On: SC2 (Summit + Blizzcon) experience blog

Published on 11/06/2017 15:13 PST by Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra

Intro

I wear many hats when it comes to StarCraft, around this time of the year near and during Blizzcon, I get to stack up hats on top of one another. For the sake of helping me organize my thoughts and help you navigate through them, I invite you to wear these hats with me.



StarCraft 2 Community Summit


[Community Member Hat]

When it comes to the Community Summit, I have to be very vague as we all sign NDAs so that, for example, we don't go around announcing stuff on our own.


Pre-Summit


For starters I thought the Summit was well-organized and scheduled. There was a dinner party for summit participants the night prior to the event which served as a great opportunity to break the ice and talk StarCraft with friends and peers over food and drinks.

While Mike Morhaime's birthday didn't exactly line-up with the Summit this year (Happened Nov 3 during Blizzcon), at the party, we also had the opportunity to join in and sing happy birthday / show appreciation for the man himself, an opportunity everyone was happy to take.


Summit


While I can't speak to the topics of the meetings at the Summit, I will share my general thoughts. 'The Summit' was a good overall experience for me, the location was wisely chosen at the Marriot right next to the convention center where Blizzcon would take place days later and it was easy for attendees to transition swiftly into Blizzcon, being provided with badges and goody bags in advance.


The event kicked off with breakfast, followed by presentations from the StarCraft Development team represented by Tim Morten and "Crash" and esports team represented by Adrian Harris. Two 'long' presentations preceded a big on-site lunch and were then followed by smaller meetings, separating influencers into categories that would maximize their efficacy and giving participants an opportunity to discuss information recently divulged in the prior 2 longer sessions.



[+Player Hat]

In one of those meetings players met with the Balance team, who didn't do a longer presentation this year, this was my favorite meeting. Not to take away from the other sessions, I thought the Balance Team seemed very eager to consolidate feedback and open to listening to ideas, to me and as someone who for better or worse enjoys generating ideas, this was a very pleasant surprise. Perhaps the recent change of David moving onto other things has served as a push for the remaining balance designers to drive the game forward in different directions. Anticipation creates excitement and I am excited for the prospect of change to generate us some more anticipation, I cannot wait for the new patch / maps to hit, for example.


While the Summit was great, I feel the need to also point out that all-in-all there seemed to be less things planned / shared for the game as a whole when compared to other years.


That said, I think that the game going Free to Play alongside other undisclosed initiatives, bears the greatest potential StarCraft has seen in years to grow and reach a wider audience. While I understand some people are resigned or comfortable with things as they are and the game's numbers have been stable for a long time, I am very excited for the prospect of growth and I think is extremely realistic, in light of this announcement please follow me on a quick tangent.


[Content Creator Hat]

I think that it is imperative for us, as the StarCraft community not just to be welcoming but also encouraging, this doesn't mean be positive or negative, it just means "be". If you like this game and want it to do better, all you have to do is partake. I don't mean create or consume content regularly, just do what you do and let it be known that you are. I'm not saying to stick around to help clean the whole house, just toss a plate into the dishwasher.


Make a bit of noise, we have a strong consistent community but we are just not very loud contrasted to others of similar size, perhaps it's that the age group is a little higher or simply that we get 'tired', many of you reading have been around for a long time. Fatigue and gloom  have been around and can be contagious, but  invigoration and enthusiasm can be just as contagious. Don't think that your 1 comment, upvotes, downvotes or likes won't make a difference, because they do, participate!



BLIZZCON


The StarCraft Event / Stage


[Fan Hat]

As a short note, this year there was less "StarCraft" swag available for purchase at the store than previous ones. The only StarCraft tradable pin, for example, was my boy Alarak: who is also a double agent with Heroes of the Storm.
While I would've loved more / better StarCraft products, I think it's understandable and natural for Blizzard to take a step back in one of their older franchises, one that likely doesn't produce them much return at this point.


With Free to Play and Google Ai initiatives on the horizon, StarCraft has an opportunity to be self-sustainable and the longevity and sustainability of the game seems to weight heavier on our shoulders now, as fans, producers and consumers, than ever before, I don't mind that.  

