Editorial: The Hidden Huge World of eSports

I am back, friends! Everything old is new again at Lusipurr.com and everybody’s favourite Canadian Hipster has returned to everybody’s favourite gaming megaphone website. I will only be writing between two and four posts a month, but I will aim for those to be the greatest two to four articles you will read during that time. What you are about to experience is the first of these epics.

Terran versus Zerg
Micro those Mutalisks!

I have traditionally never been a PC gamer. I played Sim Tower and Commander Keen during grade school, and recently had an addiction to Plants vs. Zombies, but that pretty much sums up my experience with PC games. However, I cannot stop watching people play StarCraft II professionally.

For those unaware, StarCraft II is a real-time strategy game and its multiplayer in its most competitive form sets one player against another in a battle of wits, finger speed, economy management, and occasionally even mind games. Although the game was released publically less than a year ago at the time of this writing, the game has seen a drastic rise in competitive play, tournaments, YouTube and streaming channels devoted to “casting” or analysing replays of games, and the overall emergence of what is referred to as an “eSport”.

While some scoff at the legitimacy of a term such as eSport, that is no longer the main point of interest. Large international tournaments with considerable prize pools continue to pop up. Tournaments like the North American Star League, Dreamhack, MLG Columbus, MLG Dallas, Blizzcon, the TSL, and the IGN Pro League draw big names and big audiences; often live in-studio audiences as well. Even foreign tournaments like the ongoing GSL held in South Korea garner up to hundreds of thousands of viewers from outside the host country and inspire viewing parties held in bars and homes around the world for any significant matches.

Professional gamers – or “progamers” as they are often called – are exactly that. They make their living off of playing StarCraft II. From both prize pools and sponsorships. And these people are not just celebrities in Korea. Names like MC, Mvp, NesTea, IdrA, Jinro, BoxeR, and MarineKing may sound like gibberish to many, but for fans of the eSport, they instantly fire up debate or fanboy frothing at the mouth.

Day9 at Dreamhack
Day9, the nerd baller

People also make a living off of analysing, casting, or even teaching the game. Sean Plott – more commonly known as Day9 – has a daily show that focuses on teaching StarCraft II. He streams it live for thousands online and then tens of thousands watch each episode on YouTube. That is views per episode for a daily show.

No, the debate is no longer whether StarCraft II can legitimately be called an eSport, but rather: why does there seem to be so little overlap between progamers, their fans, and the rest of the gaming community?

If I talk to any of my gamer friends, any mention of the GSL or StarCraft II progamers will garner blank stares or even skepticism. People who have been gamers their entire lives will often only be aware of StarCraft II and not the growing community and industry around it.

It goes both ways as well. Two of the most popular casters are Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski and Nick “Tasteless” Plott; collectively known as Tastosis. They cast the higher profile GSL games for the English global stream. Occasionally there is time to kill between matches and the two talk about whatever is on their minds. The topic sometimes turns to games other than StarCraft II. As a gamer, the conversation is a little difficult to hear. It is obvious the pair played many video games as children, but have not for years. Final Fantasy VI, for example, is referred to as Final Fantasy III; it is indicative of their general lack of knowledge of popular franchises and the current state of the industry.

Tasteless and Artosis Casting
Tasteless and Artosis Casting

There is nothing inherently wrong with this lack of knowledge, I just find it very curious. My friends who take StarCraft II even semi-seriously also tend to be the type to play very few games compared to the rest of the community. It is interesting that a culture that has sprouted a massive industry around a video game seems so far removed from the general gamer culture.

This could be on account of how time consuming the world of StarCraft II is. A progamer or aspiring progamer’s free time is filled with practice, training, and discussion of strategy. Fans have literally more content coming in on a daily basis than they could watch if they spent every waking hour on it.

However, maybe this rift does not exist at all as I describe it and it is just a result of my personal sample size and experience.

Perhaps you can help me out, new and old readers. How much of this article was educational for you? If you consider yourself a gamer, do you find it strange to discover the thriving community of StarCraft II as an eSport? Or perhaps all this information is old hat and I have been making observations that are not reflective of the entire picture. Leave your thoughts below.

6 comments

  1. I want to like eSports, but I don’t!

    I only like Cricket and Baseball. Alas.

  2. The statement: “Fans have literally more content coming in on a daily basis than they could watch if they spent every waking hour on it.” really hits the nail on the head. Just go to Team Liquid and on the right you can see players streaming, on going events as well as events coming up within the next few hours. Also, the Twitter trends for events like the gsl, nasl and mlg go pretty crazy during those events as well.

  3. I love Starcraft 2, but I wish they would make it so I (EU) could play with people from NA. eSports will always be a niche market, but it’s one I happen to subscribe to.

  4. I don’t know if it will *always* be niche. Especially seeing the exponential growth take place in the last year. It’s hard to imagine that progamers will obtain the same celebrity status in NA that they enjoy in Korea – if only because of the population difference and deep-rooted hollywood obsession – but if it even continues to grow steadily at a fraction of the rate, eSports could become low-grade mainstream.

  5. The proliferation of Let’s Plays seems to make it seem like there’s definitely an audience for at least watching people play games. If the league can be run cheaply I could see one taking off here. There’s plenty of niche things popular on the Internet with a few million fans.

    Starcraft II though…don’t care. I played the Campaign on normal difficulty up to the last mission which I lost over and over nearly at the end. Uninstalled it and haven’t played since. Haven’t even looked up the ending on Youtube. The story wasn’t interesting, the characters looked ridiculous (everyone was a Gears of War spacemarine), and the gameplay was repetitive and unrewarding.

  6. Oh sure, but who gives a crap about the campaign? The structure and units are so vastly different than the competitive multiplayer featured in tournaments.

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