Everyone was happy, Starcraft 2 was plodding along and seasons were cycled through. Of course you’d get the occasional complaint or shout for changes, but overall Starcraft 2, eSports and the community were content. Then it all changed: Blizzard released Heart of the Swarm beta. Read on for how the past few weeks and coming months will determine Starcraft's place in the gaming ecosphere.
Since HoTS beta the community has had mixed reactions. Some were ecstatic, excited and couldn’t wait for the eagerly anticipated expansion to hit the shelves. In the other camp some were angry, annoyed and out right appalled, shouting loudly how the game still lacked basic features. The SC2 eSports scene was declared to be “dying” or “dead” and as players switched games the community felt the behemoth that is SC2 was shuddering its final breaths. With the uncertainty in the air we all asked "What will happen?" Kasey spoke about the current state in more detail and Christina spoke about how change is coming.
SC2 was designed with the aim to provide a better eSports scene. It aimed to provide an easy to understand, graphically pleasing, but expansively deep gameplay. Then it provided a toolset to allow the spectators an easy time. It was applauded for it’s support for eSports. Looking at the huge success of Starcraft: Brood Wars it came as no surprise that Starcraft 2 was designed to promote and further expand into an eSport. On paper the entire design sounded like a perfect recipe for success, a fresh update, beautiful graphics with tools for eSports.
What came was a disappointment. Yes the game was beautiful and it was great fun but the main complaint was the structure around the game: the foundations, the Battle.net. Suddenly it felt alien and cold, players felt alone on a multiplayer game. The competitive “PLAY MATCH” was foreboding and promoted cutthroat interaction.
Look at BNET 1: public chat rooms, friends lists, interaction, custom games and chat rooms which were communities which existed purely in game. Communities where skilled players, friends and people interacted. Imagine that a good equivalent would be a Team Liquid fan thread or the regular fans in a TwitchTV chat stream . They didn’t only play games but you had a crowd to play with, you had a community to talk to, applaud, discuss the mundane, shit talk and interact. Games felt fun and this is where the number 1 issue resides.
In BNET 2, chat rooms were removed, hidden away and regarded as a nuisance. Everything was geared to essentially minimise the friendly atmosphere. That distinct lack of an easy access community alienated players and forced game after game. It removed a fun aspect: you could no longer communicate.
Let us walk away from this and turn to Skype, Twitch, TL and Reddit. These platforms provide a community. Let us entertain the idea that Blizzard decided they did not need in-game communities in this day and age because we all had such an easy time communicating through the internet. Maybe the time for old chat rooms in-game are gone. Look at League of Legends, they don’t exactly have chat rooms yet LoL is far more popular. Is it because the game is better, is it because LoL offers a more personal challenge?
LoL has been successful due to the interaction of your team mates. In LoL you are able to jump in a game, play with 4 other people and chat to them. You can of course talk purely game, take it serious and focus, but at a lower level - the casual gamer level - players can talk rubbish, smack talk, have fun and generally build a friend base around themselves. In addition to this the game offers a continual grind of improvement, a process which is entirely public amongst your friends, teammates and the community. As you move further up the chain of ELO and skill you’ll find the pro gamers do not engage in small talk but instead have a friend base established. It is a gradual change in playstyle from fun, casual communication to serious, focused, competitive interaction.
SC2 removed the community feel, promoted the 1v1 competition and forced everyone to enter the game at that serious, focused competitive interaction from level one. New players and casual players can be seen to fight against this foundation and you’ll find bronze and silver players to talk to one another, ask how their day has gone and even comment on how the last match was a funny game. In addition, FFA and 2v2/3v3/4v4’s are seen to far more popular amongst the casual gamers.
Online gaming should never rotate around “single player”. I once described SC2 laddering as a single player game where the AI is infact a person.... “but I don’t talk to them!”. I do not have experience to talk about the psychology behind individuals but on a personal level I can share what I felt. After a day at work I’d come home to socialise. Instead I’d ignore my friends and I’d listen to music whilst I laddered. I’d sit down, hit find match and end up playing game after game alone. It felt lonely. A game that was a multiplayer game should never feel lonely. When I played HoN I was able to talk to all my friends, I was able to talk to new people and It ticked my box of human interaction (even via a pc!)
After HoTS beta it looked like nothing was to change. The core foundation was still lacking and the SC2 community made sure it was heard.
But has Blizzard listened?
HoTS has seen some overhauls and changes and it looks like the chat channels will be implemented with clans. With the aimed date in 2013, I’d predict around April. I hope to see Blizzard overhaul Bnet to add a real social element, to add an interactive platform so I do not have to add third parties to make the experience fun. Not only would I personally want chat rooms and easier interaction with the community, I’d also want better map tools, better map interaction and an overhaul on the map making community. A staple ingredient in the longevity of SC:BW.
Here is to SC2, the "delay" and the future.