The Devil Plays Protoss: The Arms Race

BY Andrew Miesner / October 12, 2011

The Devil Plays Protoss: The Arms Race

by Jacqueline Geller

IPL3 in Atlantic City

If you had the opportunity to watch IPL3 this past weekend, you may have noticed that the tournament organizers brought their A-game. The organizers were calm under pressure, kept their cool and were able to put on a great show despite the delays, internet losses and scheduling blunders. Sure, IPL3 wasn’t perfect, but it was stupendous. With six streams, non-stop video content and the top of top-tier players, consensus says that IPL3 was one hell of a tournament. Team Liquid, Reddit and Twitter are all in agreement that the weekend raised the bar for offline tournaments.

What does this mean for the future of eSports? Over the next year, we’re going to see a major arms race between MLG and IPL3. Both events are quite similar and competing for the same market. We’ll be seeing other live events fighting it out for viewers, subscriptions and sponsors including Dreamhack, NASL and ESL events. Some tournaments will survive and thrive, and other tournaments will die off. No one knows exactly what the future has in store, but with tournaments fighting for attention, it has never been a better time to be a SC2 fan.

The downside of the arms race is that the market isn’t big. SC2 fans are diehard dedicated, but will the community burn out? At the most basic level, there’s the community’s wallet. Regardless of who you are, every fan has a budget and entertainment dollars that need to be spent. Some budgets are much larger than others, but every individual must decide where he spends his money. What are the chances that every SC2 fan will buy a GOMtv, IPL, MLG, NASL and ESL pass? Slim. I’d be willing to bet that the average fan will be willing to open their wallets for 2-4 of their favorite tournaments but not every tournament. Current subscription prices are affordable ranging from IPL3’s $6.95 IGN Prime pass to NASL’s $25 per season pass, but will prices stay low as tournament expectations rise?

At each event, the community is obsessed with stream viewership. How many people are watching NASL right now? How many people tuned into MLG over the weekend? Although this is a great indication of fan base and could be used to attract sponsors, it is not the number that really matters anymore. As events begin to use subscriptions as a source of funding for live events, the number that’s going to be crucial will be how many people are actually paying for subscriptions. Hypothetically, if MLG has 100K viewers at a time but only 2% of those are Gold Membership subscribers, that is far less sustainable than NASL having 75K viewers but 40% of those being paid subscribers. The major tournaments left standing a year from now are the ones that can bring in the paying subscribers, not necessarily the viewership.

“At each event, the community is obsessed with stream viewership.”

As far as content overload is concerned, it is entirely possible for the community to be overloaded. Take a look at October: there’s non-stop SC2 action. It’s great because fans get a ton of games and there’s always something to watch, discuss and dissect. The bad news is that not everyone can devote hours upon hours to SC2. We have lives, we have responsibilities. I’m at a point where if I don’t watch a game streamed live, there’s a 98% chance that I won’t watch it. If the game is being noted as beyond epic (see: IPL3 Stephano vs KiWiKaKi Game 2), I’ll watch it, but otherwise, there are new games right around the corner. Missed games at IPL3? Well, MLG Orlando is just a short handful of days away. Missed games at MLG Orlando? Well, BlizzCon is just a short handful of days away. By the end of BlizzCon, I’m sure even the most diehard SC2 fan will be in need of a break. Three weekends of watching non-stop SC2 action sounds like a good time, but we’ll be feeling it by the end of the third weekend.

In the short term, an arms race between the tournaments is not ideal, but it’s something that has to happen. At the moment, the community is simply not strong enough to be pulled in too many directions. With tournaments constantly trying to outdo each other, there’s little room for collaboration. I’d be willing to bet that the MLG/GSL Partnership is the only model of collaboration we’ll see as the GSL market is as far removed from the American SC2 market as it can be. The chances of IPL and MLG working together towards a common goal are slim to none. Although it fosters more intense competition, it also ensures that tournaments will constantly have to reinvent the wheel. Problems experienced and solved by MLG will have to be experienced and solved by NASL. There’s no sharing of information during war.

Too much SC2…

The best news is that each tournament is going to have to be bigger and better. Fans attending events live and fans watching from home will be treated to the “best tournament ever.” Not only will each NASL Grand Finals have to be better than the previous NASL Grand Finals, they will have to be better than every tournament between the two. The bar is going to be raised each tournament, and organizers will be forced to keep up.

We can already see the indication of the arms race as MLG Orlando is on the horizon. With the epic feedback from IPL3, we know that MLG knows that it has to step up its game. If you follow MLG’s CEO Sundance DiGiovanni on Twitter (@MLGSundance), you know exactly what I’m taking about. Over the past few days, we’ve seen tweets hyping up what MLG Orlando is planning to do better than IPL3. Compared to IPL3’s split screen stream viewing option, MLG will give its viewers the option to watch not just two, but four streams at once. There will be four SC2 streams available at all times between the Red Stream, Blue Stream and the two Members-only Beta Streams with games cast by up-and-coming community casters, giving the viewers at home the most SC2 content we’ve seen from a tournament yet. Sure, IPL3 had six available streams, but they were not all SC2 all the time. Over the course of the upcoming MLG weekend, we’ll be treated to the casting talents of ten difference casters, including the much-loved Day9, Tasteless and Artosis. MLG knows what IPL3 brought to the table last weekend, and MLG knows it has to bring more.

I’m not psychic and cannot predict which SC2 tournaments will be around by the end of 2012. I have my educated guesses, but in the end, it will break down to who has the best tournament model. The tournament who succeeds will have to find the ideal blend of epic players, fantastic casters, wonderful hosts, stream options, available content, subscription price, etc. The future of competitive SC2 will be thrilling, and I can’t wait to see what happens. Regardless of what happens, the community will continue to grow, and we’ll continue to be treated to epic games at at incredible tournaments.


About the Author – Jacqueline Geller

After years of playing World of Warcraft, a friend introduced Jacqueline to Starcraft early last year. Jacqueline’s relationship with Starcraft started out slowly: a handful of casual dates, a little bit of flirting but nothing serious. She took her relationship with the game to the next level after BlizzCon 2010 where she experienced eSports magic first-hand and realized that Starcraft was the one. Despite being a mediocre player, she has been clambering the ladder at a glacial pace and has spent more time watching Starcraft online than she’d like to admit. In March, Jacqueline made the leap from eSports fan to eSports professional when she was hired by the Handsome Nerd as their Art Director, combining her design skills with her love of Starcraft. Since its start in April, Jacqueline has been a contributing writer for the North American Star League, writing coverage for Division 1. Offline, Jacqueline is a bookworm, a runner, a freeride snowboarder and has a Human Ecology degree with a Clothing and Textiles major.

View Jacqueline’s profile here.
Visit @jacquelinesg on Twitter