Former professional StarCraft player Greg 'IdrA' Fields chimes in on the 2014 World Championship Series details

Former Evil Geniuses player Greg 'IdrA' Fields gives his thoughts on the ups and downs of next year's World Championship Series plans.

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Blizzard has announced a number of important changes to the World Championship Series (WCS) today, almost all of which are intended to make life easier for non-Korean players and non-WCS tournaments.

The biggest changes revolve around their massively reduced broadcast schedule. Now there will be only three seasons over the entire year of competition, with plans to only broadcast two days a week for ten weeks per season. Challenger and qualifier events will likely not be broadcast at all on the partnered WCS channels, however the overall prize pool remains unchanged. This means Blizzard, and/or NASL and ESL, are taking a large hit in terms of money with far less advertising revenue coming in off of broadcasts, although this should be somewhat mitigated by the elimination of the global season finals.

Personal streams, even with declining viewership and ad revenue, are a far bigger source of income and are of more value to teams than the tournament results that 99% of non-Korean players are capable of achieving

Most of the attention on 2014’s changes will be focused on the region locking, but the freeing up of the broadcast schedule will have a far bigger impact on the non-Korean StarCraft scene. Personal streams, even with declining viewership and ad revenue, are a far bigger source of income and are of more value to teams than the tournament results that 99% of non-Korean players are capable of achieving. With 2013 WCS broadcasts covering the entirety of prime European and North American viewing hours five to six days a week personal stream viewership was nearly nonexistent. Also, tournaments of any notable size were not allowed to compete with WCS broadcasts, and those that ran in cooperation with WCS performed poorly as the community was already overwhelmed with content. With WCS scaling back there will certainly be more opportunity for players to earn more reliable money through streaming, and hopefully a resurgence in the newly branded WCS Global Events.

That being said, the region locking is still, at first glance, the gigantic change that the majority of the community has been calling for. One of the explicit goals of Blizzard's WCS was to encourage the growth of international progaming, and thus far it has clearly done the opposite. Blizzard acknowledged that they failed to anticipate the desire amongst mid-level Korean players to earn easy money and have changed the structure of the 2014 season to guarantee that all but two and four slots for America and Europe, respectively, go to citizens or legal residents of the specified regions.

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This is a well-meaning change, however there are still the two and four entirely unrestricted slots available, and, in the TeamLiquid Q/A, Blizzard states that any non-resident players already in the WCS Premier or Challenger leagues for any region may remain in that region as long as they can stay in at least Challenger league. Blizzard acknowledges that region locking is necessary, but refuses to take the measures needed to implement it fully. Of course even the partial region locking will still provide more opportunities for non-Korean players than were available in 2013, but they will be limited opportunities that come at the cost of the quality of the tournament. Now instead of watching mid-level Koreans compete with each other, occasionally producing good games even if the players themselves weren’t very personable, we’ll get a handful of Koreans who were lucky enough to get grandfathered in from last year bashing on the non-Koreans who now get to progress a little bit further before getting knocked out.

The additional unrestricted slots each season are, in particular, completely nonsensical. There is absolutely no reason for them to exist if this is not intended to be an international competition, they exist purely so that Blizzard can say they aren’t just handing foreigners easy money.

"Given the general downsizing of the KeSPA StarCraft scene, between player retirements, team dissolutions, and sponsorship problems, this is unsurprising."

While most major changes to the 2014 season fall under those two umbrellas, there are also notable changes happening to the Korean region. Prize money for the region will be upped, in acknowledgement of the higher level of competition and the restrictions of region locking. Also, WCS Korea will now be hosted solely by GOMTV under the Global StarCraft 2 League (GSL) banner. OnGameNet (OGN) retains broadcasting rights to StarCraft and Starcraft 2, but has no current plans to host any events. This has no real impact on the WCS itself, besides a bit more continuity between seasons, but does lend itself to the rumors that OGN and KeSPA are abandoning StarCraft in favor of a bigger focus on League of Legends. Given the general downsizing of the KeSPA StarCraft scene, between player retirements, team dissolutions, and sponsorship problems, this is unsurprising.

Overall, it is clear that Blizzard heard all of the complaints the community had regarding last year's WCS. They made impactful changes, all going along with the general consensus of public opinion. The new broadcast schedule will be a shot in the arm for non-Korean StarCraft at the direct cost of Blizzard, and is an excellent move by them. The partial region locking is a good and much needed change, and while it does not really go as far as it should they were somewhat hamstrung by their policies from last year. Despite an overall feeling of negativity in the StarCraft community over the last year, event quality and viewership numbers as a whole have been doing well, and are largely the victim of oversaturation and public perception. These changes should go a long way towards fixing that and 2014 could be a very good year for StarCraft.

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