Welcome to 2013 from ROOT Gaming! We hope you all partied hard and got home safely. Below, you'll find our senior editor's year in review for 2012 and well-wishing New Year's quotes from CatZ and Drew.
2012: Year in Review
2012 is in the books, and it went swimmingly for ROOT, being that we, you know, weren't, and now we are. As a former writer for Liquid – and I'll be touting that for the rest of my days, thank you – I'm assuming that they are preparing a big 2012 recap that should feature all of the highlights and big plays of the year. I'll leave them to it, and you can expect it in mid-February.
Instead, I'd like to share my perspective on how our community and industry has done in the last year, and give some thoughts on what we should be up to this year coming.
I think I'll start with a murder.
The Death of a Salesman
If you've ever seen the play, it's about an old insurance salesman who can no longer support his family. He feels like he has no other options, and over the course of the play, he slowly dies. It's quite tragic.
That's right, folks. Wings of Liberty, half in the face of competition from the MOBA genre and half in preparation for Heart of the Swarm, is dying. If you count 40,000 concurrent viewers as dying, that is. But that's not really a bad thing. Looking at it from the perspective of the franchise, isn't StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty just the teaser for the next two installments?
All WoL needed to do was what it did: be a great game, become an eSport, and keep us hooked for a few years. WoL lasted until now and provided a foundation of basic units and abilities that Blizzard can use to build two more games from. Heart of the Swarm is a new and exciting opportunity to build on that framework.
That's not to say that this first installment took no risks. They could've easily made StarCraft II into regular SC with improved graphics. I would've played it, and judging by the general trend on the forums, most of you would have too, but I don't think we would have been satisfied. Are we ever?
Instead, they added intriguing and game-shaping units like the marauder and the colossus. The old queen and defiler were re-envisioned as the new infestor. But the first eight minutes or so always looks similar and clean, and this is in large part because Blizzard took a keen interest in removing early-game obstacles. Reapers and bunker rushes? Only if you like playing from behind. 4-gate? Only if you like sitting outside of a forcefield forever.
Take a look at the core units and core play-styles. Marines, Zerglings and Zealots are requisite, and the game techs up to a battle of spell-casters and the defining units of each race. Large armies clash against large armies. Bases are taken and ransacked. Maps are divided. War is brought. The game works.
Blizzard accomplished their goals with Wings of Liberty, albeit with some gentle nudging from the community and the mapmakers. And but for the sour mood of the last few Zergy months, StarCraft II has been a very big success.
In the Ballroom with the Lead Pipe
So Wings of Liberty is dying, kinda, but the cause of death? Well, it's pretty easy to say what killed it. It wasn't Blizzard, although unit balance was a factor. It wasn't Destiny's doomsday post, though that's a part of it.
It was high standards that killed StarCraft. We cancelled a decade-long tradition of late-night nichey pow-wows where we would stay up for a video game built in the '90s casted in a foreign language. We cancelled that for a game that we knew wasn't yet worthy of the weight that the name StarCraft carries. What's more, I'll wager that we knew it wasn't going to live up to its name in the first place. It was a totally self-fulfilling prophecy. And it's totally undeserving because we're basing our judgments on statistics from an awful sample size over a very short time period and cherry-picking the negatives. Do you know anyone that's been to see the live event and hated it?
People are griping about win-rates now at a time when Terrans are losing to Zergs in games that they should've face-rolled, but there was a period of, oh, I don't know, three years when Protoss couldn't beat Zerg in BW? The matchup was abysmal until Bisu came along and rescued it.
Let's face it: We're riding on a hype train, and when it stops or slows, people get off. When SC2 was new, so many new viewers arrived onto the scene and saw something they'd never seen before – an electronic sport that was fun to watch, well-casted and organized, and had clear storylines and a high skill cap. They loved it and they laddered. Now we can hardly even get excited for foreign tournaments because nameless, faceless Koreans are going to win them. The conclusion is foregone.
But why are these Koreans nameless? Aside from those few who've gone on to win championships, that is. No BW pro ever got the same treatment. No BW pro is nameless. Non title contenders like Horang2, Ruby and Sea that occasionally made deep-ish runs or were experts at a particular matchup are still outrageously famous. They have their own fan clubs and worship threads.
Why can't we celebrate the skill that great StarCraft II players have like that?
And who calls 40,000 viewers a dying scene, anyway?
The answer is that our standards are too high. A better way to put it would be that every time we make a forward move, we push the goalposts further away. We have five major, event-hosting franchises investing in our game in the US and Europe. SC2 is streamed 24/7 in a dozen different languages from bronze to grandmaster. The games at the highest level are excellent by any standard of gaming. Even in the European and North American underground, there are great plays and fun new builds coming out all the time.
