StarCraft 2's longtime player/commentator/ambassador Sean "Day" Plott is one of the best interviews in gaming. He's universally candid, positive, relatable, and unlike some game developers, he's got nothing to hide. He's also full of good ideas—another one of which was mentioned last weekend to GameSpot during the Battle.net World Championship in Shanghai. In that interview, Mr. 9 was asked to look into the long, six- or seven-year future of StarCraft, and tell us what he'd like to see in such a crystal ball. His response: StarCraft in high schools.
The 2012 season of the Major League Gaming Pro Circuit is coming to a close this weekend with perhaps the most anticipated Fall Championship event in eSports history. Kicking off in Dallas on Friday and running until Sunday, the event will feature some of the biggest names in StarCraft 2 and League of Legends. If you find yourself scrambling to find the hotkey that explains why you should be excited, relax your micro and simply read on.
Major League Gaming hosts its inaugural League of Legends Arena tournament this weekend, hosting pro teams Azubu Blaze, Team Black, Curse Gaming NA, and reigning MLG LoL champs Team SoloMid. The round-robin tournament, comprised of a series of best of three matches, starts at 5 pm Eastern / 11 pm CEST today and continues through Sunday, when the first and second-place finishers in the round-robin square-off in the final at 5:30 pm Eastern / 11:30 CEST. The winning team takes home $10,000, while the losing teams take home... nothing! Nothing but the sting of failure, and perhaps some lovely tourist shots of Manhattan.
As was the case with the StarCraft 2 arena a couple weeks ago, fans can watch the LoL tournament for free, or they can purchase a $10 pass for high-definition streaming. Whether you watch for free or in HD, you can rest assured that you are still watching a better sportscast than NBC's Olympics coverage. You can see the full broadcast schedule here.
2012 has felt like a breakout year for eSports, and MLG just released some huge numbers to prove it. Last weekend's MLG Spring Championship absolutely crushed the viewership totals of the MLG's entire 2011 lineup combined. When a single championship weekend eclipses a full year of competition, you know 2012 is likely a transformative year.
It's a bit of a quiet weekend for eSports, but DOTA 2 fans will at least be able to watch several games in the ProDOTA 2 Worldwide League. It's a new league, but a number of major eSports teams from the Americas, Europe, and Asia are already participating. It's divided into pro and amateur leagues, with the pros battling for a $20,000 season prize purse.
The action starts at 12 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, and you find the whole schedule here, and more information about this weekend's play over here. Casters TobiWan and Luminous will be calling the games for English-speaking audiences.
However, not to be outdone, the MLG had some big StarCraft and League of Legends-related announcements today.
The first day of the first MLG Spring Arena was a reminder that StarCraft II sometimes seems to be changing faster than it actually is. Coming into this event, PartinG (Won Lee Sak, Korean Protoss) seemed like he was poised to make a strong challenge to MarineKing's (Lee Jung Hoon, Korean Terran) dominance. Korea's deadliest Zerg, DongRaeGu (Park Soo Ho) was riding a streak of underwhelming performances and looked like he might be teetering on the edge of a major fall.
Not so much.
I hope you like StarCraft II, because it dominates the eSports schedule this weekend. There are two concurrent events this weekend: Dreamhack EIZO Open in Stockholm, and the MLG's StarCraft II Spring Arena 1 in New York. Arena kicks off first at 6 p.m. Eastern tonight, with MarineKingPrime (Lee Jung Hoon, Korean Terran) playing against PartinG (Won Lee Sak, Korean Protoss).
That's a highly anticipated match, and possibly a preview of the Spring Arena's Grand Finals. PartinG has been playing incredibly well lately, and is widely believed to have been robbed of a victory over MarineKing in the Global StarCraft Team League Finals at the IGN Pro League tournament in Vegas two weeks ago. PartinG was significantly ahead of MKP and on the cusp of knocking him out of the tournament when the connection dropped. The match could not be resumed, so they had to replay the same map, and this time MKP took the victory. He then went on a tear and wiped out the rest of PartinG's StarTale teammates to give his Prime team the GSTL crown.
All of which probably didn't sit terribly well with PartinG.
I'm not going to lie: I'm pretty happy with my coverage of the MLG Winter Championship last weekend. But nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes, so I thought I'd call you attention to five of my favorite games from the event. Then we'll talk about what else is going on this coming week, and some of the big eSports news stories that are starting to take shape right now.
But first, let's look at some good StarCraft 2 matches.
