E-sports has been around for a long time, but only recently has it really taken off. The reinvigorated Street Fighter series, the evolution of Major League Gaming, and the hugely popular streaming website twitch.tv all played a hand in the growth of E-sports. The Street Fighter series and EVO have been tailoring great e-sports moments for 10 years now and worldwide phenomena League of Legends has taken over the e-sports scene touting huge events and prize pools, but the king of e-sports is and forever will be StarCraft II and the Global StarCraft League. Complex and engaging gameplay, TV-quality presentation, and an ever-growing wealth of incredibly skilled pro gamers are what make StarCraft II the most entertaining e-sports title around.
Incredible match between Daiho Umehara and Justin Wong at the 2004 EVO Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Finals.
StarCraft II offers a style of gameplay that is unique from any other game on the e-sports scene. A lot of shooters and fighters offer variety, but I wouldn't say any one game is dominantly better or vastly different than the others. StarCraft II, on the other hand, epitomizes the RTS genre and offers an engaging experience that is unique, wider in scope, and more polished than any other game of its kind. The massive variety of units from each of the three playable species - Terran, Protoss, and Zerg - are extremely well-balanced, without the crutch of creating cloned unit types. Each species has between 10 and 15 different units that vary greatly; from heavy-armored space Marines and high-powered Siege Tanks that can hunker down and destroy anything that enters its range of fire, to swarming insectoid alien Zerglings and exploding acid-filled Banelings that can close the distance and wreak havoc on enemy units. Each of the units has some special abilities or upgrades that change the way they play and potentially double the amount of units available. Stalkers are an effective early-game harassment unit that use speed and a mid range phaser to take down Marines and Zerglings, but are vulnerable to later game armored units like Siege Tanks and Immortals, yet with a researched upgrade called Blink, Stalkers have the ability, late game, to teleport anywhere on the screen allowing them to blink past enemy defenses and focus on taking down important buildings and units in the opposing base and then blink away to safety. Every unit is strong vs. and weak vs. other units in the game, so unit composition, variety, and quality play a major role in combat situations. I can go on and on, but the bottom line is that StarCraft II's amount of gameplay possibilities make it the deepest e-sports title in the industry. Build orders and strategy, macro-managing economic efficiency, unit composition and control, balancing defensive and offensive combat situations, and micro-managing each and every single unit are all key elements that a pro StarCraft II gamer must master. Too often I hear gamecasters discuss the outcome a match changing because a building was delayed by a few seconds or a player had 1 or 2 units out of position while trying to control 100 individual units at the same time. StarCraft II is a thinking-man's game and involves the players and viewers with a level of variety, strategy, and engaging action that you can't find anywhere else.
A lot of what makes this such an engaging game to watch is the presentation of its broadcasts by gomtv.net. The GSL is the highest-level of StarCraft II play in the world and GomTV is the only place where you can legally see the GSL live streams and VODs. StarCraft has been an entertainment staple in Korea for over a decade and is even shown on live television across the country. They take this e-sport very seriously and it even pulls in more regular viewers than mainstream sports like soccer. This level of success for StarCraft in Korea is what allows GomTV to produce such a polished program day in and day out. Their production studio is in the capital city of Seoul. Their streams have a TV-quality that I haven't seen in any other stream on the market. The quirky and entertaining casters are anchored by a top-notch crew that makes sure each and every show runs smoothly. Casters Tasteless, Artosis, Khaldor, and Wolf offer insightful commentary with an astounding knowledge for such a complex game, they are all players and share a passion for StarCraft II that shines through during their casts. The production crew pieces together a high-quality show with great music, visual effects, lighting, networking, and setting all filmed in front of a live studio audience. For them to have such a complex and and high-tech production come together so smoothly time and time again is a testament to their hard work and dedication.
Artosis and Tastless in action at the GOMTV studio.
The game and the production value are all important, but the real reason we watch is to see things done that we don't have the ability to do ourselves, to witness a level of play that is far beyond the reach of any normal gamer. Enter... the pro gamers. StarCraft II pro gamers are in a league of their own, no pun intended. Each player has the reflexes of a gaming god, averaging just under 200 actions per minute, which means they build a structure, move a unit, upgrade a vehicle, etc. 200 times per minute! If you watch them play, you're amazed at the speed their fingers, mouse, and pupils move' keeping track of and controlling dozens and dozens of different things at one time. Even more impressive is their intelligence and vast knowledge of the game, the sheer amount of information each player has to learn, obtain, evolve, and perfect is staggering. The reason we watch sports is to witness a level of play that we ourselves have not reached and the level of play from StarCraft II pro gamers is on another level beyond that. I'm not taking anything away from the best FPS and fighter players, it's just that the scope and depth of StarCraft II is so much larger than any other competitive game out there, that it demands a depth of understanding from its players that is almost inhuman. The top 32 players make up the Code S Division which compete in single and double elimination best of 3's and 7's until the GSL Champion is crowned for that season. About half of that elite group is made up of consistently top-flight contenders like MVP, DRG, and Parting, but since the build orders and styles of gameplay are always evolving, staying at the top is never a simple task. Unlike professional sports that never change the core game, StarCraft II's gameplay changes drastically all the time and it is dictated by the gamers themselves who are developing new build orders, perfecting mirco-management, and streamlining their builds in order to create more effective ways to win; in turn, evolving StarCraft II as a whole.
Bottom line is that StarCraft II is an exciting and ever-evolving e-sport propelled by an elite group of pro gamers, excellent production value, and entertaining casters that all meld together for one truly awesome and just down-right fun to watch game!