I’d love to pull out some rose-tinted glasses and say that everything is fine with the state of Starcraft 2. With the recent League of Legends World Championship drawing over 100,000 views from online streaming alone, perhaps there is reason that writers from within Starcraft’s professional ranks and journalists from Forbes have stepped up to speak their concerns about the game. Starcraft 2 has seen a slow, but steady increase in viewership as an eSport. Now that League of Legends proved itself to be the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game of choice, growth in interest in the game and sport spiked to an all time high. Blizzard’s $250,000 prize pool for their World Championship in November seems like a pittance next to Riot’s cool two million. With this in mind, has Starcraft 2 lost its place in the eSports space?
The criticisms levied against Starcraft come from a few major concerns. People interested in the eSports industry see League of Legends as a risk to future investment in the Starcraft 2 competitive scene. Others fear that the lack of casual play in Starcraft makes League of Legends more accessible, and this will cause a lack of interest in the game as a whole. Additionally, there are those concerned that the pros are switching to competitors like League of Legends looking for a new level of competition when Starcraft 2’s expansion, Heart of the Swarm, seems to be more of a patch than a redevelopment of the game.
However, all of these criticisms ignore a critical point: success for an eSport primarily depends on the entertainment value of watching the game, not playing it. Other than those couple of awkward days in middle school where I learned how to punt a football, I put no effort into gaining skill in learning the sport. However, that didn’t keep me from watching the game from the sidelines. The beauty of a well-crafted sport is that one can understand and appreciate it without having an expert knowledge of how the game works. I don’t need to know how many corruptors trade off with how many vikings to understand the importance of air dominance. The commentators and voice of the sport are the people most at risk of dropping the ball, but casters like Day9 and Doa continue to drive the energy that makes watching Starcraft 2 so much fun.
Why do we even have to consider the two as direct competitors when there is so much space to develop in eSports? Just as those who watch baseball often also watch football, and you don’t have to sign a waiver that you’ll never watch another game of hockey in order to watch tennis, you can both enjoy the team-oriented nature of League of Legends and the individual decision making and mechanical skill of top Starcraft 2 players. There are scenarios where either appeals to me more, depending on what tournaments are showing at a given time or whether my favorite players are streaming. Without either game, I would spend plenty of my time away from the wonderful advertising support eSports needs.
Heart of the Swarm will not determine whether Starcraft 2 remains a critical eSport in the industry. However, Blizzard is now in the position where they no longer own the top dog in the competitive scene. As criticism continues to be leveled at Heart of the Swarm and the state of Starcraft as a whole, will the developers of the game find their way through the biting remarks? If the NFL can survive their referee debacle, surely Starcraft can come back to its place as the strategy game top dog.