A relevant revisiting of Region Lock
Published on 02/09/2018 07:23 PST by Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra
Since Scarlett's victory at PyeongChang, the topic of region-locking has seen some revisiting, mostly perhaps sparked by these tweets from my good friend TotalBiscuit who has continuously branded the system as "welfare" since it's inception.
Somewhat ironically, TB calls for a revisiting of the system as times are changing and the support system for Korean players from KeSPA has naturally collapsed, in-spite the financial support and allocation of a great deal of resources from Blizzard to the GSL and the Korean SC2 ecosystem. In short, TB seems to understand that the system of region locking works and that the infrastructure, physical and virtual that 'foreigners' have gained and Koreans have lost over the years seems to have made a difference over time.
I personally hope this serves to somewhat dislodge the old echoes of how non-koreans are just less naturally talented or less hard-working / lazy when compared to Koreans and for people to understand that; while culture and discipline may play a small role, there are far bigger factors at stake when it comes to performance - infrastructure, support and access to attainable prize-pools and goals are all examples of that, many of which Region Lock over the last couple of years has served to satisfy. Today while Koreans are still better than non on average, the gap seems to have closed significantly and that is a good thing for StarCraft...
Few people claim that WCS/RegionLock "killed" the Korean Scene. Newsflash: If the korean scene was dead (which I don't think it is) it would have "killed" itself by the lack of interest from the Korean audience contrasted to the non-korean audience, pretty much from the beginning. Korea just never put up the numbers, the west did.
It is no secret that people don't just root for game-play but because we are people we strive to relate and get to know the people we cheer for, the more we have in common; the greater the connection we forge. This is why in traditional sports you have national leagues, regional and even city-based teams whose citizens get behind. If you are from the US and like basketball chances are extremely high that you root for your local city team. Live in LA? try not being a Lakers fan. Granted you can be a hipster or move to another city and maintain any other bond be a snowflake by all means, what you cannot do is ignore the connection that other people make based on proximity and affinity if your ultimate goal is the success of the sport, or in the case the game.
Said connection serves to create stronger / more devout fans, creates a web of support for the teams (or in the case of sc2 players) and pushes the industry as a whole forward, because that's what devout fans do, they consume, they buy, they sustain.
It was always a grave mistake from that standpoint to not region lock in StarCraft 2, because what it created was a power vacuum in Korea which had all of the infrastructure and experience going for them but can't possibly be as relatable to westerners due to cultural, geographic and language barriers.
If you look just within esports at CS:GO that is a wonderful example of nationalism and webs of support for "local" teams. People banter about how shitty German CS is or brag about how great Danish CS is, we sort of lost that in StarCraft 2 because we lost our identities as citizens of countries and became just "foreigners".
In SC:Brood War - while we still were "foreigners" and we were complete garbage compared to Korea, because the only major tournament was WCG and it focused around countries (much like IEM pyeongchang did) we had a much stronger sense of nationalism that kept the scene outside of Korea vibrant / "alive" almost on it's own. We had nation wars, active "national teams" that meant the world to us and active LOCAL communities that even today we lack in comparison. In Peru (where I am from) the SC:BW scene despite being much smaller, felt much stronger, much more active, much more committed to the game. Polish people bragged about how many half-decent / good players they had and took pride in being from 'Proland'. And Germany had open trials to their national teams by issuing challenges for spots.
This lost sense of nationalism was and continues to be incredibly detrimental to our ecosystem as a whole. If we look at Scarlett's victory as a Canadian to understand the potential that promoting regional / local growth has, AS A Canadian if the event gets ANY coverage in news outlets in Canada (because people who don't give two shits about StarCraft in Canada still care about Canada and Canadians excelling) guess who wins? You win, I win, StarCraft wins, because now we have Canada, for a brief moment, working for 'us'. If Neeb wins a tournament and it gets coverage, guess where it'll get most coverage? you guessed it! the United States of Amurica, who wins? the game wins!
