Major League Gaming's summer season starts on Friday with a StarCraft 2 Arena tournament, and we've got some premium passes to give away to PC Gamer readers before the tournament starts on today at 5:00 Eastern. Unlike previous arenas, however, the Summer StarCraft 2 Arena will also offer a free, standard-definition stream showing the Main Stage matchups, while premium viewers will have access to high-def video and the premium stream. The casters for this weekend are Dan "Artosis" Stemkoski, Sean “Day” Plott, Marcus “djWheat” Graham, Shaun "Apollo" Clark, and Ben "MrBitter" Nichol. If you want a free HD pass, we'll be giving away four codes on Twitter . For those who are not blessed by the PC Gamer Code Stoat, however, you can still get a Summer Arena pass for $10. No matter what option you exercise, you can tune in to the Summer Arena at http://www.majorleaguegaming.com/live at 4:30, when the pre-show starts.
For those of you who may not be very familiar with eSports or pro StarCraft 2, the MLG Arenas are a perfect opportunity to get introduced to the sport. They are small-format tournaments (this one has 32 competitors), so you get a better sense for the players and can actually watch just about every match (if you have a premium pass), which lets you follow the overall action of the tournament without scouring enormous brackets. Besides which, I usually find the commentary at the matches a little more thoughtful and instructive, since the casters are not pulling double-duty as analysts and crowd-entertainers. I was probably the biggest eSports skeptic ever, and definitely Not A Fan of StarCraft 2, prior to my first Arena, and now it's one of my favorite ways to pass a weekend.
The Summer Arena is an interesting one to catch, too. Ilyes "Stephano" Satouri comes into the Arena on the heels of a dominant victory at the NASL Season 3 championship last weekend. This is turning out to be an amazing year for the French Zerg, and he has a chance to add to his winning streak this weekend. It doesn't hurt his chances that some perennial MLG favorites are sitting this one out. That's partly due to the fact that this Arena brings together some of the top finishers from the Spring Championship, and three groups of eight from Korea, North America, and Europe, making it markedly more diverse than previous ones. For a rundown of who and what to watch for, cadred.org has a good preview of the event.
Finally, MLG has adopted a new tournament format that should address some longstanding complaints about their “extended series” rules. Where previous tournaments have used a standard double-elimination bracket, where one player arrives at the finals from the winner's bracket and the other comes up from a loser's bracket. Since the top two finishers have usually met before the finals, when they meet again, their prior matches are now counted as a part of their “best of seven”. This weekend, the MLG has adopted a split bracket system that ensures the finalists will meet on a level playing field. I asked MLG commissioner John Nelson about the change.
“All leagues that use double elimination, at one time or another, struggle with the right way to organize the grand final since one player comes from the winners bracket and one player comes from the losers bracket,” he explained. “We have previously dealt with the conclusion of our tournaments using extended series. Both methods require a long-winded, pre-final, explanation that can take away from what should be the climax of the tournament. Following in the footsteps of the NCAA Men's College World Series, dividing the tournament into two separate double elimination brackets allows for a dramatic, condition-less, best of 7 games conclusion to the MLG StarCraft II Summer Arena.”
Having watched a number of MLG Finals fizzle under the weight of seeming-inevitability, I'm glad to see MLG make this change. It should mean that when the Summer Arena's final match starts at 6:20 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, the tournament will be ending on a suspenseful, dramatic high-note.