CatZ's Thoughts on 2013 and Hopes for 2014.

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Postby Kavik » Wed Jan 01, 2014 8:47 am

Editor's note: We asked CatZ for a brief comment on this subject as part of a post that will be published later today. He had a bit more to say than expected, so here are his in-depth thoughts.

I want to talk a bit about everything, and not just exclusively ROOT. I want to talk about this last year, and, most importantly, about next year and the future of SC2.

2013 was a bitter-sweet year for everyone. Lots of teams disbanding, lots of players retiring, and a bit of a 'dose of reality' for the SC2 community and a lot of the players and personalities involved. A lot of people got used to super high salaries and expectations from tournaments. That may not be the case anymore. A lot chose retirement, and you can't really blame them. Many of those also 'came back' because even when putting aside the money, SC2 is the game they wanted to play. SC2 is a beautiful game and it will continue to stick around for a long time. As players go, new ones will replace them. I feel like we've stabilized a little bit in that regard. We are still one of the largest games, and easily one of the most competitive games out there.

A lot of things could've been managed better in SC2 - from all angles - and it was a scary year as a team owner, as a player, and as a personality. Without the support of our fans, and our sponsors (especially Tt eSPORTS, Twitch and V3 Gaming PC) ROOT would've ceased to exist a long time ago. I am happy we made it through the year, and have very high hopes for next year.
A lot of the things that went wrong last year revolve around WCS, but Blizzard is not entirely to blame. Of course there's going to be a natural decline in viewership as the game ages, but with LotV on the horizon, SC2 still has a long healthy life ahead of us.

Why did WCS and other things have a not so great last year? This is a very polarizing topic to talk about, but it is something that someone needs to say from time to time. I've talked about it since the very beginning of SC2 as early as the WoL beta. If you want to read a bit more about my opinions, as extensive as this post is, you might find this helpful:

My Views on WCS and Region-Based Leagues - April 2013

CatZ Talks About Home-Grown eSports - StarCraft 2 Vlog - April 2011

Most of SC2's audience comes from outside of Korea (see any GSL match audience and compare it to any live tournament outside of Korea for reference) while most of the highest tier of players come from Korea. This isn't good for our ecosystem. Brood War for example, was more than self-sustainable in Korea alone. It was the biggest game for the longest time and millions of dollars from Korean industries was plenty to make the game run by itself. A foreigner win over a Korean would be extremely rare, even if it was just one map.

Korea has had this infrastructure and culture about gaming for many years now. The team houses, coaches, live team leagues, huge acceptance of video gaming culture for a long time, PC cafes all over the place, and huge mainstream companies supporting teams in Korea are huge indicators of this.

People will always cheer for the guy from their country, and at this point any foreigner doing well will do. Many people chose not to admit to this, and say that skill is all that should matter. That's cool, that's fine, but developing skill and talent outside of Korea becomes incredibly hard when foreigners have little or nothing to work for and to prepare for. That is what I feared when I recorded that video in April 2011. This is why regional leagues and events were NEEDED back then: to develop the talent. To create local heroes - outside of the incredibly gifted players like Stephano, Naniwa and Scarlett - to compete at the highest level in international events. Because that's what most people want to see. Ask any tournament organizer: any foreigner doing well in a high level tournament will increase their numbers by a large margin.

This isn't to say that Korean players should have no place in international events. Nothing like that, but creating these local heroes like HuK, IdrA and Jinro were at one point, is much needed to keep SC2 alive outside of Korea. Again, SC2 isn't sustainable on Korea alone, as much as people will continue to argue that "I prefer to watch Soulkey and Innovation duke it out than Scarlett and HuK." That's fine, that's cool, me too! But what could've been created by regional leagues and stories is foreigners able to compete with Soulkey and Innovation on a regular basis. We would have more Naniwas, Scarletts and Stephanos. We could have, by this point, built a sustainable environment outside of Korea and helped sustain the Korean scene with that.

I strongly believe that if we keep relying on the Korean scene and players, we will continue to be disappointed and things will start to crumble. Rumors are that GSTL will be soon gone, and I've heard more than once that this will be the last season of Proleague. This is terrible news for SC2 in Korea. Teams will continue to disband, players will continue to retire, and there's no helping that because the ecosystem in Korea isn't self-sustainable. The players are there, but the audience isn't (and has never been, really). You can't sell foreign numbers to Korean sponsors, because I’m not going to travel to Korea to buy a TV from LG-Korea, or ever drink a Hot6. I don't even know what half the sponsors are, and I have no way of supporting Korean team efforts. That's the harsh reality. I don't think the situation in Korea is salvageable unless we all move to Korea. Does that suck? It sure does, but it is coming and it shouldn't be taken as a 'doomsday' when we see more and more of it.

So what happens then? Well, then really good Koreans either retire (sometimes going back to the more-profitable in Korea Brood War) or become teamless. For foreign teams, this means that they can get great players much cheaper (supply/demand blah blah), and it sucks for foreign players that can't sustain themselves on smaller salaries. The numbers and interest go down along with this, because we now have foreign teams selling Korean players to their sponsors. Why is that bad? Let’s compare iNcontroL's shout-outs to INnoVation's to make that quick and simple, although there's much more to measure.

