Table of Contents
Chief Operating Officer, Blizzard
Won Jong Wook
Chairman, SC II Team Federation
& Startale Head Coach
Interview: Paul Sams
After the announcement of Blizzard, GomTV, KeSPA, and OnGameNet's cooperation on Tuesday, TeamLiquid had a chance to sit down and talk with Blizzard COO Paul Sams. Along the way, a few other Blizzard representatives joined in, turning it into an interesting, multi-faceted conversation about Blizzard and eSports.
TeamLiquid: Alright, so you’re a long way from home and this is kind of a small country. What’s a big company like Blizzard’s interest in a small, kind of niche market like Korean esports?
Paul Sams (COO, Blizzard): You know, we have never viewed it as a niche type of market. It’s such an influential market to the overall esports environment globally. It really started here, from our perspective, and it has created a life of its own. And so some of the best players historically and I think currently have come out of Korea. It’s such a gaming culture here, and it’s such a big part of everyday life – gaming – and so we feel like being here is critical for us to be able to ensure that we’re building games and doing things in such a way to where we’re supporting esports in general. If we can get it right in Korea, we believe that it will really take off elsewhere for that community.
What’s the value of esports from a business perspective? Because it’s something that’s kind of been just a big Korean thing for a while now. Only in the late 2000s or early 2010s have we seen Western companies really try to get into it. What do you think these companies have realized – Blizzard, or other similar companies?
PS: Well, for us, I mean I can’t speak for other companies. I don’t know what their thought process is. But for us, we feel like it’s a big part, it’s important for us to be able to create this kind of spectacular environment. We want our games to be seen and viewed more broadly. We see some of these esports folks as athletes, and we want to build up this type of gaming sport type of environment. In the US at least, and I think many other countries, professional sports are a big deal. We love to have heroes that we can look up to and that we can get excited about. We love to watch television and watch some of those people in an admiration type of way. You know, maybe even think about like, “what if I could be that guy? Can I be the guy in the NBA, or can I be the guy in the NFL, or can I be the guy in Champions League, or can I be the guy that’s the GSL champion?” I think we have had the opportunity to observe these type of tournaments and esports events all over the world at this point, and they’re growing in excitement and popularity, and we feel like we are in the infancy of something that’s going to be very big, where we think that esports is gonna compete for eyeballs on television and otherwise.
Because certain games, and I think StarCraft II is the best of breed in this regard, I think that it’s really incredible to watch. And you get to see these people play these games, and there’s as much intrigue and excitement and enthusiasm around it as any other sports that you might see. People that follow it love it, and it’s interesting – you bring people along that maybe are like, “ehh, I dunno, I don’t want to watch a video game competition, are you kidding me?” And then you bring them, and they see it, and they’re hooked. They love it. Especially the addition of really high-end shoutcasters has really helped connect the dots as well, because maybe if you’re not a player of that game, but you had the opportunity to watch it with a shoutcaster, it’s pretty compelling. Anyway, we’re very excited about it. We actually think ultimately, building this enthusiasm around esports is ultimately also gonna help us sell more product.
Along those lines, this is business and all, and at the end of the day, it is about making money. So what’s the monetary benefit of esports, in the short and long term? Is it like, getting more people interested in buying copies of the game, or is it in the licensing fees for broadcasts or stuff of that sort?
PS: You know today, and historically, it’s all been trying to build a brand and broaden the brand and make people more aware that would ultimately cause people to come back and play the game. We not only want to have this be a spectator sport, but we want it to be a participatory sport. And so Ilja’s team, as an example, is not only building up this Battle.net World Championship concept, and the World Championship Series concept, but also our plan is to build more of a participatory grass-roots type of environment, to build up more people that are interesting in playing this game and competing. So, certainly, having as a business more people that want to purchase your product is a good thing. And that’s what it has historically been driven by.
As it relates to the future, I don’t know. We’ll see. I think it’s possible that could be a very interesting business through broadcasting rights, or sponsorships, or what have you. It isn’t necessarily going to be Blizzard’s primary business, but I think it can be a complimentary business that goes really well hand in hand with what we’re doing elsewhere, and can really enhance the experience with the players. Because we’re all about finding ways to create great player experiences, and I think this is yet another way to help do that.
So StarCraft II, it’s kind of an interesting game in this day and age where it’s actually an old-school kind of game where you pay once, you play it forever, and a lot of esports games are coming out now like LoL or DotA2 that are free to play and try to sustain themselves on people buying micro-payments. What do you think of StarCraft II’s position as an esport given that some people may say that free to play has an inherent advantage in being a participatory esport?
