Recent events brought the debate about WCS region lock back to the spotlight. I want to discuss this topic through the lens of ideology.
Starcraft is traditionally dominated by Koreans. The existence of esports could be traced back to the growth of Starcraft in South Korea two decades ago. I doubt I have to go in depth about the influence of Koreans on Starcraft. More importantly, this discussion focuses on the unexpected influence of Koreans’ domination in the era of global Starcraft, and that is the implementation of region lock. Region lock is a heavily debated topic even before it was implemented. There are supporters and opponents of region lock. Brownbear and I had discussed this in another article, and we had raised our concern about the existing system.
In short, the existing system does not allow Koreans to participate in WCS related tournaments outside of Korea without a resident VISA, but non-Koreans are free to play in all tournaments without such restriction. Moreover, as demonstrated by the TRUE case, Koreans have to choose one of the two even if they are eligible for WCS.
This differential treatment concerns many. Solar’s tweet below sums up Korean players’ opinions on the matter. I don’t think banning non-Koreans from GSL is going to help the Korean scene, but it is a matter of perceived fairness. The community’s concern spikes when Blizzard announced last week that they cut support for Heroes of the Storm tournaments, worrying that Blizzard’s delay announcement of the WCS 2019 plan is part of the build up for the worst news possible.
As you can see from the replies to Solar’s tweet, the community once again debates about the region lock. The more I read about the two sides of the debate, the more it is apparent to me that these views are associated with our ideologies.
Two distinct views
Region lock is controversial by definition because the community has two different, often polarising, opinions. Most views fall on the spectrum that have heavy region lock on one end and free competition on the other. Each side has its pros and cons, and there are sound arguments for and against region lock.
Those who are supportive of region lock (RL-supporters) build their arguments on ground that it flourishes the global competitive scene. Indeed, since Blizzard restrict Koreans’ participation in tournaments outside of Korea, non-Koreans become much more competitive and successful than before. If there is any doubt that the top non-Korean pros are as good as the Korean stars, Serral’s dominating performance this year put an end to that debate. New blood is entering the scene with more non-Korean teams spending their budgets on promising players. Future’s (16yo) victory at Cheeseadelphia 8 last week gets us optimistic about the future of the scene (pun-intended).
On the other hand, those who are against region lock (RL-opponents) hold a belief that it is against meritocracy. Starcraft players pride themselves on the ruthless one on one competition that is independent of luck. The winner is the better player. Region lock does not only stifle the meritocratic nature of Starcraft, but it also robs fans the joy to watch the best players in the world to duel it out.
Ideological driven views
In my opinion, the two distinct views are associated with two different sets of ideological beliefs. Ideology represents a set of normative beliefs and values that we believe how the society should operate. This is best reflected in our political beliefs that some are more conservative while others are more liberal. Although social scientists once considered ordinary people like us are incapable to have a consistency in our ideological attitudes for it to matter [1, academic references at the end of the article], recent research suggests there is an elective affinity that our ideologies draw us to specific structures and contents that are not explicitly political [2, 3]. For example, conservatives’ bedrooms are more organized, and include more organizational items like calendars, while liberals’ bedrooms have significantly more variety of books and music CDs . This is because, conservatism is related to structures and orders, and liberalism is related to openness to experience . In other words, our ideologies do not only affect our views on political driven topics like abortion and immigration policies, but they can also play an important role in our opinions on a topic like region lock in Starcraft.
I want to be clear that I am not suggesting for versus against region lock is representing the left versus right of the political ideology spectrum. There are several reasons for that. First, I do not have the data to make the claim. Simple. Second, the issue is complex. One can argue region lock is related to conservatism or liberalism, depending on the point of ideological difference you use. Third, I believe political identities would get the better of us if I were to tag political labels to the focal topic, and that is not constructive for a good discussion.
Specifically, I want to focus on three ideological asymmetries.
- Acceptance of inequality
- Resistance to change
The two views are different in their preferences for egalitarianism. RL-supporters believe there is an existing hierarchy whereby Koreans are better than non-Koreans, and this is the consequence of the privilege of established esports system in South Korea. In order to achieve an egalitarian state, systematic aids need to be given to non-Koreans for the gap to close. In contrast to this view, RL-opponents believe this “welfare” approach is against the goals of egalitarianism per se, because Koreans and non-Koreans are treated differently. If one wants equality and fair competition, non-Koreans should not have the advantage of region lock.
This is very comparable to the opposing views on the topic of affirmative action, which is a set of laws, policies, guidelines and administrative practices intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination. One example is women-only scholarships in university. One side argues that men traditionally have the advantage in university admission, so women should be given help to balance the scale. In oppose to this view, others argue this is creating inequality which is the very thing women-only scholarships aim to eradicate.
There is a new wave of activists opposing women-only scholarships. The central tenet of this movement is that women are no longer at a disadvantage in admission they once were, rather, women have overtaken men in tertiary education. Applying this to the focal topic, Koreans do not have that systematic advantage they once had with KeSPA, and top non-Koreans can go toe-to-toe with top Koreans now. So it is inevitable that some part of the community share the same sentiments as these activists.
What is the status quo? The answer is contingent on when we ask this question. Let’s first consider no region lock as the status quo, because that was the original system in place when the debate started. Many were (and some still are) skeptical of region lock when the idea was proposed. Would it really rejuvenate the global Starcraft scene? Or would it simply deny fans from enjoying the best matches possible? What happened if we sacrifice the Korean scene and get nothing in return? The uncertainty is unsettling.
Now that the existing region lock system is in place for two years, it is the current status quo. If region lock is now removed, will that undo all the work done these two years? After all, the top 30 Koreans are still considered stronger than the top 30 non-Koreans, and an influx of Koreans may push mid tier non-Koreans out of the scene.
