The Week in eSports (3/30/2012)

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.

1: Polt v. Stephano , Open Bracket Round 4, Game 1: Turn your eyes to the top of the post, where we start with Polt v. Stephano, Game 1, from the end of the first day. The back-and-forth over the course of this duel on Antiga Shipyard is just incredible. The second match is also worth watching, but this first one was a real roller-coaster.

2. Idra v. JYP , Open Bracket Round 6, Game 1: I don't want to oversell this as a great match , but it's worth watching. Idra came into this match knowing he needed to make a strong showing, but despite a good start, he just could not find a way to deliver a killing blow to JYP. This is a match of "almosts", where you see a very good player slowly squander a lead as, time and again, he hits on a right strategy or the right upgrade just a couple minutes or a couple seconds too late. It's a match that highlights the gap between being a great SC2 player and being one of the sport's truly elite competitors.

3. MarineKing v. Parting , Upper Bracket Semi-Final, Game 2: MarineKing didn't run into too many problems last weekend, but Parting made his life a living hell during this match . What's striking here is how many times Parting effectively is badly outnumbered, and makes up the difference with unbelievably Templar play. MarineKing knows that Parting is going to ambush him with Psionic Storms, but Parting is playing so well that he can't quite counter it.

4. DRG v. Heart , Lower Bracket Final, Game 5: What looks like it's going to be a quick formality as DRG heads to the Championship Final turns into a wild series of twists and turns . The last five minutes of this match was my favorite sequence of the weekend.

5. MarineKing v. DRG , Championship Final, Game 7: Why did MarineKing win this weekend? Why is Day[9] calling him the best Terran in the world right now? Watch this match, and the controlled aggression on display. With the side-by-side start here on Metalopolis, these two players are in each other's faces from the first minutes of the match, and it goes on like that until the end. It's just a nonstop exchange of body-blows and counter-attacks.

If that isn't enough for you, eSports journalist Rod "Slasher" Breslau covered the Winter Championship for GameSpot, and he did a great series of highlights from the tournament.

Breslau had a chance to catch up with MarineKing (sorry the embedding is a little wonky) and talk about what went through his head when DRG tied the series, about breaking the curse of second-place tournament finishes, and the difference between winning a Arena, without an audience, and getting a tournament win on the main stage, in front of thousands of fans. He also had a long chat with MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni, in which they talk a bit about the MLG's upcoming plans.

The Spring Season and an Elephant Enters the Room

The MLG has also announced its plans for the Spring StarCraft 2 season. It kicks off with another Arena in New York, on the weekend of April 21, features another Arena event in mid-May, and concludes with a Championship tournament in Anaheim, CA from June 8-10.

If there is one thing here that I have doubts about, it's the first Spring Arena . It's an eight-player tournament where the top four finishers will get direct seeding in Spring Arena 2, while the bottom 4 have to go through invite-only qualifiers to make it to Arena 2. How much do you want to bet that most, or even all of them do? It's hard to see meaningful consequences coming out of Arena 1, and I have to admit the smaller-scale is a bit of a turn-off. On the other hand, the top 8 players from the Winter Championship will make for some great games.

There is one other thing to start paying attention to. A number of major Korean StarCraft 2 teams just formed an eSports Federation , and will soon ask the Korean eSports Association "to start talks advocating free participation of current SC2 players and teams in the incoming leagues, among other things."

Why does this matter? Because when you were hearing about how Korea went mad for Brood War, and it became a huge sporting and television phenomenon over there, you were hearing about KeSPA. KeSPA is, in the words of the head of the FXO team manager Josh "Boss" Dentrinos, "one of the most insular businesses in e-sports history."

For a variety of reasons, KeSPA did not make the jump into StarCraft 2, and has continued playing Brood War. As a result, StarCraft 2, with the participation of a lot of Korean and international players, has become a much more international sport than Brood War ever did. Now it is looking like KeSPA's move into SC2 is imminent.

The danger here is that KeSPA would, at a stroke, pull all the top Korean SC2 players into a Korean league. Since KeSPA has a reputation for not being terribly cooperative, that also means those players would likely abandon the international circuit. That would obviously be devastating to those international events, and possibly to SC2 as an international sport. It would, once again, be a "Korean thing."

These SC2 teams, with their federation, are trying to get ahead of a potential avalanche, so that when KeSPA does transition to SC2, it integrates itself into the existing scene. The trouble is, KeSPA doesn't need an international community. But the international StarCraft 2 community definitely needs the participation of Korea's top players.

As always, be sure to shout-out games and events that have happened this week, or are coming up this weekend. What other great games from the MLG Winter Championship deserve a look?