Blizzard cofounder Mike Morhaime believes that the time is right to level-up StarCraft II as an eSport. In a new interview with GameSpot, the industry veteran detailed the new system for the World Championship Series, how StarCraft II's growth outside of Korea has been surprising, and more.
Check out the full interview below.
What is the goal in creating this new system for the World Championship Series?
I think we just look at the whole ecosystem and recognize that it could be a whole lot easier to understand. 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. We think the time is right to level-up StarCraft II as an eSport.
When you guys were deciding to make a change, what were your considerations going into this? What were the first problems you were looking to solve?
Well number one, we wanted to leverage all the great stuff our eSports partners were already doing. I think we took a first attempt at this last year with the World Championship Series which was awesome, but it didn't really do what we had hoped, which is to be the single storyline around StarCraft eSports. It actually turned to a parallel storyline that just added a whole other set of events to follow. Even though we worked with our existing partners, it didn't really leverage the cool stuff that they were already doing. So I think this approach is actually much better because now we're having partners actually running the league.
Why set up this system of events now instead of before?
We didn't know how big StarCraft II was going to be in the West. We've always viewed South Korea as the epicenter of eSports. We did actually setup a global StarCraft League in Korea called by the same name: GSL. The big surprise with StarCraft II is how big SC2 eSports has grown outside of Korea.
Ideally we would have loved to be able to announce this before Heart of The Swarm launched, but setting something up something like this with so many different partners is actually quite complicated. We're a little bit later in the year than we would have hoped, but everybody is really excited now and it's going to be a really awesome story for the year.
Why decide to use both GomTV and OnGameNet as partners in Korea instead of choosing one?
GomTV has been an excellent partner to us in StarCraft 2. We've been talking to OnGameNet now for years. We're really excited to finally have everybody in Korea working together in harmony. We have some excellent partners that have contributed a lot to esports throughout the years and we really wanted them to take part in the league.
In North America and Europe the partners are Major League Gaming and the Electronic Sports League, respectively. Notable names left out are DreamHack and the North American Star League. Why were these regions not done the same way as Korea with both participating?
We talked to everyone and we tried to do the things that were best for each region according to the various existing capabilities of the partners. We think that the stuff that NASL and DreamHack have been doing has been really awesome for StarCraft II, and we would love to see that continue. We think that seeing a single operator in those regions for North America and Europe made more sense for the World Championship Series events.
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. We think that the level of play will also increase within the regions this way.
The Korean region will have only studio matches in the form of GSL and OSL. Will this format also happen in the North American and European regions?
Most of the matches will be played in a studio. The Online portion for North American and Europe is mainly looked at for logistical reasons for this year, to ease the travel burden. We do recognize the challenges with online play and that's something we're working on to address in future iterations of the WCS. All the critical matches will be played in a studio, and we're taking different steps to ensure the online play is fair.
For North America and Europe, the Round of 32 will probably be played Online. We're still zeroing in how exactly that will look like. Anything from the Round of 16 and beyond will definitely be in studio.
How will events like DreamHack and NASL now exist in the new World Championship Series system?
The way that we envision that is there will be the opportunity for non-WCS events if they meet certain criteria to give out WCS points so that there is some incentive and reward for pro players to compete in those events. But the majority of the points that we expect pro players to get will probably be through doing really well in the league.
Korean media reported that GomTV and OnGameNet would be paid $1.8 Million dollars in financial support. Is this true?
The numbers they reported are not accurate.
Are those numbers close at all? Can you say how much you're paying the leagues? Is this support being given also to MLG and ESL?
Our business terms with the leagues are not public information, so I'm not able to talk about those. Blizzard is making financial investments and we have been making financial investments to support StarCraft II eSports for a while now.
There were some initial reports saying that the Korea eSports Association weren't involved in talks initially. How much of a role do they play in all of this?
It's critical, and KeSPA was with us every step of the way. Not all the information that gets to press in South Korea is accurate. I don't really know why that is, but it's true. Anyone that reported KeSPA wasn't involved just wasn't true.
There will be three Season finals this year. Will they be located in the same region or spread out? Have you thought about how you want to present them?
I think it'll be different based on each region. There will be one in North America, one in Europe, and one in Asia in 2013. In 2014 there will be four events. Two of them will be in Asia, one in North America, and one in Europe. I think that they'll be similar to a major event that you see today. The North American event may look a lot like how you see a current Major League Gaming major event stop.
Why hold the finals at BlizzCon instead of doing another standalone championship event like last year's World Championship Series finals in China?
We think that eSports has been a pretty important part of BlizzCon for many years now. In terms of celebrating the Blizzard franchises I think there's no better way to celebrate it than crowning a World Champion. At BlizzCon 2011 we had the GSL Code S Championships between Jung "Mvp" Jong Hyun and Mun "MMA" Seong Won, which some consider one of the best events of all time. The weird thing about 2011 was we crowd 2 champions that weekend, one for BlizzCon and one of the GSL finals. That…is strange. We sort of want to get away from that and actually crown THE champion, and have a single storyline that's understandable.
Is there any worry for events that aren't a part of the WCS not getting as much attention as they used to?
Not really, because I don't think it'll be any worse than what we have today, where they don't get any points for anything.
What about regions that aren't listed, such as China and South East Asia?
I think that there's opportunity to expand this in future years based on how successful it is, but I think initially players outside of the set regions will basically have to choose a region to compete in. There are StarCraft leagues in China that still run, but if they'd like to play in WCS at this time they'll have to choose one of these three leagues. I'd love to see that change in the future, but at this point China isn't at that point of maturity in StarCraft 2 eSports that it made sense to do it in 2013.
How much of this is in the response to Riot's League Championship Series?
I don't think it has anything to do with them. We've been working with these guys a lot longer than Riot has.
Has there been thought to running the World Championship Series without the use of partners?
I would say not really. We're not trying to replace all of these great companies. I think there's a lot of great expertise and really good effort that has been built up over the last several years. We want to leverage that. We want Blizzard's focus to be on making awesome games, and not running tournaments and leagues, which in itself is a huge project. There are entire companies based on doing just that. This allows us to focus on what we do best.
Who will handle the broadcasting?
For all of us in the West, it will be available via TwitchTV. We can watch this stuff. There will be a regular schedule. One of the really awesome things about all of this is we have all the entities in Korea working together now. 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 2 on television 5 nights a week.
The broadcasts will be streamed in 720p for free through all services. We're still working out what to do beyond that with qualities beyond 720p, and VOD packages.
What type of potential hub could we see for all of the World Championship Series?
That's a great question. We still have some work to do here. We don't have that hub Online yet but it's something we know we need, and we have plans to create that and put it Online this year.