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I’m going start thinking about the future by taking a look at the past. I have gamed vividly since the NES era and have seen the medium develop from a relatively unknown oddity into what it is today. I remember how in elementary school, we always started the week by telling our classmates what we did during the weekend. More and more kids started going on about Nintendo and when they did, the teacher gave them a stare as if they had just been speaking Chinese. Later with the coming of the PlayStation and once again with the rise of casual gaming, the number of gamers worldwide has increased exponentially.
There’s one thing in this line of developments that I am still waiting for today: the recognition of gaming as a legitimate sport. In my opinion, games are a highly potent medium for competition and can work exceptionally well as a spectator sport. In fact, this kind of scene already exists today. In this article I’m going to explore it and its future not as a gamer but as a fan of professional gaming.
I’m no stranger to competitive gaming myself. Around fourth grade of high school, I was a very serious Counter-Strike player. Rather than going to the pub, I’d usually meet my friends in a local cyber cafe where we’d play over LAN until we dropped. We got more and more serious about our game and when Internet connections became affordable at home, it wasn’t long before most of us had joined a clan and played in ranked matches online. If your clan wasn’t in clanbase’s top ten nationally, you were generally looked down upon. We’d get together during every fifteen minute break at school and discuss strategies, latest community news and plan our next clan wars. Counter-Strike was our life. Every now and then we’d be playing in our favourite venue and exchange rumours about South Korea. We whispered about how in this country, Starcraft games were being broadcast live on TV. At that time it sounded so surreal that I could barely believe it was true. Little did I know that I’d become a major fan of this exact scene ten years later.
When you discuss professional Starcraft or any game as a sport, people will often argue that it’s not a true sport because it doesn’t require the physical prowess that other sports do. I feel like this is a misconception. I could mention the required fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and pixel precision mouse play but then again, when you’re watching football or basketball or anything you like, is the physical intensity really what you’re thinking about? It’s the cheering crowds, the breathtaking skill, the suspense, the high stakes, the pride, the disappointment, the celebrations of victory. All these emotions that occur on the court are what truly makes the sport! These, ladies and gentlemen, are all there! Professional gaming is a sport in every sense!
The Starcraft scene in South Korea is even bigger than I imagined as a teen. Twelve professional teams compete for dominance in the highly popular televised Proleague while 40 and 32 players respectively prove their worth in the equally popular OnGameNet (OSL) and MBCGame (MSL) Starleagues. Games happen in stadiums that are usually packed with cheering fans and millions tune in to watch Starcraft at home on cable TV. The bigger players are considered to be celebrities and of course no sport would be complete without its one iconic player. Basketball has Michael Jordan, boxing has Mike Tyson, Formula 1 has Michael Schumacher and Starcraft has Lim Yo-Hwan better known by his nickname, Boxer.
When you ask people who the most important pro gamer is, often the name Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel springs to mind. I’ve seen him play live and he’s without a doubt an amazing first person shooter player but I still feel like Boxer is more important to his sport. Boxer is one of the most creative players to ever grace the scene. Not only did he dominate for years using the Terran race which was considered weaker at the time, he was also constantly pioneering new strategies that many still use today. This has earned him the title of “The Emperor of Terran”; a reference the game’s single-player storyline. Hardly any professional Starcraft player can say that he’s not influenced by Boxer in any way.
In 2006, he got drafted into the military but when Boxer does his service, he doesn’t stop playing Starcraft. The military starts playing. I’m not kidding! As soon as he entered the Air Force, they formed a Proleague team called Air Force Ace which is still active today even after Boxer finished his mandatory service. He’s got a fan club with over one million members and Starcraft commentator Klazart has once stated that he believes e-sports hasn’t taken off in the West simply because we haven’t found our Boxer yet. Seriously, this guy is something else! He’s not the dominating force that he once was anymore but he’s still the emperor and when it’s him sitting at the keyboard, there’s bound to be one hell of a game for you to see.
This shows that Starcraft can definitely work as a spectator sport but I wonder if it would work in the Western world. Even though games are now much more well spread than they used to be, I still feel that they’re not as accepted as they are East Asia. Starcraft is easily as popular in South Korea as Football is over here and whenever I’m in Japan, we tend to go to arcades as frequently as I go to a bar with my friends here. Sure we participate in the World Cyber Games and there’s some other leagues but this isn’t even known to the non-gamer crowd. I still feel like it could work though. I’m not sure if it would ever rise to the level of Korea but there are a lot of gamers today and if a TV channel were to adopt this and properly market it, I’m sure that a huge portion of these gamers would at least get curious and take a look.
In fact there’s proof that there’s an audience for it right here under our nose. Several e-sports enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to constantly supply the Korean matches with English commentary and the way they go about it, is amazingly professional. There are well over a dozen of these amateur commentators and each one chooses his own games to cast but generally there is some cooperation between them. This way they make sure that not everybody does the same games all the time. When bigger matches occur like the finals of a league or a popular rivalry, several commentators will often get together and do a dual commentary or even organize a live stream to commentate the game while it’s being aired on Korean TV. There are websites like SC2GG and Team Liquid that closely follow the scene and provide easy access to the games. For this article, I have contacted several of these commentators and asked them to choose one of their favourites games for me to post. If by now you have gotten even the least bit curious about professional Starcraft then by all means, have a look!
It is my pleasure to present you guys with a game from Klazart. Boxer might be the emperor but Klazart is the godfather. If it wasn’t for him, the English Starcraft scene wouldn’t be what it is today. He first started commentating games for a contest at Team Liquid but before he knew it, he had done well over fifty videos. The other commentators followed suit and have established an amazing platform for English speaking fans to enjoy the sport. Thank you, guys!
