StarCraft II is the hot tournament videogame that just may breakthrough as the harbinger of the esports phenomenon and one of the great cultural game-changers of all time.
Midnight in Anaheim. Caffeinated casters boom rapid fire commentary rattling the packed hall. Elite Starcraft players from around the globe execute complex strats that would have made Rommel the Desert Fox himself proud. 20,000 are in attendance, on the edge of their seats, and cheering as loudly as any soccer match as they watch the 30-foot screens hanging from the rafters. Another four and a half million are watching the streams live. The feeling is that of an NCAA Final Four game, set in a European soccer stadium, somehow shoehorned into a casino showroom in Las Vegas. It’s all of the skill, the fan devotion and the spectacle anyone could possibly ask for.
This is the MLG StarCraft Spring Nationals. And it may just be the next big thing propelling “esports” a bit closer to the center of our pop culture universe. The Magic Kingdom is just across the street, but no one wants a ticket to ride. Run by Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sespo, A Major League Gaming event like this one in Anaheim needs to be experienced over a weekend in person in order to fully grasp the surging popularity and excitement around the rise of esports as the next big thing in professional competitive sports entertainment.
South Korea is the current Mecca of esports tournaments and StarCraft created by Blizzard Entertainment is the real-time strategy game of choice. Lim Yo-whan (aka Terran Emperor aka BoxeR) was the first pro gamer to draw a fanatical following, many having now followed in his wake. The gaming fanaticism has so captured the culture that the National Assembly has become involved, enacting legislation to promote South Korean esports. South Korean “play until you die” marathon matches have become legendary, with after sales of games in which star players have conceded imminent defeat by stoically typing in “gg” (good game) only to then stage miraculous come from out of the ashes victories.
My rookie ticket to the Heart of the Swarm in Anaheim was punched by our very own zemotion. We all know of zemotion’s on deviantART as the incredible photographer with an amazing eye. Her works of portraiture capture her subjects and tell their stories as if the camera were a mystical tape recorder. But Zemotion is also the owner and Sponsor of Infinity Seven an upstart rebel squad just beginning to make big waves in the MLG Universe. Team Member Insur took third place in the tournament over the weekend with Friday turning into a brutal a 12 hours straight marathon where he took on all comers and firmly established “Infinity Seven” as a team to be reckoned with.
Infinity Seven Team Members:
- Han "CrazyMoviNG" Kisu
- Nicholas "Axslav" Ranish
- Jospeh "jEcho" Lopez
- Sky "Insur" Xu
- Jonathan "Pyre" Topielski
- Ryan "Sanddbox" Kemper
The best summary I've ever heard about Starcraft is that playing it well demands the strategic mind of a chessmaster paired with the dexterity of a virtuosic musician. It is simply astounding how much there is to the game.
Starcraft is an immensely popular game which can be attributed to the fact that it can be enjoyed by casual and professional gamers alike at any level of development. The innovating Battle.net system ensures that players are consistently playing against people who are at their own ability. No other RTS game has such a well balanced online play.
The TwitchTV community has been ready to go with esports for several years now, like many of the web entities intimately knowledgeable of churning heat sources on the cyber horizon – but now Old School media like Time magazine and CBS Sports are taking notice along with media titans like Richard Branson. With monster payouts on the line growing every year there is a Protass escalation on the way and it will be here sooner than later.
Sedentary sports (like chess, poker, fishing) have always been relegated to niche markets as “sports entertainment,” no doubt because there’s only so much visceral physical excitement a spectator can vicariously thrill to with mostly seated “sports” competitors. In NASCAR, at least there’s always imminent danger at those insane speeds. But it’s the rapid expansion of esports across America and beyond that just might finally make “watching over someone’s shoulder” a genuinely big league mass audience phenomenon. As video gaming becomes as primary to the normal growth experience of every kid as playing high school football, baseball or basketball, the growing interest in superior “hero” gamers in this new emblematic teen activity indicates a marketing bonanza just beneath the surface surely about to blow any minute. And gaming heroes and champions are rising. Sean Plott (aka “Day”) has a web show drawing 15,000 – 20,000 viewers each night and has 50 million views on his YouTube channel. On the rise Jang Min Chul (aka “MC”) has 20,000 Twitter followers. Gamers are being signed to professional contracts by electronics companies like Acer and Intel. The winner of last week’s Major League Gaming Spring Championship took home big money. The field of professional star players is in rapid development, and so too is the field of esports “casters” bringing commentary to the competitions. Twitch, dedicated to streaming games, also employs the top casters. The big show is catching fire.
Why will pro videogaming succeed when professional chess and poker tournaments have sputtered? Because videogames like StarCraft II are emotionally accessible, its gameplay understandable and viscerally enjoyable in a manner far more engaging than the intellectual “solving” of a pro chess match can ever be. Did I mention it's also beautiful? Blizzard artists are some of the most skilled artistic craftsman in the world and it evident from every element of the Starcraft Universe. Arsenal21 is one of those elite artists. Chess masters are unknowable “geniuses”. But champion videogamers are simply extensions of ourselves, more skilled and achieving better results than us, but we know the feeling of their victories and we can thrill to the vicarious delight of each of their triumphs and feel the agony of their defeats. Set this competition against the backdrop of an engaging science fiction narrative (to exploit our love of movies), rather than a sterile chessboard, and you’ve got the makings of the new American (and worldwide) sports entertainment phenomenon that marketers have been awaiting for many decades.
Here at deviantART we have some of the most incredible StarCraft fanart and fan fiction in the world and a huge community of fans engaged around Blizzard, the gaming company behind StarCraft, Diablo, and many other elite games. It is a unique new phenomenon in our world that in StarCraft video gaming we can enjoy playing the game, enjoy watching others play the game, or create our own art capturing the excitement of playing the game or illustrating the StarCraft story driving the game.