Today at a press conference in South Korea, Blizzard Entertainment announced a revamp to its Starcraft II World Championship Series, which debuted last year, working with partners to create three equal and parallel leagues in North America, Europe, and South Korea. More than $1.6 million in prize money will be up for grabs for players in 2013, and fans at home can expect to watch for free in 720p.
Blizzard announced that it will use both GomTV and OnGameNet in South Korea, Major League Gaming in North America, and Turtle Entertainment's Electronic Sports League in Europe. Each will operate their region's WCS league for the year. There will be three separate seasons in 2013, each with regional finals and a season finals event. A unified global player ranking system will be established with points given to players at each event, culminating with the top 16 players in points vying for a spot to be called World Champion at the BlizzCon Global Finals. Next year there will be four seasons.
"I think we just look at the whole ecosystem and recognize that it could be a whole lot easier to understand," Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Morhaime told GameSpot. "There are scheduling conflicts that make players have to make difficult decisions where sometimes you don't get people playing in the tournaments they think they should be playing in. It's very hard to follow, to really know what the relative importance of winning various things are. I think it really falls to us, to Blizzard, we're really the only company in position to work with everybody, to help create a single storyline in the ecosystem."
This will mark the first time that OnGameNet and GomTV will be working together. GomTV will run the first WCS league in Korea, beginning with the upcoming GSL Code S season starting in less than two days. OGN will broadcast the event on TV in with their own casters. Both OGN and GSL will broadcast each other's leagues with their own casters and streams. After this season of Code S, OGN will begin their next OnGameNet StarLeague which has been on hold for a while, and act as the main operator of WCS Korea Season 2. Another season of GSL Code S will not take place until OSL is over, and act as the third and final WCS Korea season before the Global Finals.
The Korean eSports Association has been involved every step of the way, Blizzard said.
"One of the really awesome things about all of this is we have all the entities in Korea working together now," Morhaime said. "The Korean leagues will be available to watch both through OGN and GomTV. ProLeague will still be going on and the GSTL will still be going on. We'll have Starcraft II on television five nights a week."
"Blizzard really worked hard for all partners, so we can truly work together in not only Korea but also the world."
"Blizzard really worked hard for all partners, so we can truly work together in not only Korea but also the world," GomTV Starcraft II manager Chae Jung Won told GameSpot. "For GomTV's perspective, we were working hard to increase our media platform from 2012."
Players must commit to one WCS league at the beginning of the year and cannot change region after, but can compete in any non-WCS events in any region. Each regional league season will run for 8 to 10 weeks, with all games played on weekdays in a consistent schedule. This will allow players to travel internationally to non-WCS events on weekends. Non-WCS events cannot run events on the same weekend as WCS events. Non-WCS events will be given an as-of-yet-undetermined number of points.
All matches in Korea will be played in the studio through GomTV's StarLeague or OnGameNet's StarLeague, while North America and Europe will play Online until the top 16 players. Those top 16 players will compete in a studio environment to determine the best five players in each region. Five players from each region will then compete in the Season 1 finals event, with one additional player to come from the host continent for 16 players total. They will compete for an undetermined number of points. Each continent will get one finals event this year in the size of an event similar to one at GSL, MLG, or ESL.
"We're hoping that by giving the North American and European players their own league, it will make it so they don't have to travel as much and can focus more on practice," Morhaime said. "We think that the level of play will also increase within the regions this way."
The tournament structure has been modeled off of GSL's Code S, Code A, and Code B system and is called Premier, Challenger, and Qualifier. This structure will run for all partners, including MLG and ESL. The Challenger events will run slightly differently in North America and Europe due to logistics in travel. Players will be able to move up and down within their own region as players do in GSL. Only the OSL will have differences, where there will be an additional Round of 32 added on played in a best-of-one format.
Players in North America and Europe will be invited to kick off Season 1 based upon their performances in 2012 across all leagues. Open qualifiers will also be held to determine the final player list. Additionally, the top 200 Grand Masters players on the Starcraft II Ladder will be invited to join the initial qualifiers.
Blizzard says that it has partnered with TwitchTV to broadcast the entire year for free in 720p. There will also be a central hub created for fans to watch the games, follow the storylines, and get all information related to the World Championship Series.
"For all of us in the West, it will be available via TwitchTV," Morhaime said. "We can watch this stuff now. There will be a regular schedule to follow along."
With everything announced, Blizzard feels this will be the best year yet for competitive Starcraft II. With several developers giving support to the competitive side of their game as of late, Morhaime is thrilled to be able to do as much with their own franchise.
"We think the time is right to level up Starcraft II as an eSport."
For more, check out GameSpot's extended interview with Morhaime.