With how significant of an impact this game has had on the development of esports on the whole, one can't help but feel...cheated. StarCraft kick-started mainstream esports in South Korea and sat in the spotlight for well over a decade. It gave rise to a number of prominent esports entities across all levels of the industry, including tournament organizers, teams, TV channels, personalities, websites only to be cast aside and forgotten.
I'd like to assure you that I won't be delving into how we got here, as the subject has been addressed and revisited a sufficient number of times (and by people more knowledgeable than myself), but brooding over what's happened isn’t necessarily productive either. The question I'd like to focus on today is: 'Where do we go from here?'
There are three scenarios I see as somewhat possible. The first path Brood War could go down, though the least likely, is that ESL somehow decide to incorporate it in their EPT circuit in the future. The reason I think this might be possible is down to Apollo stating they're looking into abolishing the region-lock for SC2 in the future, which would effectively allow Koreans to compete in overseas events. And if they find a way to incorporate the Korean SC2 scene, then why not its SC1 counterpart? Brood War has virtually the same following in South Korea as SC2 does worldwide. The issue is the quite obvious skill disparity and the likelihood of people tuning in to events where foreigners get ground up into fine dust...which is the exact reason behind the introduction of region-locking in the first place. Then there's also the risk of Blizzard RTS games 'cannibalising' each other as the ESL Pro Tour is already stretched thin in terms of which event hosts which game. There's no tournament that would feature both SC2 and WC3 at the same time, and if the potential 'cannibalism' is a point of concern, then introducing Brood War to the circuit would be a logistical nightmare. StarCraft: Remastered missed a big window. Had it been released two years later, I bet it would have had a real shot at being up there with SC2. But, alas, WC3 is in the spotlight now.
Future #2: the foreign Brood War scene stays as is with a number of independently-run grassroots online leagues and the occasional LAN event every now and then. Basically, nothing would change. And while this is the most probable future for non-Korean Brood War, the voices of dissent that were raised with the EPT announcement would suggest not everyone is content with the state of things.
The third avenue for foreign Brood War, then, would involve the scene (somehow) finding a way of working together for the benefit of all. Esports is a business. If there's a better deal on the horizon, the sensible thing to do is to go where the money is. Why would ESL or Blizzard, or Dreamhack, or whoever invest in Brood War if the potential return is far less enticing than in the case of Fortnite, League, or Dota 2—or even the other esports-centred RTS games?
There's a lot of untapped potential in BW. The Korea StarCraft League, Brood War’s premier circuit most watched by foreigners peaks at 8k-9k foreign viewers season in, season out. Compared to primetime esports, that doesn’t seem like much. But considering Quake struggles to break the 2k mark for its 'official' professional league, I’d say we’re doing pretty well. (Also worth mentioning - Quake will feature at IEM Katowice this year. Doable? Doable.)
What we do, however, have, are mostly minor, online leagues. The Bombastic Starleague is currently hovering at a steady 400-500 viewer average per broadcast. It hasn't always been like this, and a lot of work has been put into maintaining that average. ZZZero, the main thinktank behind the endeavour, has been investing his private capital and dedicating almost all his free time for years to get to this point. And if you think the matter of 'profit' has ever come in to play, you're delusional.
This goes for all the foreign tournaments. Profitability is quite possibly the last thing on anyone's mind. The STPL, Jeez Weekly, Defiler Tour, Corrupted Cup...all these are an extension of the passion of their respective organizers. And while the freedom to do things “your way” as an organiser is addictive, it leaves little room for growth. You're shouldering all the responsibility, ranging from raising community interest, running the tour, finding someone to cast (and often ending up with nothing but one or two PoV streams from the participants). How do you sell a product that can't possibly grow as you're stretched too thin to cover all your bases?
Then comes the question of accessibility. Keeping up with all these “niche” events is hard enough. The STPL often finds itself weeks behind schedule in terms of broadcasts. The Nationwars team only showcase a select number of matches each week, and you never know whose matches those are going to be. We don't have a legible (and up-to-date!) calendar. We don't have a sponbbang-esque ranking to keep track of player achievements (which in itself is a detriment to player engagement—why bother if the result doesn't matter in the long run?)
Before you reach for your pitchfork, torch, or other weapon of choice - no, cooperation isn't going to be easy. But if you want Brood War to grow? It's quite possibly the only way. Unite the grassroots tournaments we have now under one banner. Come up with a uniform circuit. Keep track of all the matches and make sure they count. Reach out to your favourite esports team and be vocal about wanting to see them represented in Brood War. Did you know Team Secret, the guys that won The International a couple of years back (nevermind, they didn't, I mixed them up with someone else... still), also have an Age of Empires II roster? Yeah, Age of Empires II; what happened there? Some of these orgs owe a lot to StarCraft. Perchance all they need to pay homage to their roots is a not-so-subtle nudge. I know I'm sticking my neck out there and I'm likely to be ridiculed for stating my mind on the matter. But all I'm trying to do here is to spark conversation. Worst case scenario, nothing changes (and I become a social pariah, driven out of StarCraft by an angry mob). Best case scenario, Brood War grows. The scene is chock full of talented people. It’s a matter of putting all the resources together. Discussing potential solutions to our plight is no guarantee things will get better. But you can bet your bottom dollar it’s the first step needed to have a fighting chance in the future. Let's get talking!