PS: Well, I mean, it’s one argument. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the final, winning argument, I don’t know. I think the business model that those organizations that you mentioned have chosen are really interesting for those gameplay experiences. I think a lot of times, business models really needs to be driven by the game. And if you’re making a game where that makes sense, then awesome. I’m not sure StarCraft II would have made sense trying to make it a microtransaction type of product. What we do at Blizzard, is we first focus on what’s most important. And what’s most important is the game. We want to make the best games in the world, and we don’t allow business models to drive our thinking about that. It’s really secondary to the true proposition that we have, which is making the best games. And so I think for certain of those games that you were referring to, when they built those, they had in mind microtransactions. And I think that that’s right for those games, based on what I know about them.
I think for us, which might be a logical next question to you, was that something that Blizzard plans to do in the future? And I would tell you that we absolutely would be open to it, if we had the right game. And so we have other products that are coming out in the future, some that have been announced and some that have not, and I think that with each of those products, we’ll make sure the business model matches appropriately, but the bottom line is that the game will be the focus first and foremost.
Let’s go back a bit. For World of Warcraft Arena, Blizzard kind of dabbled in having esports at BlizzCon, some events like that. Would you consider that as testing the waters for esports, and what have you learned from that experience?
PS: I think on that one I might have Ilja talk a bit more about it, I think he is probably a bit better suited to get into the details on that.
Ilja Rotelli (Global Community & eSports Director, Blizzard): Obviously the audience for World of Warcraft is huge. And the viewership we have seen with the little experiments we have run with the invitational has been really irrelevant, so we’re looking forward to explore more this year. So we will see more World of Warcraft happening. Right now we’re shooting for having World of Warcraft at the continental level and at the final, and if the timing works out right. But certainly in the final for sure. There’s a percentage of the audience that really loves the PvP, and the arena. And the arena, we just launched it again, and it’s been as successful as we were expecting. So I guess the short version is, for World of Warcraft, obviously the core of the experience is not arena, but we do have an audience that we care about, and we want to keep on experimenting with. The focus for this year might have been StarCraft for a series of hopefully obvious reasons, but we’ll keep on looking at how the arena players are reacting and see whether we have additional offerings, especially more of a grassroots level for years to come
So you’re working with KeSPA and OnGameNet, two organizations that stuck with the same game for about 10 years. And a lot of people would say ten years is abnormally long for an esport, whereas for any regular sport that would be abnormally short. So what do you think the natural state of esports is? It's a question one of our writers posed recently. Do you focus on a genre, whether it's RTS or MOBA, and then switch to new games in that genre, or do you try to stay with one game as long as you can and try to like, keep building on that?
IR: That’s a good question.
PS: It is a good question.
IR: Gotta believe the player experience comes first.
IR: So whatever is best for the player experience, if technology, if new game design, if the evolution of the platform so to speak – I’d rather think about it in terms of platform than just individual games – if the evolution of the platform provides a player experience, I think it’s our duty to upgrade and improve the player experience. Also because, even from a viewership perspective, the technology has grown so fast in terms of just graphics for example, you owe it to the players and to the audience to deliver a superior experience.
PS: Yeah, I think that’s probably pretty true. And you know, there’s certain games that maybe will last the test of time more than others. I think a lot of it’s gonna depend on what content and what games come. If there’s nothing that comes that’s better, well maybe longer life will make sense, but if there’s new games that come out that really capture the hearts and minds of the players, and they really feel like that’s the place they wanna compete, that’s what’s gonna motivate them to put in the hours to be great, then that’s what would drive it.
Well, you talk about player experience, and as you say, you’re foremost a company that makes games for players. But at some point, do you think there’s a big enough difference between esports that you play in, and esports as a pure specatator sport, which is kind of how Brood War ended up in Korea, that you’d have to make a distinction and make decisions from a purely spectator standpoint, cause it may well be that the way for esports to grow is as a more spectator-oriented sport?
IR: that was an incredibly relevant conversation that we’ve had, especially in recent times at Blizzard. Where do we stand? When we prioritize features, do we look at the viewership? Do we look at the participation? We agree at this point that we need to work on both fronts. We agree that we need to be able to provide esports organizations with a superior product for the viewership, but at the same time obviously in terms of our strategy you’re seeing developed with the World Championship Series and hopefully next year with a more grassroots approach, is to build a true participatory sport. On one end we have the business case, that supports that, but on the other hand it’s also that right now we feel a little bit, StarCraft might be seen a little bit as elitist and we want to dispel that notion. We want to certainly make sure that people feel and breathe and play StarCraft as a participatory, for all type of game. So you’ll see us in a balancing act in terms of looking at the features and making sure that we provide both to the viewership and the participatory side of the equation.
