Starcraft Statistics: China's Rising Tide

Published on 01/28/2017 14:43 PST by ROOT Gaming

China was the third highest earning nation in Starcraft 2 last year, higher than powerhouses like France, Germany and Canada. This may surprise a few people, this isn't the early years of Heart of the Swarm when Jim and MacSed were competing with some of the best foreigners and XiGua and TooDming were helping lift China. But the difference is twofold and both differences are key:

1. Rise of a new generation of Chinese players
2. China's shifting focus on a self sustaining, Chinese focused, tournament scene

Let's take a look at these two changes that China is going through and discuss how they are impacting Starcraft 2.

A New Generation in China

China has a long history with the real time strategy genre, having a strong presence in both the original Starcraft as well as Warcraft 3 where players like Legend, PJ, Infi, and Sky put China on the map. Even Starcraft 2 player TooDming had some success in the first Starcraft. To this day China is the #2 earning country in Starcraft, Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 due to a strong, independent region as well as some amazing players.

But during the peak of Heart of the Swarm the Chinese players that were the pillars of their community began to slow down. Jim struggled in the WCS system while MacSed's age seemed to be catching up to him. But then something happened in the final year of Heart of the Swarm, new blood began reviving China's hope. The patience shown by China's big teams like Invictus Gaming, Brave Heart (now RYE E-SPORTS), and Zenith of Origin started paying off as their b-team players took that leap forward. All of a sudden these names like iAsonu, Cyan, and Jieshi were beating the big legends of the Chinese SC2 scene. Some were older, some young, but all were having an altering the causatum.

2015 saw these new players arrive on the world stage through the WCS system as iAsonu (often called IA) qualified for all three seasons of Premier League with his deepest run coming in Season 2 when he made a run to the round of 16 before falling before the might of the championship runner up Lilbow. Jieshi (then under the ID of Mystery) also qualified for Premier League in the second season. These newer Chinese players immediately made their presence in 2015 and this only grew in 2016 with the new changes to the WCS system.

In 2016 the new WCS system made it harder for players from China to qualify for the big three WCS events by giving them only one spot (this was altered for the Summer Championship). But this didn't stop Chinese players from competing on the server qualifiers, despite playing with serious lag a Chinese player qualified in every single North American server qualifier they were allowed to compete in. In the Spring Championship two Chinese took spots from NA players despite the lag and forced Blizzard to amend the rules to give China two spots. During these server qualifier runs they had great success with iAsonu beating players like Kelazhur (twice), Semper, and Pili.

iAsonu's run continued early in the year, in the Winter Championship we saw he defeat Creativity itself TLO, taking out Harstem (in the Year of Harstem) and TY at GPL International, Kelazhur and puCK in Austin, Drogo at WCA, Neeb at WESG Finals and he was also the only foreigner to qualify for IEM Gyeonggi where he knocked recent SSL Champion Solar out of the tournament. Jieshi and Cyan posted their best results on their home turf in events like the WCA and GPL International.

But 2016 wasn't only for the young bucks, old dogs in a slump rose again. XiGua at the age of 30 is currently the oldest active player to qualify for a WCS event. TooDming, also at the ripe old age of 28 winning his GPL International group and beating SortOf at the Summer Championship. We even got the rare Jim smile. In the end of the top 50 players in WCS points China had the most players, seven, more than the top nations like Poland, France, Germany and the foreign Koreans.

China's players are showing a new level of play for them, just in this most recent iAsonu took out Trap and Zest. Aligulac says this is one of the highest levels of Chinese play and the combination of experienced and newer players is producing great results.

China's Goal for Self-Identity and Self-Sustainability

But along with this growth China as a nation and their companies is making huge growth in eSports and especially Starcraft 2. As more and more wealthy Chinese companies invest in tournaments we are seeing China becomes a focal point for eSports, possibly more than any other nation. For example in 2016 more Major and Premier class tournaments were held in China than any other country, even more than South Korea. Of those tournaments only one tournament were funded entirely by money outside Korea (IEM Shanghai) thanks to new and old time sponsors like Baidu, 360game, le esports, and Alibaba. Throw in the fact the second highest prize pool in Starcraft history came from a Chinese sponsored event and China is throwing money at this game.

Possibly what has been China's greatest structural addition to the Starcraft 2 scene has been their weekly cups like Leifeng and Douyu. These two cups have given out more money than almost any other sponsor in 2016 and were probably the main reason ByuN was able to stick around in the first half of 2016 when he wasn't quite in his god-mode yet so he decided to win 26 of these cups. Between these two cups they've given out over $120,000 to it's players and have kept going into 2017.

One final aspect I want to talk about how China is impacting Starcraft 2 structurally is their teams. While China has had active and high quality teams for many years in recent years they've been much more proactive. Invictus for example does their best to have their players train with Korean players and coaches. ByuN praised his Chinese training partners when he won GSL, taking special note of Cyan. This connection with Korea has only grown since KeSPA broke with Starcraft 2 as Chinese teams have added a number of Korean players. China is very interested in improving their teams, especially by looking to South Korea.

A Bright Future

China's impact on the RTS genre is storied and long but their future looks bright. They have their own regional tournaments, a Chinese-only team league, and have hosted the biggest tournaments from organizers like ESL and Blizzard and they don't appear to be slowing down. China has been a force to deal with in years past and that likely won't be stopping any time soon.

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