"But Koreans are the best, I want to watch the best!!" Well don't worry you do watch the best with Region Lock only difference is we now have a support system that enables players from all over the world to strive to improve to achieve attainable (as opposed to close to impossible) goals. While I am a big fan of TotalBiscuit and most of the things he says, I think that him popularizing the idea of Region Lock as a well-fare system was pretty short-sighted. It isn't about hand-outs, the idea was, simply put, to plant seeds where they could see sunlight, as opposed to in a jungle where the much taller trees and plants would hog all the sunlight for themselves and the seeds stood little chance to grow.
And so you will watch the best, only they will be spread around the world and will be far more relatable because you get to choose your favorites not just by raw skill but also by affinity, you get to share a culture and a language making it easier to understand and get to know your favorite player, the more we do, the more committed we are as fans, the more StarCraft wins.
There are now, finally, support systems in place to develop talent where the audience is. How convenient and beneficial is that for the game.. (though granted, it was many years late). StarCraft was a SLOW learner. Since Tim Morten came on board to lead game development 'we' started to get a lot of the features the game and community wanted and felt like we needed. The esports department continued to learn slowly, just recently they were clever enough to commission ESL (much faster learners and clearly understanding of their audience) to do pieces on players (which I have been craving and asking for for years) as a means to make players more relatable. The "Signature Series" and now the "More than a game" pieces for Pyeongyang do wonders in that department and even shatter language barriers, it is DIFFICULT not to root for sOs or PandaBearMe after watching their videos as they are designed to make you emotionally invested, if you weren't a fan of theirs before, chances are you are now, if that makes you watch more of their games or care for their results or bet on them, guess who wins... Yup... it's yo boi StarCraft!
I think it's ridiculous that some people still would think that we've "bled players much faster than the decline of the game in terms of popularity" (quote from reddit post) as a direct result of 1 factor WCS/RegionLock (?) out of a sea of factors, some of which I've briefly mentioned. SC2 has some of the best prizepools per capita out of any esports in-spite of it being completely eclipsed by the bigger names in terms of popularity. The game is 7-8 years old now, and it was very slow to learn while other games kept up with the demands of their audience far better and much faster, still, there aren't many other games that stay as relevant as sc2 has for that long.
If anything WCS and Region Lock has been a great success, though I will gladly admit that I think the effort was made about 3-4+ years late. I first publicly spoke of this as an issue in early 2011 when NASL (North American StarLeague) decided to be open to the world and Koreans to play remotely. Since then our culture was shaped to promote Korean StarCraft under the pretext that they were the best instead of forging and nurturing talent outside of Korea (where the audience always was) that could have propelled the game forward as a result, a short-term approach that tournaments then milked for a lack of better regulation from Blizzard (today in place).
People who care less about where the player is from and think they care most about the "skill" will always exist, you can be one of those people and no one will take that away from you, all you have to do is realize that there are people who DO care about more than the raw skill of a player and that the game succeeding would've ultimately served to support more people anywhere and everywhere in the world.
I was never good enough of a player or driven enough as an individual to care much about my own results or personal gain in SC2, but I have always cared about this game as a medium to spread a culture of learning and understanding, for people to use it as a tool to think more logically and develop skills that it has taught me over the last 15++ years and that I am grateful for, StarCraft is only second to my parents as far as constants in my life and it competes with them as far as learning sources go for me, I truly love it.. even when I hate it. And I only want it to do good, Region Lock / the WCS system from my perspective currently serve that purpose well.
For those interested, back when the WCS system and to Region Lock or not was a hot topic a few years ago, I wrote an extensive article that I brought up persistently at the SC2 community summit in 2015, and while it had clearly not been read in full by Blizzard employees back then, Mike Morhaime personally promised me no changes would be made to the system until he had read the article in full. I very much believe he kept that promise and by virtue of this influence or pure coincidence, the system we have today is very similar to much of what I proposed, as such it is a system that is dear to me and I believe in fully.
I guess what I am getting at is ultimately - don't change the system now; it's working.