In many ways, 2013 was a year of transition for the StarCraft II competitive landscape. A new expansion, a spastic WCS calendar, and a cast of characters including a number of new faces and old ones from around the world. Join eSportsMax as we look at some of the biggest storylines of StarCraft II in 2013.
The Rumors of StarCraft II's Death...
...were greatly exaggerated, to say the least. But in case you think the eSports franchise that invented eSports needs saving, here's one big sign of life. The total StarCraft II prize pool increased from $1.7m to $2.9m in 2013, a 171% increase over 2012 (source: http://www.progamingtours.net/esport-graph/ ). The live event count also grew by a small margin as fans heralded the second expansion in March. These might not be MOBA numbers, but if eSports titles are either growing or dying, StarCraft II certainly isn't dying.
Players remain the beating heart of StarCraft II, and in 2013 the players did not disappoint. We saw many outstanding individual performances in 2013, and here's just a few: Jaedong's resilience through 5 silvers in 2013 before finally taking a premier at NorthCon, Innovation's reinvention of Terran gaemplay, TaeJa's yearlong DreamHack dominance, Rain's surprise upset of SoulKey at Hot6ix Cup, Polt's WCS America run, Maru's blistering 500 APM+ micro at Toronto WCS, Dear's WCS title two-peat, Scarlett and Naniwa's near-wins at IEM NYC and NorthCon respectively, the list goes on and on.
Toss Is Boss... Or Not?
(out of 31 finals matches)
Read through the year's patch notes and/or the any of the more commented threads in the most frequented forums, and you'd think 2013 is a very good year to be Protoss (and maybe a lousy one to be Terran). While this might be your experience in ladder, the numbers from 2013's premier tournaments numbers don't quite bear this out. Zerg actually made the most finals appearances, though whether or not it has something to do with Jaedong's painful run of five silvers before finally taking NorthCon, the Zerg actually turned in the lowest win percentage.
It's true that Terran players turned in the fewest number of appearances, but here's what's impressive: Terrans actually won more premiers than any race. More than half of these wins came after June's Warp Prism patch (2.0.9) and TaeJa's two Terran wins came after the November nerf. Despite the imba outcry, Protoss came in somewhere in the middle of the race heap.
Foreigner Hopefuls Come Close
If you're new to StarCraft II, yes, non-Koreans typically play for a top 8 finish. Such is the level of Korean dominance that such a finish is considered no small win. We embrace our Korean StarCraft II overlords, and once you do too, you can appreciate "foreigners" like Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn and Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi. They're earthlings like us, engaged in a hold-your-breath competition with moonmen. Sure they're quirky and/or occasionally abrasive, but so might we be if locked in a careerlong struggle against not just other players, but an entire gaming culture. Imagine our joy when NaNiwa took second at IEM NYC in October, and Scarlett thrilled us as a runner up at Asus RoG NorthCon 2013.
Sadly, in interviews at NorthCon, Scarlett stated that she won't be travelling as much in 2014. NaNiwa may continue to lock down the European scene, but other than these two, capable and competitive foreigners are scarce. Vortix, Elfi, and Snute continue to make cameo appearances, but sometime hopefuls like Huck and Lucifron have fallen into obscurity. Who will rise? Maybe no one, in which case we'll take resumes for the most interesting Korean player. Nominal English, sense of humor a plus.
The Match (tm)
You could say it didn't amount to much - neither participant went on to win Red Bull Battlegrounds NYC and between them had only one premier win in all of 2013. You could say that if you weren't there, or hadn't watched the replay. But truth be told, we don't spend perfectly nice weekends plastered to a Twitch feed to find out who wins. Not really. We watch in hopes that maybe just maybe we'll see a match like Bomber vs Scarlett match 3. Sean "Day9" Plott called this "literally the best StarCraft II game ever played." See if you agree...
WCS Format Changes
Addressing concerns about "carpetbagging" Koreans, interference with non-WCS tournaments, and a bewildering set of extraregional finals that weren't quite the final finals, Blizzard is looking to move past the rocky start of the StarCraft II World Championship Series in 2014. As described last month on the Battle.net official site, The kinder, gentler 2014 WCS will consist of three 10 week seasons across three global regions, with time between allocated to WCS partner tournaments which . More than 75% of slots in each region will be reserved for citizens of that region (with China, Oceania, and Taiwan built into WCS America and the Middle East & Africa bundled into WCS Europe). A streamlined Korean WCS will continue under the GSL branding, with Code S (challenger) and Code A (Premier) leagues, and will offer both more slots and more prize money to account for the difficulty of competing in Korea.
All in all, the new format is a win for fans of relevant regionals, meaningful partner tournaments that don't upset the apple cart, and a good compromise for both sides of the region-locking debate. Additionally, it's good for eSports: a strong, streamlined WCS 2014 will serve as a much needed cost-diversified official tournament model for publishers across the eSports landscape that currently find themselves spread too thin across a sea of sponsors and organizers.
Whether you're a fan of Terran, Zerg, or Protoss; Korean or foreigner; major leagues or premier tournaments; 2013 had a little of everything for StarCraft II fans and, in many ways, set the stage perfectly for 2014.
What were your favorite StarCraft II moments of 2013? Share in the comments!