With the announcement of the new, unified World Championship Series for StarCraft II, the structure of competitive play is going through a lot of changes. Here in North America, Blizzard is partnering up with Major League Gaming to crown a continental champion using a format similar to South Korea's GSL. It can be a little confusing at first glance, so we've broken it down into a simple, straightforward explanation below.
The WCS (World Championship Series) has three competitions in North America: the Qualifying Tournament, the Premier League, and the Challenger League.
The Qualifying Tournament takes place online, and is the lowest level of competition. This is where anyone can sign up, free, for a chance at one of 512 total spots. It's a double-elimination format, and the gateway into the Challenger and Premier leagues. The Top Eight of the initial 512 will gain spots in the Premier League. The Top 16 in a separate, later qualifier will get into the Challenger League.
The Challenger League is described as the equivalent to the GSL's Code A — You could think of it as the Minor Leagues in pro sports terms. 40 players will be featured in a single-elimination format, online. 16 of these will come from the Qualifying Tournament. The other 24 are the bottom players from the Premier League tournament, who "drop down" into Challenger status. It goes both ways, of course. The top players from Season 1's Challenger League earn a spot back in Premier for Season 2, so it's possible to drop down, then fight your way right back up.
The Premier League is similar to GSL's Code S, and will be the tournament for the best of the best North American players. It begins with a group stage to determine seeding, which will take place half online and half live from the MLG Studios in New York. Once the final bracket is determined, the Regional Finals will be held at a live venue in June, in a format that should be familiar if you've watched past MLGs. The Regional Finals will be single elimination.
The first Premier League will feature 24 invited players, and eight from the Qualifying Tournament. Since the Challenger League takes place after Premier, the first Premier League will not feature players who have moved up from Challenger. The Top 5 players from the Premier League will move onto the Season 1 Finals, where they will compete against the regional seeds from the Europe and Korea. Got it?
The full list of invited players for the first Premier League consists of:
(Obviously they're not all from North America, but as you may have heard, Blizzard isn't placing such restrictions on the WCS. You can only compete in one regional league, but it doesn't matter which one you choose.)
If you're interested at trying your luck in the open Qualifiers, registration is open from tonight until next Friday.
If you're just looking to spectate, the Qualifying Tournament starts on Thursday, April 25. Premier League begins on May 2. The first Challenger League bracket follows on May 16. The Season 1 Premier League Finals will be on June 1, with a location yet to be nailed down. Challenger League group play ("up and down" matches, I'd be willing to bet) will then run from June 10-20, prior to the start of Season 2 this summer.
In summary: there will be lots of StarCraft to watch in the near future. If you can't wait, there's also the finals of the MLG Heart of the Swarm Winter Exhibitions today at 2 p.m. Pacific, between MarineKing and HerO. Check out MLG on Twitch for the stream.