Blizzard had made an official statement about the changes for WCS 2014. You may refer to Team Liquid for better coverage with additional FAQs.
I will summarise the key points and discuss what I think about them.
A new format for America and Europe
In 2013, every region followed (more or less) the same format. Blizzard changed the format for America and Europe to something more linear and structured. The Premier League and Challenger League will not be played concurrently. This indeed makes it easier to follow for the audience. This new system also changes the number of players remains in the Premier League based on previous season placement. In contrast with the old format, top 16 players are directly placed in the premier league for next season.
As for Korea, the classic GSL format will be implemented. Furthermore, there will not be a switch between OGN and GomTV after every season.
OGN has rights to run both StarCraft and StarCraft II tournaments alongside WCS and will be able to run WCS global events that offer WCS points. Additionally, OGN will remain our partner outside of the WCS and will produce entertainment shows and tournaments for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
I think this is the best for everyone. OGN has LoL and Proleague along with other games. It is difficult to squeeze in broadcasting time for WCS. At the same time, by having one partner for the main WCS league, it reduces unnecessary complications (and politics).
Region lock and 2013-2014 seeding transition
This is perhaps the highlight of the change. The top 8 players of last season WCS America and Europe respectively are seeded into the Premier League of WCS 2014 season 1. The 24 players from each respective Season 3 2013 Challenger League will be taking on 24 new players from Season 1 Qualifiers. The top 24 players who win their Challenger match will join the 8 existing players in order to fill out a full 32 player Premier League roster in each region. In subsequent seasons, the system will revert to the bottom 16 players of Premier taking on a fresh set of 16 qualifiers in Challenger up-and-downs.
The 24 new players are determined by regional qualifiers based on the following distribution.
Ladder wildcard spots will have open enrollment with no citizenship or residency restriction, but still have a master’s level requirement with a minimum number of ladder wins within that regional server. Master’s level will also be required across all qualifiers.
I think the “new region lock” and seeding transition are reasonably well done. In my opinion, a complete region lock does not work. Let’s not talk about the pros and cons of a full region lock, the transition itself is not realistic. A full region lock requires solid criteria to determine a player’s region eligibility. This will certainly cause conflicts and “grey area” exploit. The most critical problem of a complete region lock is the seeding reset barrier. A complete region lock will basically remove many players who were competing in America and Europe, then where do you place these players? Let’s use Jaedong as an example, he was in the top 8 of WCS America last season. He will not be able to stay in WCS America in a full region lock format, should he re-qualify in WCS Korea in the new season? These players are basically punished for no fault of their own. How do you fill up these slots that are left over by the “foreign” players in each region? Therefore, all in all, a complete region lock does not work in practice.
I like the idea of providing spots for specific regions. The change does not only protect the opportunity of the “local” players, it creates a systematic format globally for players to compete. The ladder wildcard is interesting. It provides that tiny bit of freedom for any player to compete in any region.
Although it is not explicitly stated, the Korean players in WCS America and Europe last season are likely to stay in the region for 2014. They do not have to go through the regional qualifier for upcoming season. As long as they do not get knocked out of Challenger League, they do not have to worry about the region qualification problem. Huk had also brought this problem up in his vlog: the number of Korean players is likely to be high by the end of 2014. But then again, you cannot simply remove these players because of transition problem I mentioned earlier, and these players have to literally fight for survival. Once they are dropped out of the Challenger League, they are going to have two choices: 1. Re-qualify through wildcard, where the competition is going to be tough. 2. Go to Korea and climb from the bottom.
Players have more freedom to switch region.
Players can only compete in one region at a time. If a player wishes to switch, they may declare a new region after being eliminated or at the end of a season. Any player that switches to a different region will be required to qualify through the designated WCS 2014 Qualifier Slots.
This is a good move to accommodate the seeded players in America and Europe in case they fall out of the region. Also, it is more flexible for everyone to make various arrangements (e.g., team change).
As we move into 2014, we recognize that Korea needs to operate a little differently. In the GSL, Korea already had an established league, with the best StarCraft II players in the world.
This statement suggests that Blizzard recognise Korea as the prestigious region. I am not going to argue against this but I am going to bring up an interesting perspective with the presumption that each region should receive the same treatment for fair play. I do not think it is fair to have structured open qualifiers for America and Europe but not in Korea. There is no information given about how non-Koreans can compete in the Korea region. So either it is open to all like how GSL was (ladder rank requirement applies) or it is only available for Koreans. If it is open to all, you can argue that Korea is not given the “region lock” that is given to the other two regions to protect the region. On the other hand, if it is only available to Koreans, then aren’t they given complete region lock that is unfair to other regions? Sure, with the other two regions available, no non-Korean will want to play in the GSL. That is a different argument altogether.
Prize structure and Season Finals
The prize pool for each region may have increase but there will not be any Season Finals for the best of each region to battle it out at the end of each season. I love the Season Finals for obvious reasons.
We’ve also redistributed much of the prize money that would have gone into the Season Finals back into regional finals events to reflect their added importance. GSL features a more top-heavy distribution to reflect Korea’s regional preference, while America and Europe have a more even distribution of prize money between top and bottom. Additionally, cash prizes are now being made available to those who compete in Challenger.
I had done a prize comparison when WCS 2013 was announced, so I am going to do the same for WCS 2014.
The above image shows the prize that each individual player gets for respective finish. The conversion rate used was 1000 KRW = 0.94 USD, approximately.
The next image shows the prize pool as a whole. That is, for example, if each semi-finalist finisher (3rd-4th) gets $7000, the total prize given out for that finish is 7000 x 2 = $14000. This is a better way to compare the prize pool.
As the table shown, despite there is no Season Finals in 2014, the total prize pool of each season for 2014 actually increases by approximately USD $12357. Notably, the prize difference for winning WCS Korea Premier League in 2013 and 2014 is huge. It increases from $20000 to $65873.
Recognised global events
As an audience, I like how the schedule of WCS 2014 is being more spread out than before. It was exhausting to catch the games as there were too many games played 24/7. There was no break when other recognised events like Dreamhack etc. were held to fill the gaps of the WCS schedule. Now that WCS 2013 is over, we have Redbull Battlegrounds and GSTL playoff this week, and WCG, IEM and Dreamhack next week. As much as I like starcraft, I kinda feel the Starcraft burnout. Proleague is starting soon too.
In 2014, I expect to see more global events to “replace” the Season Finals.
The new system balances the “region lock” and “Korean’s dilemma” reasonably well.