Ok, so I guess coming back to one of the original points. The amount of effort being put into Korea seems a bit disproportionate, considering StarCraft II has come along very very well in the United States and in Europe. And coming back to Korea seems a little weird, or maybe like a disproportionate amount of focus. Can you kind of explain why Korea is so important?
PS: I think I might have mentioned, Korea is where it started and we feel like it’s where it has the most roots and the biggest following. I think obviously we’ve seen a lot of improvements in the viewership in the west, but Korea continues to be a major player in this space. And if you capture the hearts and minds of the Korean players, and the spectators, you really then have something super special. We think we’ve got something special, but if we can also be successful in esports here, with StarCraft II, as well as in China, which is another area of big focus for us, we feel like it can be viewed as the preeminent esports product and I think that we’re making really good progress on that. Today is an example of that. It’s been a hard-fought battle to get where we are today because obviously, there’s four different organizations. They all have their own motivations, their own hopes, prayers, and dreams, and to be able to find that shared vision – which I think we have done – and I think is something that is gonna be really positive for this space.
IR: I would like to add that I hope the facts prove that, despite the fact that we obviously have a lot of focus in Korea, the World Championships is a tangible example of how we really care about growing the local markets. We are putting it together to create those local heroes. We want a French champion, a Brazilian champion, a Russian champion, a US champion, to provide the inspirational drive to the local markets, unlike 90% of other tournaments where the champion is Korean. So I am hoping that the specific structure we have in place is evidence that we really care about the global market, not just Korea.
Let me ask some questions specific to this Korean agreement. I’ve had a hard time getting the story in terms of exactly what the original disagreement was about, whether it was about derivative rights, or what. What was the original disagreement, and how did you guys end up figuring it out?
PS: Well, first, we didn’t feel like our IP ownership was being acknowledged. That was really, for us, the big piece of the puzzle. There were tournaments being had, our IP wasn’t being properly represented. You wouldn’t see the StarCraft logo or the Blizzard logo on anything, yet this was a game that we created, that we had paid for. And we worked, we were trying very hard to make sure that all of our IP rights were protected, and there was challenges there in how people viewed it, and whether it was something that we did indeed own, or if it was public domain. And also tied into the pieces of the puzzle were related to broadcast rights, and who owned the broadcast rights, or the derivatives of the original IP.
And so there was a lot of disagreement around that, and confusion around that. And I think the fact is, there’s multiple parties, and every company has their own intentions and their own plans and their own desires, and for a while, there wasn’t a real shared vision. And we were, through a lot of time and energy, able to find that shared vision, that is that we want to grow esports not only in Korea but on a global basis. Each of these organizations want to expand outside of Korea, in some way shape or form, and to make esports really relevant globally. You’ve seen it with the GSL. They’ve really worked hard to try to make their streams available across the globe, as a matter of fact in 190 countries. It also has helped to popularize the barcraft concept because the GSL events are being broadcasted to the barcrafts. And so we know the type of viewership that’s occurring there, that this is something that’s big and special on a global basis. Getting back to your question, there were those challenges, but everybody finally realized that we weren’t gonna be able to do it without each other, and we wanted to make sure that Korea was a key foundation of that overall global plan, so we had to get this done, and I think the other parties came to that realization too, and thankfully we were able to do it.
Could I ask, would it be correct to say that a lot of the original disagreement in the late 2000s was around the derivative rights, like who owned the broadcast rights? And that this current agreement, Blizzard recognizes that the broadcast rights belong to the broadcasting companies?
PS: Honestly, the biggest issue for us was about our IP rights, as it relates to our game. That was our big issue, and it was not acknowledged for years and years. The broadcast piece was a secondary piece, and we were discussing it, and we did not originally agree with each other on how that should work. But that wasn’t the primary issue by any stretch of the imagination.
Paik Young Jay (Managing Director, Blizzard Korea): To give it another context: when there was a discussion about the IP rights, when you look at soccer, nobody knows who developed soccer. It’s in the public domain, nobody has a right for the soccer game itself. The league has the rights. But because StarCraft 1 was so popular in Korea, people tried to consider it as the public domain, like soccer. But we clearly developed it, we have the IP, and it was really difficult for Koreans to accept the concept, because it was so predominantly played by everyone, so that they had a very strong sense of, this is owned by everybody, not Blizzard. That was the primary concept that we had to relate.