In the final day of competition at the MLG Winter Championship, there was a sense of inevitability to most of the matches. MarineKing (Korean Terran player Lee Jung Hoon) and DongRaeGu (Korean Zerg Park Soo Ho) were on track for a rematch following their duel in the Winter Arena Final. They were dominant in their pools, and few of their competitors looked like they could string together enough solid games to upset either. When DRG and MarineKing met in the winner's bracket final, it was almost a sure bet that they would be meeting again in the Championship Final.
Still, a lot of great StarCraft 2 happened along the way. While DRG and MKP were rarely (if ever) in serious trouble, they faced opponents like Complexity's Heart (Terran Korean Kim Min Hyuk) and Parting (Protoss Korean Won Lee Sak) who were capable of inspired play and last-minute rallies that sometimes made it look like neither MKP nor DRG would make it to the Final.
The MLG Winter Championship at Columbus concludes today, starting at 10 AM Eastern and the Championship Finals commence at 6 PM Eastern. Before we find out who this season's top StarCraft 2 player is, however, we should revisit the action from yesterday.
One of the big storylines going into this tournament was Greg "IdrA" Fields' streak of bad competition performances. Columbus was an opportunity to put that behind him, and show that he remains a top foreign Zerg player.
Obviously, the biggest thing happening this week is the MLG Winter Championship tournament, which is getting started right now in Columbus, Ohio. You can find more on that here, with links to the details about how you can watch it. If you miss the start of the tournament, never fear, this handy schedule will let you find your way to some quality matches tonight.
What else has been happening? Evil Geniuses took first-place in the joinDota Masters tournament over Next.kz, but the real story of the tournament was an 86-minute siege against Mousesports. You can watch the entire match above, in which caster Tobi Wan nearly has a series of massive heart-attacks.
The MLG isn't about to let a little thing like 84-degree temperatures stop them from having their Winter Season championship in Columbus, OH this weekend. Over one thousand players will compete for $200,000 in prize money from tomorrow through Sunday. As usual, StarCraft is the star of the show for PC gamers, with $76,000 in prize money and $25,000 of that going to the first-place finisher.
In a sign of how quickly the MLG's StarCraft 2 competition is growing, this year's first-prize is five times what it was was in the 2011 Pro Circuit season.
You can still buy tickets if you want to watch in person. For those of us who are unlikely to find ourselves in the Columbus area this weekend, however, there will be six HD streams for the competition, four of them dedicated to StarCraft 2. Two streams will be free, others will come with either a Gold Membership or an HD pass for this event.
As we head into the last weekend before the MLG Winter Championship in Columbus next weekend (and hot on the heels of the IEM tournament) a small group of players are gathered at Full Sail University in Orlando for the Red Bull LAN. It's one part mini-camp, with high-level StarCraft players working on ways to improve their game and get ready for upcoming competitions, and one part exhibition tournament. Quantic's Kim "SaSe" Hammar and Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi will be there, along with Evil Geniuses' Lee "Puma" Ho Joon and Park "JYP" Jin Young and a number of other strong competitors. Sean "Day" Plott and Marcus "DjWHEAT" Graham will be there as well. You can read more about the Red Bull Lan over at Team Liquid, where Day gets into a little more detail.
I've never seen one of these, and I'm really interested in the "training camp" aspect of the Red Bull LAN. As I've watched more competitive gaming, what I find most impressive is the mental endurance and resilience on display at the highest levels of play. Playing brilliantly in a match is one thing, but having to sustain that over the course of a weekend and dozens of matches is another. I'm hoping the coverage coming out of the Red Bull LAN gets into that a bit.
Oh, and if you have some time to kill, why not watch the SC2 final from IEM last week, between MC and Puma, posted at the top.
For the first time, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Saturday played host to a panel on eSports to discuss what they are, why they are enjoying such a tremendous period of growth, and what the future holds for them. Developer, team owner, caster, and league manager were represented by Blizzard's Mike Morhaime, Evil Geniuses' Alex Garfield, Sean "Day" Plott, and the MLG's Sundance DiGiovanni, respectively. As Plott put it, "The numbers are becoming astoundingly big," and the proliferation of streaming technology alongside the rise of StarCraft 2 promises to change eSports indelibly.
"[The MLG is] ten years old," DiGiovanni said. "The people who know our organization, they have a strong attachment to a number of titles that we've run in the past. But we've never been in a position where we had the right title, the right technology, and a global audience base at the same time. Now we do."