[Spectator + Designer Hat]

While I am not an expert when it comes to stages I do have a bachelor's degree in Media Arts and perhaps more importantly I think I am an, at least, decent observant and observer.  


I think that aesthetically speaking the design of the stage was Beautiful, loved it. However, when designing to serve a purpose, serving that purpose is often more important than the cool details you can try to get away with. If you're looking at a painting, aesthetics likely represents close to 100% of your experience. In contrast, When looking at the StarCraft stage I am more there for the games than the stage, and my satisfaction is contingent on my ability to experience the games to the fullest.



Imagine you're on an old plane, and one of the portable screens pops from the ceiling, unfortunately, you are sitting right under one screen so your next best choice is the one a few seats down the line, that's kind of what happened here. Visibility was one of the main practical problems I thought the StarCraft stage struggled to solve cleanly.


The Main Screen wasn't big enough to service the area it was meant to service, which was about half of the entire audience sitting (picture): the main stage area to around the middle of the hall, where the large screens that hang from the ceiling came into play and effectively serviced the back of the Hall.


Even sitting closer to the stage, the screen in game struggled to be good enough. Because the hanging screens had better visibility, a group of my friends decided to start sitting in the back, for example, forfeiting proximity to the players and stage to enhance their viewing experience of the games.



While I think a good solution would be to get a larger screen, I thought the stage as it was could have had it's space "better" utilized. To both sides of the stage there were 'large' panels (similar size as main screen which was centered / further back)  that displayed a cool animated unit image + a player's current supply, army and worker counts. In prior years, the side panels were used to display the "Player Perspective" in game, but in my opinion even just displaying "the game", same as the middle screen, could have enhanced the viewing experience for everyone not sitting in the middle / directly facing the main screen, especially anyone sitting in the "front" half of the hall (closer to the stage).


As far as sound goes,  it's difficult to expect the same quality you would get in the Arena, which is a space designed with acoustics (and visibility) in mind already, it feels like thunder in there! Generally speaking I thought the sound was fine, oscillating from low to loud from time to time, perhaps to serve different purposes of hyping up a series or player intros. It was no arena, but it didn't have any right to be either and I thought the casters did a great job of trying to compensate by yelling their hearts out.

[Viewer Hat]

Because I live close to the event, I watched the RO16 and Semis/Finals on Twitch as opposed to live at the venue(s).


I thought the  production leading to the event was outstanding, the ESL-commissioned "Signature Series" as well as the "Group Previews" which included short introductions to every player at the event were an absolute pleasure to watch and offered us a window  to relate to the players and their stories in-spite of language barriers.


I believe developing stories to keep an audience engaged, committed and interested is extremely important in esports, throughout 2017 especially when contrasted with prior years and peaking at Blizzcon, I thought the StarCraft esports team and associates did a fantastic job on this front.


On the first day (RO16, prior to Blizzcon itself) there were some technical mishaps on stream, especially concerning but not limited to sound on stream. While this served as an opportunity to summon the ghost of the NASL sound guy in chat and meme some, the issues were short-lived, and while unfortunate - I think small issues in large-scale esports broadcasting are fairly common across the board. No biggie is what I am saying, at least not for me.


Another piece of production that I was extremely happy with was the work put in behind the scenes and before the cameras turn on in doing research and staying on top of the development of player stories at the event. The casters / talent played a large role in carrying these ideas and naturally insisting on them in conversation, further investing me as a viewer in following the player's stories as they travel their road to the championship.


Altogether the event seemed to set up clear strategies / goals and I think they for the most part nailed them. I also thought all the casters were great and yelled their hearts out, the analysis was good, Smix never disappoints, Observers were on point and Nathanias was a very capable / entertaining host. As a viewer I enjoyed the event a lot, and while I think some of the 'stronger' stories folding was unfortunate, there's not much you can do about that.