On to the game he picked out then. I don’t think I still need to say anything about who Boxer is. Heck, I dedicated a whole paragraph to the man. It’s kind of a special match actually since his opponent, Nal_rA is some times called “the Protoss Boxer”. Just like Boxer, Nal_rA has constantly shown amazingly creative strategies and stood at the dawn of several builds like Sair/Reaver which are still a big part of the Protoss arsenal today. Nal_rA has since retired as a player but he’s still active in the scene as a commentator on Korean television. This game is two and a half years old so the video isn’t up to today’s quality standards but please bear with it as the game is a sight to behold.
Hello world, this is H to the usky, Husky! This guy never fails to amuse me. He’s got an over the top enthusiastic commentating style and during the slower parts in the game, he comes up with some the funniest stuff to keep us entertained. Did you know his family roasts Zerglings for Thanksgiving? He also hosted a show he called e-sports report for a while where he weekly discussed the developments in e-sports and gaming as a whole. What ever happened to that, Husky? I want it back! Pretty please? Anyway, let’s have a look at the game he chose.
Bisu is the best Protoss player in the world. I’m sure Stork fans will have something to say about that and the Bisu Vs. Stork matchup is currently 9 – 10 in Stork’s favour. Still I’ve always felt like Bisu just has that little bit of an edge in his micromanagement and overal game plan. This time he’s not facing Stork though. He’s facing the Zerg player Zero. This isn’t a bad player in any way. For one he’s got some amazing Mutalisk micro and can often come up with very creative strategies but Bisu is the favourite to win this one. The game’s pretty much a standard macromanagement competition with Bisu showing off his well known probe harass skills but Zero isn’t going down without a fight and just might have an unexpected ace up his sleeve. 😉
As the name suggests, this channel’s actually operated by two guys who commentate the games together. Therefore they often (but not always) have dual commentaries even for the not so popular games. When I asked Matt and Steve to choose a game, I got a very enthusiastic reply from Matt with a link to Zero Vs. Type-b. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised since I had seen it myself when it first came out and man… This is freaking epic!
Zerg Vs. Zerg games are usually settled within the first ten minutes by build order wins. A nine pool defeats a twelve hatch, an overpool defeats a nine pool, if your name is Lee Jae Dong you win by default and so on. The players will get some Zerglings to harass what they can, transition into Mutalisks and micro those to victory. This game won’t have any of that. It’s a thirty minute slugfest with both players teching up to buildings and units that are hardly even seen in a Zerg Vs. Zerg matchup. Just like Matt did, I highly recommend you to give it a watch!
Diggity actually asked me to wait for Jaedong Vs. Flash on Sunday and I was tempted because Jaedong is my number one favourite player and without a doubt the best Zerg in the world at this time. Then again, I haven’t posted in my blog for two weeks now so I wanted to get a move on. This is the series he said he really enjoyed. It’s the semifinals of this season’s OSL but actually it feels more like the finals. Here we’ve got Flash who is one of the strongest Terran players of this time and he has seemed unstoppable lately, steamrolling one player after the other. On the other side there is Calm who tore his way through Jaedong in last season’s MSL finals and crowned himself the reigning champion.
This is a best out of five series which isn’t actually posted on Diggity’s channel but rather on Violetak’s. This guy has retired from the world of Starcraft before I discovered it but he has donated his YouTube account to the other commentators who regularly use it post dual commentaries. Following this fashion, Diggity is commentating this game along with Moletrap. This is a best out of five series and Diggity didn’t specify which was his favourite game so I’m just going to embed the first one and in case you’re curious to see how it turns out, I’ll provide links to the other four games.
The first player to win three games wins the series so the number of videos could potentially spoil the outcome. In order to prevent this, most commentators upload fake videos after the deciding game. In other words, just that there are five videos here doesn’t mean that five games were actually played.
When I asked Moletrap for a favourite game, he actually came back to me with another idea. He proposed me to use a game of the Team Liquid Starluague (TSL). As the name would have you suspect, this is a league organized by Team Liquid for non-Korean Starcraft players. The skill level here is a bit below what we see on Korean TV but I am absolutely sure that these players aren’t any less capable. It’s all about the environment. The players in Korea have their professionally sponsored teams, their coaches and generally practice over ten hours a day without having to worry about paying their bills. Would any of the players we see here enjoy the same conditions, then I am absolutely convinced that they can reach the same near-perfect level of play.
The TSL might be for amateur players but with a first prize of 10,000 dollars and half of that for the runner up, they’re not messing around. This is actually the second game in a best out of three set. I took this one because it’s got the most action but Moletrap gives a detailed explanation about the league and some of the “foreign” players during the first game. I’ll include a link to it below.
As I said, the level is generally a little below the Korean pro scene but G5 is a force to be reckoned with. The American player has had the pleasure of participating in an actual Korean tournament and managed to come home with a victory over none other than Boxer, the emperor himself. If that doesn’t gain one’s respect, I don’t know what does! ClouD on the other hand, has consistently been the Italian World Cyber Games champion since 2005. That’s five years in a row, people! Back in 2008, he came second in the scrofall.com spirit tournament and barely missed out on a chance to play professionally in Korea. Needless to say, this is a game worth watching.
In conclusion, professional gaming is a scene that is truly alive and just waiting to be discovered by Western audiences. Just like you’d do for a football match, I often get together with some friends and watch Starcraft while having a beer or two. We discuss players’ strengths and crack jokes at each other’s expense when our favourite players are facing each other. In short, we’re watching sports! The commentators on YouTube and leagues like the TSL show us that this scene is already here. All that’s left is for a TV channel to take them under their wing. Until that day is here I hope that with this article, I have been able to introduce new potential fans to it and maybe one day e-sports will grow large enough to be noticed by the general public.