Last weekend, I spent a few hours watching the MLG Winter Arena on the MLG's pay-per-view streams and I have to say, as someone who has always been a bit leery of eSports and does not particularly care for StarCraft 2, it was an incredibly good time. Not just as a StarCraft or gaming experience, but as a sports event. Old news to a lot of competitive gaming fans, but a pleasant surprise for someone just getting into eSports.
Part of that was due to the high quality of the MLG's production and the way it ran the streams. With five streams and about a half-dozen casters, there was almost always something to watch and most of it was pretty good. I ran into the odd bit of lag (some of it very poorly timed), and occasionally the casters lapsed into the same kind of banalities with which fans of any sport are familiar, but those were the exceptions to an otherwise stand-out presentation.
The 2012 Major League Gaming Pro Circuit comes to New York this weekend with the Winter Arena tournament. 32 Starcraft 2 players will compete for a total prize purse of $26,000 divided among the top eight finishers. The top sixteen finishers will be invited to compete in the Winter Championship in Columbus, Ohio from March 23 - 25.
You can purchase access to the streams at Justin.tv. The events air live, starting on Friday at 6 pm Eastern. You can test-drive the stream format and get an idea of what $20 gets you at this demo page. All the matches will eventually be available on demand for free, albeit a week after the tournament.
A portion of PC Gamer has just got back from Bristol's very first Barcraft event, to watch the Providence Major League Gaming finals. Many drinks were drunk and much StarCraft II was watched, making it a turbo-excellent night. It's getting close to kicking out time here in the UK, but fans of tip-top level pro-gaming, don't panic: the MLG Providence finals are still ongoing, closing up tomorrow. If you want to watch them - and you really should, as they've been brilliant so far - get over to their website and catch the live stream. There's some incredible games still to go, and the whole event to play for.
We've also got two high-quality MLG Providence passes to give away to the first two people who comment with the name of a previous MLG StarCraft II winner below. Be quick about it, mind.
It looks as though e-sports spectators are on the rise. The MLG Raleigh tournament that took place the weekend before last is the most watched MLG event to date. At its highest point, 138,000 people were watching the MLG Raleigh live streams. According to info MLG sent over, viewers tuned in from 173 countries and three million hours were "consumed" over the course of the competition.
Raleigh is the fourth competition in a six-part city-hopping tour and MLG will be live-streaming their events in Orlando and Providence, too. If you missed the StarCraft 2 and League of Legends tournaments that took place in the last event, MLG Raleigh 2011tournament matches are now free to watch on demand. Check out some of the best e-sports players in the world doing their best work, and be inspired/slightly crushed by the ludicrous ability on display.
I love e-sports. I mean, I really, really love e-sports. I love e-sports so much that when IMNestea played the then-named BoxeR in the Global StarCraft II League's season 2 final, I woke my girlfriend up at some unearthly hour in the morning and crowed at her about marine splitting until she had to physically leave the room. I've organised parties based solely around the activity of watching other people play games, many thousands of miles away. I say it here, on this wide internet, and I don't care who knows – I love e-sports.
But I didn't always love e-sports. If I went back in time to exactly one year ago, found myself, and said “YOU WILL LOVE E-SPORTS IN A YEAR'S TIME!”, year-younger me would've scoffed in my face. I've been aware of e-sports for as long as I've been a PC gamer: I lived through the false dawns of the early 21st Century, the Sujoy Roys and the Jonathan Wendels coming so close to pushing the activity of pro-gaming into the spotlight, then falling short at some intangible hurdle. Time and again I was promised the rise of Quake, or Counter-Strike, or some other competitive game in the televised market; time and time again they failed to ignite among the wider gaming community.
I could well have reacted like Kotaku's Jen Schiller did, when she repurposed an interview between Team Dignitas' David 'Zaccubus' Treacy, and top-end PC hardware types Alienware. Her post treats e-sports as weird and unnatural: a vestigial limb on the wider gaming animal that we'd all do better to hide under a coat. She makes her feelings about pro-gaming clear:
“Don't get me wrong, I love watching people who are better than me at video games play them for money, especially when I don't know those people.
Oh wait. No I don't.”
Jen penned another response, after seeing the reaction her original post dredged up from the e-sports community. Jen defends herself by claiming ignorance of the scene. A year ago, I could've claimed the same.
The final rounds of Major League Gaming's StarCraft 2 Columbus tournament are underway and streaming live. The high-quality video stream is also free. Pop some corn and tune in to watch the surviving players duel for the championship.