The World Championship Series 2013 announcement shook the Starcraft II community today. While Mike Morhaime and his partners emphasized the positive impact of WCS during the press conference, the Starcraft community does not know what to expect. By that I include the players and coaches.
I am not going to repeat what Blizzard said about their intention for WCS, but give my thoughts on the change from different perspectives.
Clearly, the new partnership and structure benefit Blizzard and their partners. First of all, their investment is more accountable. With Blizzard’s support, organisers should be more relief in terms of keeping their balance sheet in good condition. There are rumours about big tournament organisers aren’t really earning money. The WCS seems to be a more stable business model for those involved. It is like Euro. If you fall, others will help. But… In recent years… Oh well, I’m not going to turn this into a post of economy.
Partnership with the big boss, Blizzard, guarantees protection. By that I mean it increases the entry barrier of the industry (Insert citation of the legendary Michael Porter’s five forces). It is going to be difficult for potential investors to organise a tournament. Top players’ schedule will be packed with the main stream tournaments organised by the alliance, which include WCS (duh…) and recognised non-WCS events. As Mike Morhaime has stressed that WCS points will be awarded to recognised non-WCS effects as an incentive for players. Sure, but the priority goes to the allies. Currently, GomTV and OGN will take turns to run WCS Korea. This gives the “resting” party time and resources to organise non-WCS events. By agreement, these events cannot crash with WCS schedule. I doubt any outsider organiser can fight for the non-WCS time slots. If they do, it is likely to be a one time event which is not very attractive for the investors. Or worse, in order to get rid of competition, the alliance can conduct non-WCS events that crash with theirs. Well, maybe I shouldn’t prime you that the alliance is the bad guy. Simply by “banning” others from hosting does not really benefit the industry and themselves, but it certainly gives Blizzard and partners more power over others. It could potentially turn out to be “if you cannot beat them, join them.” The alliance could get bigger.
As for the players, the new structure is said to solve the problem of tournament priority and importance. Well, yes, WCS is certainly the thing now. But it also segregates the playing field. On one side, you have the stars. On the other, the victims of saturation. The mid-level players do not have alternative tournaments to play in. The positive side is that the players will be more motivated than ever. The negative side is the sustainability of the players. This is the survival of the fittest. But well, as an audience, the quality of play should only get better.
Uncertainty is one of the key factors that has been holding eSports back in development. The main stakeholders, such as the players, do not know what will happen in the future. Players do not know where their career going to take them. Much like other competitive sports, you have to be at the top to earn significant amount of money. However, unlike many other sports, there isn’t exactly a safe net. TSL and oGs are good examples. Things just fall apart without notice, and their players were left to stray. There are few players who can say that “if I have not been a progamer, I would be less well off now.” Indeed, the players start their progaming career at the age of 16-18, which is an important pivot point in life. If you fail as a progamer, you are in the middle of no where. Sure, you can say that this applies to other sports. But the salary for progamer who has few opportunities to play tournaments can be very demoralising. Even for those who have a certain degree of recognition cannot see light at the end of the tunnel beyond their contracts. To be a little bit more controversial, they really do not know if their rice bowls crack in the near future. Now the new structure definitely gives more certainty. In general, it can only be a good thing.
Which region? Yes, this is perhaps the most difficult question of the players’ career. This is harder than choosing between Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur. They cannot press the restart button as they are locked to the region they select. To many, this is a no brainer. Koreans who are in Korean teams do not exactly have a choice but to choose Korea. Those who choose to join the other two regions would likely to get outcast. Many people on various sites said that many Koreans will switch to the other two regions, and they will just be equally stagnate. I do not exactly agree as I do not expect that many to switch. This is simply because Koreans in Korean teams do not have the resource to stay outside of Korea. I do not expect the Korean teams to have three camps around the world due to economical reasons. Thus, Koreans of the Korean based teams will join WCS Korea. If they wish to join other regions, they will have to leave their team.
Things get tricky for Koreans who are not in Korean teams. For example, Polt is studying oversea and is not in a Korean team. It is unlikely for him to join WCS Korea. But then again, he can never play in WCS Korea in the future unless the regulation changed. I am unsure what to expect from mid-tier Korean players. Should they try their luck in America or Europe, assuming they are relatively easier, they will also face sponsorship problem. I doubt it is possible to play outside of Korea region and stay in Korea at the same time. At least not in a long term run. This implies that players are not only region locked individually, but also their potential team transfer.
As for the players in America and Europe. The choice is straight forward. However, the lucky few who are currently staying in Korea would have to make a tough choice. Go home or stay? It is even harder for those who are in a Korean team. Poor Major.
What will happen to EG-TL in SPL? The Korean players are likely to play in WCS Korea, while the rest should be going back to their respective regions. At least that’s what I expect, unless the team can sort it out. This new change has definitely knocked the rock bottom team in the league to go even lower. I won’t be surprised if the partnership between EG and TL disbands.
Players who do not exactly belong to any of these three regions such as the Oceania players, e.g. Moonglade, Chinese players, e.g. Xigua and Taiwanese players e.g. Sen, have to choose a region if they wish to participate in WCS. I doubt they will have their own regions except for China in the future.
In sum, the partnership has many pros at a macro level, but the players and teams will have to make painful decisions in a short period of time. Whether this is for a better future, time will tell. I expect restructuring of teams in the upcoming weeks.