It's MLG time!

For those of you who don’t follow the e-sports scene, the topic heading won’t mean much, but for those who do, it means a weekend full of intense gaming competition and lots of things brought to you by Stride and Dr. Pepper. I’ll be writing briefly about the Starcraft 2 that is scheduled to commence in just a few hours in Columbus, Ohio, although of course other competitive videogames are available.

This weekend’s tournament promises to be very interesting, perhaps mostly because this is the first major, major tournament of the year where the Western and Korean scenes will collide. We will find out if the gap between the two has shrunk, increased, or remained where it was in the waning months of 2011 (rather large). Perhaps even more intriguingly, we will see which players in particular have upped their game since we last saw them on the big stage, and who went into hibernation over the winter. The signs point to Stephano, Ret and Naniwa being the torch-bearers for the foreigner cause, but pre-tournament hype can often be misleading.

Meanwhile, it can be safely assumed that the Koreans will do their thing as usual, which is win, a lot. I don’t want to completely rule out a non-Korean victor, but honestly I can’t see anyone else beating them. The trio of DongRaeGu, MarineKing and MC come into Ohio as hot favourites, with players such as Oz and Polt shadowing them closely. The bottom-line is that these Koreans can all beat each other in a given series, and none of them should be unduly troubled by a foreigner, save perhaps for a Stephano or Naniwa in top form. My personal pick is Oz, purely because he comes into the tournament without too much hype to distract him from what he’s there to do, and he’s overdue a true breakout performance on the international stage.

Other than that, it will be interesting to see how MLG has changed up their presentation from last year. They weren’t doing much wrong on that front, particularly post the infamous Dallas event, but they are bound to keep up their efforts nonetheless. I’m less than keen on Rob Simpson as a caster, but hey, that’s just me. It certainly promises to be (another) great weekend of Starcraft 2. Who do you see winning this weekend?

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The State of Starcraft (Part 1 - The Casters)

Depending on if anyone wants to read more of what I have to say, this will be the first of a multi-part post regarding my opinions on the state of professional Starcraft 2. Specifically, I will discuss the way the game is broadcasted, what's wrong with how it's currently done, and how it can perhaps be improved. I hope you like reading my thoughts, and let me know if you'd like to read more of them.

E-sports is a thing now, right? We have streams attracting tens of thousands of viewers at a time, tournaments with ever-growing prize pools and an article in Forbes. Although other titles do attract a comparable audience, it is Starcraft 2 that seems to be the bastion of the professional gaming scene. Why? Because it is the game which is played, casted and organised in the most professional, accessible manner. In my opinion, the rise or fall of e-sports in the coming years depends upon the path Starcraft 2 takes.

There is no argument that it has already achieved considerable success as a viewing spectacle, but whether it will be able to penetrate the mainstream is another question entirely. (Bear in mind, I am referring to the western world in this discussion, for Starcraft has been a mainstay of Korean pop-culture since the early Starcraft: Brood War days in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.) With the strong upward curve that Starcraft 2 has enjoyed since its transition from beta to full release in July of 2010, it may seem that there is little to worry about. However, coming into the scene completely cold, as it were, there seems to me to be several obvious problems with the presentation of Starcraft 2 as a spectator sport that will hold its progress back if allowed to go unaddressed.

The Casters-

A sport needs good commentary, that much everyone can agree on. And when that sport is as complicated as Starcraft 2 is, it needs very, very good commentary.

For the most part, Starcraft 2 casters do a decent job at balancing excitement with analysis, play-by-play with strategy. What seems to be lacking is a mature attitude, and thought for catering to a wider audience. When a commentator is calling his audience ‘nerds’ every few minutes, it can put off a non-gamer immediately. While this sort of behaviour fosters a sense of solidarity among an audience who have been involved in this sort of thing for years, what does it say to someone who has only recently got into gaming, and for whom competitive gaming is entirely uncharted territory? This is a wall that must be broken down if these casters want to be broadcasting to hundreds, not tens, of thousands of viewers at a time.

The other vestige of this particular problem is through the usage of online ID’s by casters and commentators. Particularly with the language barrier from Korean to English and vice-versa, abstract names for players is acceptable, and can add to their personality as an individual amongst hundreds of others. However, similarly banal titles for casters contributes to the immature image that can be given off.

I recently introduced my girlfriend to watching professional Starcraft 2 recently, and although she is by no means a gamer, her immediate problem wasn’t that we were watching two people play a videogame against one another, it was that it was being presented by a grown man calling himself ‘Total Biscuit’. There are a myriad of other examples, just about as many as there are casters in the professional scene. Of course, many are just as much fans of specific commentators as they are of individual players, and want an interesting name to rally behind. But with a charismatic caster, an audience is won through their ability as just that, a caster, and if they are confident enough in their job, a name will be easily remembered. Just as with traditional sporting broadcasting, the commentators are a constant amongst a player base in constant flux in terms of success and failure, fame and ignorance. They are the faces that will bring Starcraft 2 to a new, more socially diverse audience, and they should bear this fact in mind.

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