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What Makes Starcraft 2 such a great spectator eSport

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Screenshot - 847425

Sitting down to watch MLG Raleigh this weekend, and indeed, the hundreds of tournaments before it, I’ve noticed that out of all games that can be considered eSports, Starcraft 2 is one of the most fun to watch. There are many reasons for this – ranging from the community, to the game itself, to the players and commentators that make up the eSports scene, which I’ll elaborate on in this article.

The Game

Okay, so how many of you have ever tried to sit down and watch a deathmatch in a shooter? The camera will likely flip-flop between players, running back and forth around corners, looking for an opening to shoot at one another – while this would be great fun to play, as a spectator sport it’s difficult to really make it work. However, take a game like Starcraft 2 – yes, it’s a RTS, and fundamentally different from a shooter, but the fact remains that it is much easier to follow the action. There are many tools built into the game to allow for easy spectating, including an interface to track what each player is building at any given time, stats such as APM that can be called onto the screen briefly, as well as full camera control, being able to zoom in to a more cinematic standpoint to catch those really epic battles. These tools also are powerful to commentators, being able to use them to illustrate points about a player’s given strategy or just having something to comment on constantly so they are not just sitting there rambling on about nothing.

The game itself, despite its many balance issues, is one of the more balanced eSports. I liken Starcraft 2 games to being similar to football in a way – at the beginning of each game, a player has to make a call on what strategy to use, whether to be more defensive and research more powerful units before going on the offensive, or just to rush someone down with basic units. There are many builds of course that counter one another, and the early parts of many games are just about trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do, and deciding if your strategy needs to be tweaked in order to win – this makes for a riveting experience right from the get go, especially if the player being scouted is going for some sort of all-in build.

The length of these games also, by their very nature, draw you in and make you glued to the screen, wondering just who is going to win, and what sort of advanced tactics they use, possibly to be emulated the next time you play, or just to get you hyped.

Community

Starcraft 2 also has a very large community that has been around for more than a decade, as a large portion of Starcraft: Brood War’s playerbase has transferred over to Starcraft 2. The amount of support that the community offers this game is just staggering – from music videos, to daily VODcasts by popular commentators such as Day[9]. Players have even begun setting up local events at sports bars, events dubbed fondly by the community as “Barcraft” – taking over the screens for an evening to watch an internet stream of a big tournament. These events, though frowned upon by locals who regularly attend the bars, are massive boons to the community, with players meeting up with each other and raking in tons of cash for the bars.

There are also several sites that are community run that have ran big tournaments in the past, and offer a place for player’s to meet up and discuss strategy such as TeamLiquid.net and SCLegacy.com, in addition to the hundreds of Facebook groups that exist, and also run their own tournaments. For example, during the beta, popular casters Husky and HD ran their own invitational beta tournament that racked up several million views – in fact, as a result of that tournament, Husky’s Youtube channel has more subscribers than all of ESPN’s channels combined. Speaking of commentators, this brings me to my next point.

Players and Commentators

The players and commentators that make up the Starcraft 2 scene really define it as an eSport – you get to know the commentators just be listening to games being cast, with many in-jokes and references being tossed around. It’s a very intimate way to get to know these personalities in and outside the game. In addition, many organizations such as the MLG and CSN offer many player interviews and post them on the web for people to watch.

The support of these organizations gives the whole thing a professional level of sheen that other eSports simply do not have – the amount of money being invested simply is not there for these other eSports. Let’s take EVO for example – EVO had a free stream that was provided by Team Sp00ky, which is a team of fans who travel around the country and provide casting for tournaments. Now, the work they do is a great boon for the community but because the equipment that they use is paid for by a select few sponsorships and out of pocket, it just doesn’t look as professional as the MLG.

Back to point though – the players offer quite the flavor for the game as well, with rivalries constantly sparking between players after big matches, providing the community with controversy to speak over. This is in addition to players “BM”ing each other (or Bad Manners, where a player builds buildings in an odd location just to troll their opponent, such as by building a Command Center in an enemy base, or by spelling ‘LOL’ with pylons) in the middle of a match. This rarely happens at a professional level, but boy, when it does… The forums are set ablaze!

Bringing it all together

So in closing, Starcraft 2 is a great spectator sport because it has many features built into the game that allow for easy spectating, it has amazing community support and the casters/players provide a flavor all their own to the eSport that is difficult to match. Be sure to catch Championship Sunday from MLG Raleigh today, you can bet I’ll be on the edge of my seat.

Dustin Steiner is Gamezone’s eSports Correspondent! Be sure to follow Dustin on Twitter @SteinerDustin for all the latest in eSports news, and check Gamezone daily for his column, the e-Sports Dail-e!

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Dustin Steiner I'm GameZone's eSports Correspondent and resident fighting game guru. I'm also Event Coordinator for Video Gaming Hard Corps, where we host online and local tournaments in addition to have general fellowship among gamers. Check us out! http://www.videogaminghardcorps.com
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