One aspect that I didn't like as a viewer was the Twitch Chat moderation for the event. I think that Twitch Chat is it's own culture, as such, an expectation is set and exists in every Twitch Stream with chat enabled for this culture to live within. Whenever you change the expectation, I think that you are creating a disadvantage for yourself in that people who subscribe to / enjoy this environment or culture will be more likely to be disappointed upon not finding it there.


"Copy-Pastas" being banned seemed silly to me. When Twitch Culture started shaping up to be what it is today, I wasn't as big a fan of Copy-Pastas, but they have grown on me a great deal since. Much like Twitch emotes, Copy-Pastas serve a role in expressing general feelings or emotions, in many ways I equate the creative process of Copy-Pastas to art - the artists' job being to relate to their audience. "The best" Copy-Pastas will get quickly replicated, shared and help to instantly express a collective mindset. Certain Emotes or pastas spammed will quickly give the viewer an idea of what the general feel is at a given moment. A simple example is: Your stream is lagging, to know if it's you or the stream in-itself you can usually just check the chat and expect that PanicBasket = Stream issues.


During the StarCraft stream, I "went down" together with brave chatters willing to get banned/timed out for a cause. But I was still happy to tap into and share in on a smile and a laugh with the hive mind because everyone needed to know to:



"DoritosChip  SPAM  DoritosChip THIS  DoritosChip DORITO  DoritosChip TO  DoritosChip HELP  DoritosChip JUANITO  DoritosChip"


I think it's extremely difficult, if at all possible, to hold meaningful discussion in a stream of 50k+ people, if you are able to do that then the chat is probably WAY too slow, in the case of StarCraft II and because of the gloom that haunted us, I think that slowing down the chat or removing the expectation / fun of the Twitch Chat Culture is counter-productive to the effect of welcoming new viewers and ultimately conducive of "dead gaem" memes and stigmas. I don't mean to say that it's impossible for this to be a positive, different people will prefer different things and while "Twitch Chat Culture" isn't not be appealing to everyone, I could only see this potentially being a gain if there was branding or awareness raised around a 'new' expectation of maybe maturity [?] or 'anti-spam' [?] driven culture for StarCraft / WCS events, this would make it so that all people who do NOT like Twitch Culture as it is, have a "safe" spot on Twitch from it, potentially creating a niche counter-culture. 




While a poll on my twitter account isn't necessarily the best indicator, if we were to take these values to reach any sort of conclusion, even though the predominant expectation / preference is in favor of copy-pastas / against censoring, there is a large % who seem to be in favor of censoring and heavily moderation. People who voted Neutral are likely not invested in Twitch Chat / Culture and as such a portion of them could represent a swing in favor of this "counter-culture" within the current SC2 audience, or at least in this case my voting twitter followers (who'll tend to overlap).

That said, without awareness spread about the intend of these rules, I think it difficult to justify putting in extra work to serve the shattering of expectations and reinforcement of stigmas as I've described them, simply put: you will have more people end up disappointed than people who are appreciative of the 'change'.

Another issue on that same vein was that there were a lot of banned words. If you thought banning pastas was already slowing down the chat, try slowing down the discussion too by banning individual words. At one point when watching Kelazhur's match against Dark the casters were wondering why Kelazhur wasn't scanning on top of the creep. I tried to point out in (the slow) chat:

"He isn't scanning because he wants to kill the morphing baneling cocoons 1st, if he scans he will auto-target the tumors on the way instead of just stimming forward"

Unfortunately, the word "Kill" was banned - Like, why? I understand racial slurs, but killing stuff is kind of a MUST in StarCraft, and while I could have found a different word to express the same idea, the time had already passed for my message to be posted as people led by the commentators would have mentally moved on from the action, I would imagine I am not the only person 'this' happened to.


[Manager + Coach Hat]

I had 2 passes to Blizzcon this year, one was given to me at the Community Summit and another one as Kelazhur & herO's  Coach / Manager. For past events, managers had a badge that allowed them access backstage in the player area.