Let's put it another way. We all love watching StarCraft, but how many of us felt the scene was somehow incomplete until Flash made the switch?
I'd like to propose, if you have a moment, that the perception we have of Brood War is imagined, and that your experience is constructed mostly from legendary games, highlight VoDs, epic blog posts, and TL Final Edits. It's the afterglow of not just an incredible game but an incredible community, both of which have had 10 years to produce some incredible moments and content. If you distill Brood War into just its highlights, the NFL would be hard-pressed to make a comparable highlight reel. Yet that's the metric that we're comparing our day-to-day SC2 experience with. Don't give in to that tendency. Rather, celebrate the great moments that we have and follow the great storylines that are developing.
Follow MvP, MC, Leenock, and Taeja. Follow NaNiWa, ThorZain, Lucifron, Stephano and Grubby. Follow ViBE and IdrA and majOr and Scarlett. These players are all amazing and all very good at StarCraft. And don't dismiss the Koreans. I've heard people say that it's hard to tell Squirtle apart from Oz, Creator and Parting, and I think that that is a grave falsehood and just means that we're not giving any credit at all to these players.
A Brief, Not-Very-Humble Rant
Presented in full-on rant format in Technicolor. The opinions presented here do not represent the opinions of ROOT Gaming.
One of the greatest tragedies of the last year is that the community got so uppity about the warhound for about two weeks that Blizzard removed it. Are you kidding me? The warhound provided a midgame pressure and harassment unit that Terran is literally crying for right now. It was a unique, flexible unit that could be used in a lot of situations and would've likely made builds like 1-fac expand much more viable, resulting in faster-paced games and more diversity and selection in builds for Terran.
The community QQ'd so hard that Blizzard decided that no matter what it did to the unit, less people would buy their game and their reputation would be adversely affected if they kept it in. Why can't you people just let these nice folks do their job? The warhound was imba for one balance patch. It could've simply been tweaked to do less damage or require an upgrade to be fast. Instead, before we even had a chance to see it change and become a functional unit, we cried out "OP," and "OMG it's a marauder." We cried that this game would never be fun if you added another unit that just points and shoots.
Next time, spare us your opinion on the new units until we've had a week to play with them.
Spare us your cries for the nerfs that have turned the game into a bland, timingless, tempoless crawl to tier three tech.
Spare us your ire of cheese. Brood War to this day remains the cheesiest RTS in history. StarCraft II will most likely never compete in cheesieness (except when Koreans are playing vs. NaNiWa). Some of the greatest plays ever made in Brood War were brilliant cheeses.
Spare us the idea that the only games worth watching are macro games. I've seen so many macro games not worth watching that I don't even know where to begin.
More than anything else, spare us the concept that Blizzard's contribution is the final arbiter of whether a game is good. The players, teams, event organizers, media outlets and a strong PC Cafe scene in Korea is what made Brood War a natioinal televised event. The scene for SC2 is larger, stronger, and global. We, the community, could do more to make Cooking Mama an e-sport than Blizzard can do in the lab to make SC2 an e-sport.
So please, next time when Blizzard makes an announcement of a new unit, feature, or balance change, let's all just relax for a month and wait until we see what it's actually going to look like before we cry foul.
Getting Down To Business
WoL may be on the way out in favor of newer, more accessible games, but e-sports is on the rise. That's right, folks. We broke down the wall. e-Sports is not just a thing in China and Korea now – it's a thing in Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia, and also to a lesser extent South America. Tournaments and contests are held everywhere and people that market to these tournaments are making money instead of losing it – a reversal of a trend of 15 years in the west, and a key factor. And there's still tons of room to grow - consider that we had about a million people tune in to the International and the Riot Season 2 finals, and we still have hundreds of thousands of viewers for SCII major tournaments.
Compare that to population figures. There are about 800 million in Europe and about 500 million in North America. E-sports is putting up big numbers but it's comparatively smaller than any single, mildly popular cable TV channel in most any country. As a comparison, 15.5 million people tuned into the final game of the most recent World Series – which scored an all time ratings low.
We're a very slim section of the world market. The e-sports viewership consists of male, technology-interested 16 to 25-year-olds who play video games as a hobby. Our sponsors reflect this; they're almost completely comprised of technology and gaming gear companies that produce things that are sold exclusively to this limited market. Even MLG, quite possibly the best e-sports organization in the world as far as reaching outside of the box for sponsors, is limited by this factor. They're sponsored by men's shaving razors, an energy drink, a gamer phone, Dr. Pepper, and about 10 gaming/computer equipment companies.
