MLG Anaheim this year (Image from Digital Trends).
The MLG Spring Championship was certainly downsized from last year's extravaganza, and other games continue to balloon, leaving many concerned for the future. Where does this leave StarCraft II, and what is our relationship with the games that have grown up around us?
I'll get all the suspense out of the way. We're doing perfectly fine. In fact, we're doing great. While the MLG Spring Championship of 2013 paled in comparison to the mindbendingly massive event Blizzard and MLG put on for 2012, and the prize pool was among the smaller events MLG has ever offered, the fact of the matter is that viewership for StarCraft II remains as strong as ever. We're months past the release of Heart of the Swarm, and we're still not seeing a sizable downturn in tournament viewership. DreamHack and the various WCS events are turning in numbers the size of, or bigger, than those we saw all throughout 2012. New sponsors continue to enter our scene, and things continue on. And even if MLG's prize pool was rather small, there are plenty of other events to pick up the slack. But why is everyone worried, then? Read on for my thoughts.
What's got everyone worried is the fact that those numbers just don't dazzle anymore. We started to feel it in 2012, as LoL rapidly ballooned into the phenomenon we know it as now. If StarCraft II pulls 100k, LoL pulls 250k. At MLG, we even saw Activision's efforts in pushing competitive Call of Duty come to fruition as we saw their numbers surpass our own at times throughout the weekend. Dota 2 grows and grows by the day, and The International 3 is pretty much set to be one of the greatest eSports events of all time thanks to Valve's incredible work at pushing it both in and out of game. Even fighting games are doing better than ever. While StarCraft II is certainly one of the top games, we've just got to face facts: we're not #1 anymore, and we probably never will be again.
The thing is...why is that so bad? Even if our community isn't the one setting all the records these days, the game we love is still here and the players we cheer for are still playing. Blizzard is pushing StarCraft II harder than ever before, so the tournaments aren't going away. The game remains a premiere title at MLG and DreamHack as well, whether it's on the “center stage” or not. Until concurrent viewership for one game reaches the millions, no tournament organizer is going to consider cutting off a 100k concurrent stream just because another one gets twice that. So anyone claiming that this MLG event is evidence that Sundance and crew are planning to downsize or replace SC2 are kidding themselves. The growth of other games does not, and will not, cut us out of the picture so long as our community continues to turn out in force.
In fact, the growth of other games does more good than harm for us. Consider what the growth of SC2 did for other eSports. The SC2 community pioneered content delivery techniques, the personal player stream, and a considerable amount of infrastructure and culture that went on to form the foundation for the LoL and Dota 2 communities, and was the big push that made today's large teams and tournaments into what they are today. Now that LoL is on top, we reap benefits from their success. For a recent, incredibly important example: KeSPA 8th Team finally acquired a sponsor, and a huge one at that – Jin Air – while simultaneously picking up two LoL squads. Without Jaedong on their team anymore, there's no way Jin Air sponsored Team 8 just for the StarCraft by itself. But by being a part of the larger eSports market, StarCraft II gets to keep a team whose future was increasingly uncertain each day.
Kerrigan wouldn't give up, why should you?
I'm not saying at all that StarCraft II is now in the position of riding LoL's coat-tails. I'd rather quit writing altogether than say something like that. To be honest, I don't like the game any more than the average SC2 fan. But we, as a community, need to recognize that eSports isn't a one-game show. Throughout 2011, when StarCraft II was the only game in town, we got used to equivocating “StarCraft” and “eSports.” The community rallied around the cry to “grow eSports!” as though that was the same as “Grow SC2!” And we did. The SC2 community grew into one of gaming's most thriving scenes, and brought competitive games to a brand new level outside of Korea. But we also helped grow other games, whether we meant to or not. We need to accept that now, the growth of League of Legends, Dota 2, DiveKick, or any other game is just as “good for eSports” as what we did for SC2 was. Growing acceptance of competitive games, and expanding the base for any game, indirectly helps our community.
Maybe you don't care about “growing eSports,” and just want to see more SC2 content. That's totally fine – there's absolutely no moral imperative that SC2 fans have to care about eSports as a concept. In that case, can we just give the other games a break? I don't like League of Legends, and I know a large portion of the SC2 community doesn't either. But you don't hear basketball fans talk about how association football is a “no skill game,” or hear rugby players call baseball players “kiddies.” Maybe SC2 is a harder game than LoL, and maybe it isn't. Why does that matter, though? No one's asking you to play or watch LoL. By acting like a jerk to fans of another game, all we accomplish is giving ourselves a bad reputation and turning away those who might be interested in checking our game out.
Not once, in the entire history of StarCraft II, has the success of LoL infringed on StarCraft II content where there was a demand for it. Korea embraced LoL because it didn't like SC2, not because of any other games. MLG made LoL center stage at Spring 2013 because the demand was higher, and StarCraft II was still given a stage equal to the demand for it. Not being treated as #1 is not the same as being marginalized or being an afterthought.
At the same time, I do get it. It sucks to go from being on top of the world to sharing the stage, and watching a game you don't like get all the spotlight. I'm jealous of what LoL has right now, and I wish SC2 had the 300k viewers and the millions in prizes. But we're still here, and we're still important. We helped make eSports what it is today, and the major tournament organizers know it. As long as our community turns out in force for the major events, they'll keep throwing them. And if some other game elevates those organizations to a new level, SC2 won't just be left behind to rot as long as we continue to demand what we deserve.
In the end, we're the ones who keep us relevant. The only way SC2 is going to be “downsized” or “replaced” is if we all give in to the hype train of another game, lose interest in SC2, and stop tuning into major events. And if that happens, then what right do we have to demand content?
I doubt that'll happen for a long time though. If there's one thing SC2 fans are still #1 at, it's passion for their game. And I'm proud to still be a member of this community.
(I would like to note, though, that it's true the North American community is suffering right now. That has nothing to do with the conversation involving other games or viewership numbers, but rather infrastructure and competitiveness – neither of which I can discuss in the scope of this article but definitely are important issues.)