NBA, losing the awe and splendor of being the Olympics in the process. Just as ridiculous sounding would be hearing this in Clutch’s announcer voice, “Welcome to the stage … our North American finalists … SK Telecom T1’s PartinG, Team MVP’s Bang, and Prime’s Lucy!” I see no value in turning something as great as the Olympics or WCS into the run-of-the-mill, standard tournament. Basketball already has the NBA, Starcraft the GSL and OSL. We don’t need another North American StarLeague style fallacious moniker. You might as well rename the WCS to KCS, Korean (plus maybe a few others) Championship Series. That’s more an affirmation of the skill of Koreans rather than a derogatory statement – the fact is, they are generally better than foreigners, and with no reserved spots for foreigners, the tournament on the whole will be scarce in foreigner numbers.
Aside from losing the national pride and the accompanying emotional investment, WCS will lose its distinctive ability to provide opportunities for up and coming players. WCS was essentially the sole tournament where a player could have a chance to go from just a “strong ladder player” to competing and proving themselves. There were online qualifiers multiple times a week, and I remember playing in several myself before finally winning one and jumping around in excitement. If there hadn’t been a qualifier, I wouldn’t have even attended MLG Anaheim 2012. So many other players are just like me. Without WCS, ViBE would never had a first and second place finish at WCS USA and WCS NA respectively, and would have simply been “just another one of those good ladder players.” Scarlett would never have had a chance to prove herself as North America’s best – she would have likely just been “that player who turned heads at IPL” and seldom attended tournaments afterwards. We would know so much less about the amazing brothers Duran, Lucifron and VortiX, if there had not been WCS EU. But we haven’t even touched on the hundreds of great Starcraft 2 players who would have never been able to attend a live event without WCS. Simply having the opportunity for the average Joe ladder player to compete in a large tournament against his peers is what fosters the growth of local communities and regions. Now with Koreans in the mix, what was already a difficult feat that only a select number of people could accomplish is now significantly more difficult.
Finally, in terms of foreigner sustainability, this new format of WCS will serve to widen the gap between foreigners and Koreans even more, both in earnings and in competitiveness. WCS was essentially the only tournament with a real “grassroots” feel. Everyone who participated got paid. No matter how poorly they placed, players had a source of guaranteed income. This is important because it makes it more possible for players to focus more on Starcraft. More players will be able to make a living and go full-time, increasing their competitiveness and skill in the process. One of the key reasons North America is so uncompetitive is likely because it is simply too difficult for most players to make anything playing Starcraft. All the major North American tournaments have many Koreans that take the top spots (I’m thinking top 15 of the top 16 at MLG Fall Championships were Koreans. Only the top 16 get paid). Europeans, however, have more of a fighting chance, and thus their skill level is slightly higher than North Americans. When WCS was running, however, we saw a relative increase in the skill level of North Americans – they competed quite evenly with the Europeans in BWC. One great example of someone improving due to the motivation of guaranteed income was Evil Geniuses’ IdrA. He trained extensively for WCS, and his skill increased quite dramatically during that period. Whereas before his results in 2012 had been somewhat lackluster in comparison to 2011, he placed fourth in WCS USA, third in WCS NA, and then shocked everyone when he won the Group of Death in BWC. He beat eventual GSL Champion RorO and also won a game off of Rain, the eventual third place finisher at BWC. When there is more motivation to improve (you know there’s guaranteed income), people will train harder and become better.
With the new WCS format however, foreigners as a whole will get even less money, a potentially disastrous ramification of which could lead to the stagnation of foreign player’s development. Blizzard also just recently unveiled an incredibly top heavy prize distribution for WCS 2013. Combining this top heavy distribution of prizes with the arrival of Koreans to European and North American WCS events will result in increasingly less money for foreigners, making it further more difficult to make a proper living off of Starcraft 2. Thus it is imperative for the foreign scene that Blizzard continues support of the foreign scene by creating a real region lock, not this farcical one currently in place.
WCS 2012 was amazing for the growth of the Starcraft scene worldwide, and it truly was a global phenomenon. Initial reports of WCS 2013 seemed incredibly positive, with talk of region locking and increased support for regional scenes. However, Blizzard’s unveiling of the details seemed to be almost exactly the opposite. It seems as if Blizzard has lost sight of the things that made WCS so great. The Olympic-style national/regional pride, storylines behind players, the opportunities it provided to local players to promote the local scenes, were all unique to WCS, something that made it more than just the run-of-the-mill tournament. Although it may seem pessimistic to just assume that Koreans will win everything, it is simply a fact that Koreans playing in overseas regions will make it significantly more difficult for foreigners to compete and prosper. Perhaps people will say that it will make the foreigners have to play better, or that the Koreans deserve it – it will make the most fair and highest caliber competition possible. However, the real purpose of the WCS is not necessarily to create the highest level of competition. There is the GSL for that. Instead, the WCS is (or at least was) about promoting the scenes in all corners of the world, and displaying the stories and individuals from each region. The WCS is in a key position to determine the growth of all scenes worldwide, and therefore the decision on the WCS 2013 format is not one to be taken lightly. Hopefully, Blizzard will reevaluate the meaning of the WCS to both themselves and to players, determine that the WCS as a tournament has far more implications than just a normal tournament, and make the proper revisions to make WCS 2013 as great, and even better, than last year’s.