The NFL, on the other hand, is sponsored by beer, TV shows, airlines, satellite radio, drinks, candy bars, soup, banks, internet service providers, and a video game publisher (EA) on top of a landslide of sports-related products. Why aren't we getting that? The NFL's audience is also mostly dudes, but there are plenty of women and families that also follow it religiously, and the age of viewers ranges from 4 to 90. We need to not only reach out to these markets but to also find ways to make e-sports appealing to them, even if it means playing a different subset of games.
Planting Seeds and Spreading our ROOTs
There's thousands of things that I can say here, but I think the main thing to do in the next year is to reach out to the areas where we're weak. We should be featuring female players more prominently so that girl gamers have more people to identify with. Girl gamers are, admittedly, not as good on average as guy gamers. But they have no leagues and few tournaments. The tournaments that they do have receive backlash because they're "not as good." Why on earth would these girls practice hard if there is no chance for them to make it? If all their fans are credited to fanboyism and creepy nerd love? If their team signings are chalked up as marketing stunts?
It's important that we recognize and drop some stereotypes:
♦ That girl gamers are intrinsically worse than guy gamers. To my knowledge, only Tossgirl has been given anything close to the opportunity that most male progamers have. Skill comes from practice, and most girls simply don't play video games all the time like guys do, nor have they had a childhood full of video games. Most importantly, this player base and fanbase needs to grow.
♦ That average players are bad. Our entire demographic is made up of mostly players who are average, below average, or just above average. A lot of them do not play StarCraft anymore because of the perception that it's important to be good at game to make it worth playing. But almost all of them are ten to fifteen times better than a gaming novice. Even if they weren't, we need to grow the player base, not scare it off. Disrespect towards casual and low-level players has got to go. A strong casual base strengthens the professional scene.
♦ That skill and results are to be prized above all else. Success in the tournament environment is determined by skill, but success in the media environment is determined by a combination of personality, self-marketing and fan interaction. Teams and organizations need to prioritize both generating skilled players and cultivating personalities that are appealing and marketable.
I have to reiterate that these things are important. We have a tournament every month that brings together the best of the best to determine who is the best of the best of the best, and we're very good at it. We'll continue to be good at it and grow in that direction. What we don't do nearly enough is reach out to new markets and expand our potential. We need to embrace the areas that we're bad at in order to grow.
Support Your Local Nerds
The amateur SC2 scene is in a pretty bleh state. It's very inconsistent and rarely receives proper coverage. You should ALL be tuning in to the AHGL, CSL and any other similar initiatives. We need more large, established companies to realize that people will tune in to their e-sports team and support their brand if they invest a little. Consider that, in Korea, e-sports teams and leagues are generally sponsored by telecom companies, banks, and major technology brands like Samsung. These brands are big enough and accessible enough that their profits are bolstered simply by exposure, and there's no reason for them to not invest in e-sports marketing if the interest is there. Travel for five players to attend a major event is a big deal to e-sports teams, but it's a pittance to Microsoft, Zynga and Google.
The problem here is simply that they don't know we exist, or they do and think we don't matter. However, when a marketing executive at Zappos hears that 10,000 people tuned in to watch a finals match that featured their company's unofficial "team," he's going to deck them out next season in Zappos polos and hook them up with product promotions and website gear. He's going to send them to IPL and look at investing in a progaming team as a sponsor. He's going to be more likely to hire people with e-sports backgrounds.
One day, Zappos is simply going to bring on a semi-pro team under their employ just for the purposes of winning this league every year – until Microsoft one-ups them, that is.
This sort of thing has an unbelievable potential value in exposure. As a community and collective of organizations, we've put ourselves in a position to get noticed. Now, we need to start making the connections that are going to grow StarCraft from big to huge. That starts by grabbing the attention of people who don't know about electronic sports and making it accessible to them.
I don't think I can stress this enough. We can't be passive as organizations and as fans when it comes to this point. We have a vibrant professional scene casted by the best casters in all of e-sports, but one tier down from there is cardboard box stream quality in a classroom.
The Changing, Multi-Game Landscape
Currently, e-sports fans watch and play many games. One of the big strengths that StarCraft 2 had on launch was that it was alone in the e-sports world for almost a year. Our "competition" was two older Blizzard RTS games, Warcraft III and StarCraft, a trailing Dota following, and a defeated Counter-Strike. No new games had been taken seriously as e-sports in some time.
