Starcraft: Brood War is a game that has been synonymous with esports for an extremely long time, being what many consider to be one of the founding pillars of competitive gaming. After the release and (admittedly) slow initial uptake of Starcraft 2, the Brood War community began to wane, and slowly but surely fell into the realm of obscurity, if not at least for the truly faithful of the Team Liquid Brood War forum. But has it fallen into the void forever?
Before esports became more widely accepted outside of Korea (known as the ‘foreign scene’), Koreans began to take up Brood War with gusto – and the 1999/2000 period was where things really got started. Quite interestingly, at the time some of the best players in the world weren’t the venerable Koreans – but foreigners. Famous names like “Grrrr…”, “Pillars” and “Elky” were gracing the very fanciful and grandiose stages of Ongamenet Starleague and MBC Starleague, representing their respective home countries outside of Korea.
This display of skill from the first wave of foreigners began to dissapate, and to make up for this the Korean players kicked it up a gear. Building up their practice time to 8, 10 and 12 hours per day, teams were formed for better practice conditions and then of course team houses – and things got huge. Early Korean leagues already had sizable sponsors but they only got bigger – with the inclusion of big telecommunications names like Korea Telecom and South Korea Telecom, along with other large scale businesses such as Shinhan Bank and Samsung.
Through the years to come the Starcraft esports scene in Korea became extremely regimented, with teams equipping their lineups with veteran players and up-and-coming young guns who would vie for a chance to grace the scene with their impressive skills. Players even had to try and qualify for a progamer licence to even have a shot in some of the top teams. It wasn’t until 2009 when Starcraft 2 was on the horizon, that rumbles started to come about asking the question – “What happens once Starcraft 2 is released?”.
In July 2010 the Starcraft scene (and gaming in general) was a hive of activity with the release of the much anticipated sequel. Although graphically it looked wonderful compared to it’s predecessor – many Korean players and fans stuck with their long-time companion Brood War due to it’s more complex mastery level. Eventually the larger Brood War leagues started to incorporate Starcraft 2 into their schedules and as time went on, Brood War was dropped from play in the larger leagues.
Things entered somewhat of a dark age for Brood War, as the tournaments and leagues tapered down, the foreigner scene started to deplete in its interest in Brood War content. The Korean scene still did quite well with many fans and players sticking about to play Brood War, and the Sonic StarLeague came about which was a reasonable success – but thanks to issues with SBENU sponsorship due to some fraud problems with the CEO – this very popular league was put on hold.
One thing that has been bothering the smaller but still vocal Korean Brood War scene is that the modern matches that have been broadcast in the SSL, the VANT National Starleague and others have been mediocre compared to the glory days of 2000-2011. It’s an intriguing thing to think about, especially given the movements of some Korean veterans of those golden ages of Brood War.
Some of the most famous Brood War players took a very long time to dive into the Starcraft 2 pool – namely due to their great success in Brood War – there was simply no immediate need to transfer.
Some players hopped in to give Starcraft 2 a shot but had trouble with the transition and either faded away or came back to Brood War – such as the very popular champion Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong. Some stuck around and did quite well, such as the massive star Lee “Flash” Young Ho – and currently there are rumours recently of his return to Brood War streaming once again given his retirement from professional gaming in December, 2015.
This has lead to an interesting conundrum for the Starcraft Brood War scene in Korea – we’ve still got a string of former greats such as Effort, Mind, Bisu and others who are able to show some great games – but for how long? Bisu will have to head to his obligatory South Korean military service very soon, Effort was pulled from retirement to play – and according to many inside the scene in Korea – the “new blood” is severely lacking in skill.
What’s going on with these players though, and where are they heading to? Many will be taking up the reigns of League of Legends, and in some sprint towards Starcraft 2. While a vast majority of the players are in it for the challenge and the dream – some will be in it for fame and glory, which is certainly something to behold when you consider the scope of modern esports. Brood War however simply does not have the same scope at the current time. The VANT National Starleague which will have it’s grand final this weekend has a first place prize of $27,000 USD – which is certainly no small feat. But it’s rather meager next to the hundreds of thousands in the pot for various Starcraft 2, League of Legends and other games of the modern circuit in the esports community.
Inside the Korean scene another question has also been raised and particularly in the streaming/content production circles – is there foreign appeal anymore? The robust community sites like Team Liquid and r/Starcraft certainly have slipped with slim-to-no Brood War content ever posted on Reddit, and while Team Liquid still has a very zealous Brood War community, it’s nowhere near the former peaks of the 2000-2010 era.
In an attempt to test the waters the famous commentary duo of Nick “Tasteless” Plott and Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski have returned this week to cast the finals of the VANT National Starleague. Tuesday’s second semifinal match between Effort and Zero was a great match to watch, and on some rough numbers we saw the Afreeca stream on TwitchTV hitting about 6,500 viewers on average across the matches. This is a relatively impressive figure, given the seemingly low outlook from foreign fans – but the appeal may still be shining bright.
Tasteless and Artosis have both stated that if the numbers are there, there’s a chance that we may see them jump in and commentate more Brood War games in the future. This still leaves us with the question of the skill mastery of the players; will this lead to more interest in Brood War, thus more money, bigger matches and then more highly skilled players? And let’s not forget – is this sustainable with Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void looking like an expansion that has massively revamped the game into a more entertaining and exciting position?
Big thanks and shoutout to GD Horizon for helping out with some of the Korean scene insight.