Unfortunately for me [Last year, 2016] I had a Media Pass to the event and didn't think I'd need an additional badge to the StarCraft Backstage area so I told hydra that there was no need to list me as his Manager. This oversight on my part meant for me that I wasn't able to come hang out with / help hydra prior to his ShoutCraft matches, while I didn't think it a huge deal, it was a bit annoying, but ultimately, on me for not explicitly requesting both passes [?] (Media + Manager).


After the event, Head esports representative, reached out to me to apologize for the inconvenience / misunderstanding, closing his thoughts with:

"I hope you can understand! We are taking a hard look at how credentialing for backstage works next year at the Global Finals :("

While that message led me to believe improvements were abound, This year [2017], credentialing for Managers/Coaches was non-existant. This is to say that Managers / Coaches 'badge' was, for the first time as far as I am aware, no different or less restrictive than anyone else's attending the event. Managers were only allowed backstage / to the player area escorted by a crew member, crew members however, even some of the most involved, were completely out of the loop on this. This made the quest of getting back stage difficult as I needed to find a crew member to explain that I needed to go back so that they could communicate with people on the inside (backstage area) to explain the "situation", after a wait, I would be escorted inside to see my players and go through minor inconveniences like security inside inquiring about my wrong badge a few more times while in there.


While I understand that KeSPA leaving the scene perhaps alleviates some of the burden [?] of having to service managers and coaches, there are still a few of "us" left and that have been around for a long time. While fun is a by-product of being at Blizzcon and seeing friends, my main priority if / when I have players playing in the event, is to help them in my capacity of Coach / Manager.


For example, herO told me the main stage felt a little cold,  luckily we received hoodies from a potential sponsor recently, so I went home to grab those for herO and Kela only to struggle to deliver them through the process I've described.


At one point I was gathered in the player area with Elazer, Neeb and Kela trying to help Juanito for his match vs soO. After we finished the replay I proposed I take the boys out for food but Juan suggested that there's food (as usual) in the backstage and we could just eat there. While the prospect of saving a few bucks is nice, it was the convenience of not having to leave the area (only to go through the process of trying to get in again) that seemed most attractive.


At this food area there was a buffet layed out (All you can eat), as the 5 of us entered and were about to grab some plates when an esports employee pointed to that I was not allowed to eat "Catz is not included in the head count". Meanwhile I saw a friend who likes going to StarCraft events eating in the same area, I asked how he was able to do that and he explained (paraphrasing): "I am Wolf's +1" (Wolf wasn't there & was at the event to cast Heroes of the Storm), same esports rep elaborated: "Talent's +1 have access".  

Lets assume that accounting for a few (up to a max of 8, but probably more like 3-4) additional people is stretching the food budget too thin.. Maybe I am crazy here, but I would have thought that the Managers/Coaches of players participating in the event, who are there to work and take care of the players, have a little bit more of a reason to be in the SC2 backstage area than the +1 friends of casters, especially if they aren't even there to cast SC2 [?].

Juanito/SpeCiaL joked about just taking extra food and giving it to me outside of this area, but no laughs were had and I decided to head back home at that point. With both of my players eliminated I opted not to attend to the convention on the final day either. And if I had, I would've missed the Juanito-Doritos spam, so it ended up working out alright.


[Writer Hat, closing thoughts]

Overall, I think I was happy with my experience relating to the StarCraft events this week, and I had a blast hanging out with friends. And while some of it left a sour taste, my favorite hat is my "StarCraft Fan" one, and so it follows that my predominant feeling is one of excitement for StarCraft in 2018 because there is much to be excited about.

The game has come a long way in meeting it's fan-base's expectations (especially) since Legacy of the Void, and 2017 was no different, many improvements have been made on most fronts. I also think that most 'issues' regarding Blizzcon / Summit (if they are even perceived as issues by Blizzard Teams / SC2 Community) seem to have very simple / inexpensive fixes.

Finally, thank you for reading about my experience, I knew this was going to be a long one so I hope the formatting was clean enough to follow and achieved it's purpose of organizing my thoughts and providing you with different perspectives of the events, I found this to be a good tool to avoid my overall tone being dominated or tainted by my perceived positive or negative single experiences.





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