Upholding status quo versus advocating change is arguably the most obvious ideological disagreement since the beginning of mankind. Change signifies uncertainty. And uncertainty pushes us to clinch onto what we are familiar with, as this reduces our risk of running into danger. Some scholars argue that all of our ideological asymmetries can be traced to our differences in negativity bias , whereby some are more sensitive than others to negative stimuli such as risk and danger.
While there is no denial that both dispositional (e.g., players’ hard work) and situational (e.g., team support) factors influence performance, people from the two views have different tendencies in their attributions of player success. RL-supporters place more weight on situational factors in their argument for region lock that the Koreans are ahead because of the esports history in South Korea, so it is unfair for non-Koreans to compete on the same ground due to this situational difference. In contrast, RL-opponents tend to attribute results to dispositional factors, for example, they argue that non-Koreans are inferior to Koreans simply because of the disparity of hard work.
Similar asymmetrical attribution patterns are observed in many people’s opinions on public policies and social phenomenons (e.g., homelessness, unemployment, and AIDS infections). People naturally offer explanations to a phenomenon that are consistent with their ideological values and beliefs . For example, conservatives (vs. liberals) attribute homelessness to dispositional factors within individuals’ control (vs. situational factors outside of individuals’ control), and hence, they are less inclined than liberals to support public welfare schemes. This perspective fits well with what I observe in our region lock debate as to whether implementing region lock (which is perceived as a form of welfare treatment) is doing a greater good.
Once we look at the region lock debate through the lens of ideology, existing knowledge on ideologies can shed light on our understanding and improve our discussion. Although the conventional left versus right ideological construct fits the western society better than other parts of the world, all of us have an ideology at its core. Importantly, recent evidence shows that people’s ideologies are associated with heritable attributes and are generally stable across their lifetime [9, 10]. This implies that, if our views on region lock are associated with our ideologies, then our views are unlikely to change as our ideologies are stable.
What happen when we try to persuade the other side to see what we see? First of all, we naturally do not want to listen or read information that is incongruent with their ideologies , and this is not limited to a specific ideology (right or left). People of different ideologies are even willing to forgo money just to avoid exposure to information from the opposite ideology . When we are exposed to information that is incongruent to ours, we are more critical about information that is inconsistent with our views than those that are consistent with ours . The scary consequence is that, if we manage to form a good counter argument to resist persuasion of incongruent views, our initial views become even more polarised . That is, as we attempt to persuade others who have different opinions on region lock, the outcome is likely to be the opposite of what we intend to achieve. After all, different ideologies are based on different moral foundations , and it is extremely hard to shift one’s set of moral values. Therefore, this begs the question whether we should continue to “constructively” debate about the topic when our views are in fact the extension of our ideologies.
I do not have the answer. To the best of my knowledge, social psychologists do not have the answer either. Fortunately, however, despite our different views in the ideal WCS system, we all want Starcraft to be sustainable and financially supported. Regardless of our positions, we should ask ourselves how sustainable our ideal WCS system is? What is likely to happen in three years time? Can it be even more sustainable? I will be frank that I previously leaned toward the side of not having the region lock for meritocracy reasons. But I understand that it is not helpful toward the goal of sustainability, and I know we must sacrifice certain ideals for greater good.
Some of the best policies are not hindered by ideals. Rather, decision makers acknowledge the imperfection of human and seek the practical solutions based on foreseeable results. I particularly like Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s (Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore) interview at the 45th St. Gallen Symposium (watch it here), where he talked about various key policies in Singapore. When asked about government’s influence on journalism, he said: “The freest possible media is not the only liberty we aspire to. I do think it is a good idea by the way. It appeals to my ideals, but it is not the only liberty you aspire to.” This suggests the policies put practical consequences before ideals.
Similarly, when explaining Singapore’s public housing policies that enforce ethnicity balance in a neighbourhood (i.e., there is a quota for a race to ensure an area is not dominated by a specific race), Shanmugaratnam admitted that it is authoritative and intrusive but emphasised racial harmony as the positive outcome. This is his quote: “It was intrusive. And it turned out to be our greatest strength. Because once people live together, they’re not just walking their corridors together every day and taking the same elevators up and down; their kids go to the same kindergartens, the same primary schools. Because all over the world, young kids go to schools very near to where they live. And they grow up together.” This implies he acknowledges the negative consequences of homophily , and the policies favor pragmatism over ideals. Therefore, we should shift away from debating which view is superior, and instead focus on what system is best for the sustainability of competitive Starcraft.
While I remain optimistic about the future of Starcraft, I do not expect notable changes to be made for 2019. The fact that non-Koreans are already participating in the upcoming GSL qualifiers leaves little room for Blizzard to make changes without dealing irreversible damage. Many top Koreans cannot delay their military service any longer, so we are likely to see a sudden drop in collective quality among Korean players. Despite effort to have online tournaments for new Korean players, there is a huge skill gap between the GSL players and the online tournament players. When most of the top Koreans move on to serve their nation, should Blizzard treat Korea as just another region? I said in 2016 that we had moved from a Korea-centric ecosystem to an era of global Starcraft when Proleague was cancelled. Interestingly, the current system is still Korea-centric in a sense that top players around the world reside in south Korea, because that gives them the best benefits from both monetary and competitive standpoints. Perhaps Blizzard have underestimated how quickly non-Koreans are closing the “Korean gap” after the implementation of region lock. This is evident from the fact that they do not have rules on what happen if a non-Korean is a top 8 in GSL standing or a GSL champion. Does s/he takes a spot from the Korean players and participates the Global Finals? Things get more complicated depending on whether that player also qualifies via the WCS route. Thus, in my opinion, there could be an upheaval for 2020.
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