We absorbed all of those scenes in about two months flat and we were the head honcho for over a year. Now, to take the perspective of some, we have other games poaching on our turf. To take another perspective, e-sports has now grown to be big enough that we can handle 3-4 games comfortably. My perspective is that our viewership is shared with these other games, and that currently, people are currently gravitating toward new, shiny, well-funded games and emerging stars rather than remaining dedicated to a single scene. This is standard for gamers; new games come out and we gravitate towards them almost regardless of quality. I mean, people still buy every Black Ops game and watch Diablo III streams for Christ's sake.
Cheap jabs aside, I played Monk and I want my $60 back.
The fan/player crossover between MOBA and RTS is a big percentage, but MOBA games are bringing in new fans at a much greater rate than StarCraft. Particularly, League of Legends is great at appealing to the casual base, including 16 to 24-year-old girls, while Dota2 scratches that inner need for top-tier competition and has a very broad international fanbase. The big positive of this is that having more e-sports fans, especially in games where there is significant player crossover between the other game and StarCraft, has a cumulative positive return for the entire industry. The big negative is that the industry professionals and organizations have to shoulder much, much higher costs and burdens.
It is much more expensive to run a five-title tournament than to run a one-title tournament. It's much more expensive to send three teams to an event instead of one. What's worse is that the impact here is almost entirely felt by non-S-tier teams who simply cannot afford to send their players abroad on a regular basis. They have to pick and choose their all-stars while the rest of the team struggles with bare-bones exposure in a non-paying, full-time job. These under-sponsored players simply will not develop and this hurts the scene in a very big way in the long run.
Adding a team to your lineup is not just a sign and done affair. You have to add a whole slew of responsibilities to your production team, news team, media team, and marketing team. Most intermediate pro teams don't have a huge swell of paid staff for all of that. A progaming team that promotes StarCraft, Dota2, Counter-Strike, FIFA cannot simply make StarCraft-related content all day, and if you ignore your secondary games, your players will make early exits and your advertising revenue will drop.
The plus side of a multi-game community is a general rise in overall viewership for e-sports organizations. The downside is a huge increase in time spent and expenses for teams. As iNcontroL is constantly reminding us, StarCraft has the strongest, most tightly-knit community of any e-sport. We are very centralized around the forums at TeamLiquid, and we have the most dedicated and most professional casting, players and production in the industry. League of Legends simply doesn't have the resources that we have even with Riot paying their bills. Their forums are, relatively speaking, poorly moderated and decentralized. Dota2 has a ton of great coverage, but it's all over the place on a dozen sites and the community is extremely poorly moderated. At times, the players are bad mannered to an extreme, although that's largely been conquered in the pro scene.
To put this in perspective, when the question came up on the League subreddit, "What's the Team Liquid of League of Legends," the most upvoted comment was TeamLiquid.net. For StarCraft, our strong suit is our community, our positivity and our professionalism and expectations of professionalism. Our weaknesses are setting our standards too high, perfectionism, isolationism and close-mindedness.
The moral of the story isn't that we need to try harder this year, we just need to try smarter. As a collective of organizations, we need to think long-term and think expansion. While our teams, organizations and even games are all rivals in a sense, we're all operating on the same team and we're all on the same page when it comes to growing competitive gaming. This year is going to be great for e-sports, but the forecast for four years time, when the current games start to expire and peter out, is much more murky. Where will the fans go? Will we remain united in this quest for a bigger e-sports, or will we sabotage each other in the name of self-promotion and single-game zeal?
These questions are going to be answered one way or another. Our fans -– that is to say, you lot -- are a wilder and more unruly bunch than you'd think, but I hope myself and the guys here at ROOT can sway a few hands in the right direction with our words and actions.
In ROOT news, this year marks our second attempt at a humble beginning, and we're already off to a great start. Rush Order Tees, Twitch, Das Keyboards and AverMedia have been amazing and supportive sponsors. Out of nowhere, ViBE won WCS USA and finished second at the NA finals, and our players have had amazing runs in a number of tournaments. We knew that they were good, but the new blood is so much better than anyone anticipated. Between PuCK and MaSa we're 4-0 against ThorZain. MajOr continues to provide us with continuous heartburn, but we're really proud of him, so look out for big news there soon. We had a great stint with ToD, and we're sad that he couldn't stay and play with us a bit longer. Our Dota2 team is turning heads slowly but surely.
And of course, you're probably here to hear everyone's thoughts on the new year. Here's a few thoughts from our fearless leaders:
From the rest of the staff and player's here at ROOT, we hope you all have a happy, fulfilling new year. Welcome to 2013! ROOT4ROOT!
And finally, KoReYa's new year's resolution.
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