Unfortunately, most Korean players - with exceptions like MC or viOLet - are hardly marketable. MC and viOLet are the kind of players that contribute to the growth of SC2 and the international scene, and this is good for everyone including the Korean scene. MC and viOLet have been strong in EU and NA, lived in those regions, and built a fanbase by interating with fans. In addition to how good they are, this kind of player is FANTASTIC for our ecosystem. If we had the infrastructure to attract more viOLets and MCs to move to NA and EU, that would be second best to developing our own talent, but we don't! Especially in NA, there's hardly anything right now to work for. This is where I feel WCS went wrong last year, and where we missed a lot of opportunities with Blizzard setting aside NASL, IPL and MLG. One of those tournaments alone rewarding local talent might have been enough to create and sustain an ecosystem that would perhaps see all those leagues active in some capacity today. It is those players that bring in the most numbers for everyone.

WCS was a bit of a mess for everyone, including tournament organizers, in 2013. I don't think Blizzard is to blame, as they were doing what they thought would work and it backfired. I am sure Blizzard loves SC2 more than most of us. The lack of region-lock made it almost impossible - at least in WCS NA - for Americans to do well or even qualify. "SO JUST PRACTICE MORE!" God, I cringe every time I hear that. If only it was that easy. It REALLY is not. Unless you're rich and living in your parent's basement, it's just not. Even then you'd be at a disadvantage because a) there aren't that many committed rich kids playing the ladder as much as you; b) ladder isn't always the best practice; c) you don't have 10 top-tier peers sitting by your side critiquing your play; d) you don't have a coach; e) you're preparing and spending countless hours to compete and try to defeat people who have been doing a, b, c and d for many years before you. Those need to be worked on over time, and we should've started a long time ago.

I've done as much as I can. We have a team house and living here for ROOT players is relatively easy. We can't provide food, as most Korean teams would, but we can at least pay for rent and have the players living here not worrying too much about that and focusing on the game. However, at this point they’re preparing for almost nothing, unfortunately. This is why players like State feel the need to go to Korea to take advantage of the infrastructure and take his game to the next step. Most of the absolute best foreigners (Stephano, Naniwa, Scarlett, etc.) have gone to Korea to practice. That's cool, that's awesome! But we got things a bit upside down unfortunately. The viewership/money/interest isn't in Korea, the infrastructure is. In order to develop talent, we need that here, in America and in Europe. Europe is a bit ahead on that, especially countries like Sweden with a long history of gaming acceptance, huge LANs and tournaments like DreamHack or Germany with leagues like the EPS have been able to develop 'more' good players than the rest of the world excluding Korea.

We need regional leagues and regional heroes. It is late, fuck yeah it’s late, but I don't think it’s TOO late. We've seen initiatives like SHOUTcraft do wonders for the NA ladder. I have to give a huge shout-out to TB and Genna Bain for that. It is tournaments like SHOUTcraft that have kept the NA scene around. It is small things like the Canada vs USA that Suppy and HuK organized on their own. Even if it’s not a 100k prize pool that we see, we need to create an environment where players are striving to become better on a regular basis, and preparing for SOMETHING. Something realistic, something they can win. I used this analogy in my previous post but I think it’s good enough that I can reuse it:

If I told you I'll give you $100,000 if you can beat Michael Phelps in a swimming race next week, what would you think of your chances? Would you go and swim every day? Would you stop going to work for it and practice 24/7 to beat Michael Phelps? Probably not, because you probably won't be able to anyways. So whatever job you have, whatever you do with your time will be better spent economically than practicing for something that you stand little-to-no-chance to win.

Now let's say I say, "I'll give you $50,000 if you beat the local town champion of swimming 5 months from now." Would you start training for that and dedicate yourself to swimming? Much more likely, right? At the end of that, you'll find you're already a much better swimmer, best in town, and ready to compete in the State Championship. Then you'll give Michael Phelps a run for his money in the National Championships. You see how it scales up?

Having said all this, I have very high hopes for WCS next year. The partial region-lock seems to be well thought-out, and I hope it works the way Blizzard intends it to work. Without WCS 2012 perhaps we would've never had Scarlett, and a few Scarletts is what I hope WCS 2014 will produce. Maybe by LotV we can have a ton of great foreigners able to compete at the highest level.

We're still a pretty large community, and one of the biggest games, despite our age. This is a good thing! SC2 is a beautiful game. LotV will give us the opportunity to introduce SC2 to more people, and re-introduce it to those who maybe took a break from watching it because of Brood Lord/Infestor in WoL. It is my hope that those people come and stay. If you read this much, you're probably sticking around for a while too. I've been talking to some people for a long time now and I think there will be a lot to look forward to next year for the NA scene. Huge props and shout-outs to all the organizations, teams and fans for sticking around and being a part of this amazing game and community. I am and will continue to work to contribute as much as I can. My team and the NA scene have always been my mission, and I'll continue to fight for it. I've made 0 dollars from ROOT in 3 years and I don't give a shit. I'm here because I love being here and I will be here for a long time.

I am sorry both for the length of this post and if anything seems negative. That's not my intention. Like I said before, I have extremely high hopes for next year and where we'll be as a community a few years down the line.
Happy New Years!
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