Christy Um (Communications & Public Affairs Director, Blizzard Korea): Then there was the selling of the license to a third party.
Oh yeah, the IEG thing.
PS: So selling something that you don’t own is a problem. So that’s really where it all stemmed. And then what you brought up is really a secondary or tertiary idea, that was kind of built up as another element which wasn’t really the primary issue.
I want to ask you a little about your cooperation with GOM, the StarCraft II cooperation started in 2010. So what do you think about your relationship with GomTV, and do you think they did a good job up to now in realizing your vision of StarCraft II as a global esport?
PS: I think they’ve done a tremendous job. The fact that they’ve been able to get their broadcast out to 190 countries and help to popularize esports, StarCraft II esports around the world, is a big deal. And Mr. Bae and his team invested large amounts of money and large amounts of energy and effort to make sure that those broadcasts were AAA quality. They’ve done tremendous, tremendous work, and we’re very thankful for the efforts that they’ve made and we’re excited that we get to continue with them. They’re gonna continue to do great things, and I think as was discussed in the press conference today, by adding another broadcaster like OGN, what it’s gonna do is I think foster an amount of friendly competition between the two which only, in my mind, will benefit the viewers and the players. Because for many years, MBC as an example, and OGN, were the competitive broadcasters here for StarCraft 1. And I think that they both pushed each other in a positive way to really evolve that experience, and I think that GSL has done a tremendous job pushing forward esports broadcasting, so I think it will only drive OGN to do the same. So we see this as a really positive situation, but definitely GOM has done a great job and we’re excited to continue with them.
Do you believe that if StarCraft 1’s declining popularity in Korea, and the rising popularity of StarCraft II internationally, do you think if that didn’t happen, KeSPA and OnGameNet wouldn’t have necessarily come to this agreement as fast?
PS: I don’t know. There were certain things that were stumbling blocks, that each party was really struggling with. And so, could it have sped it up or slowed it down, I don’t know. But I do think that from the beginning, all the parties wanted to get together, it’s just we were having a hard time finding the right shared wins to get to the finish line, and we’ve finally been able to do that.
Does it concern Blizzard at all in terms of like, the growth of esports, that skill is disproportionately skewed toward Korea?
It’s a legitimate concern, at least among players in the West and some organizers in the West.
PS: I think it’s a legitimate concern.
IR: It is. And honestly, if I can, again go back to the World Championship Series. The idea of tackling esports from a participatory perspective to grow elsewhere is a big challenge. It’s gonna be hard to raise the rest of the world to the level that Korea is at right now. That being said, if anybody has some duty to try to achieve it, that’s Blizzard. The World Championship Series, and that level of grassroots competition, wants to be the first attempt to moving in that direction. Not that I expect that the finals won’t have a strong Korean component, but at the same time, it would be very thrilling to see other heroes raised to the challenge, and inspire entire countries and groups of players to the notion that you can. That if you train hard, if you believe it, you can raise to a level of competition, probably step by step, find the space in the pyramid that you belong to, but then progressively grow into where Korea is.
I come from, for example, the Magic: The Gathering experience. I’m sure you’re familiar with the product. It’s a product that initially evolved in the US, and originally the US competitors were just impossible to defeat from an Asian or European players. And then things changed, and in that case, again it took a lot of effort to create a global playing field, but I do firmly believe it’s possible.
PS: And Ilja helped make that happen at Wizards of the Coast, quite frankly. He helped build that whole system, and to help popularize it on a global basis, and really helped to build up players from other countries outside of the US to where it was a competitive playing field. Clearly Korea has a lead, there’s no doubt. When you think about the top competitions and the top players, you can’t do that without seeing Korean players there. They’re just incredible. But I also think to add to what Ilja was saying, is this concept of building national champions and trying to create almost an Olympic-esque type of feeling where that nationalism can come into play and you can feel like you have a national hero, a national champion that you can get behind, I think those types of things can really inspire people to go to a different level. I would not bet against the idea that there’ll be a Korean in the final, but I actually think that it’s possible, and I believe that there’s a handful of folks that have a shot to get to the final, and I’m not saying they’ll win, but I think that the playing field can quickly balance if that happens. Because people believe that they can. You’re right that it’s a daunting challenge.
Gerald Villoria (Associate Editor, Blizzard): If you look at the analogy of American basketball, the Dream Team, they ended up losing one.
PYJ: One thing that I want to add there is that it’s not about individual skill only, because of course Koreans are doing well. But you need to also look at the Korean system: how they train their teams, how they practice, and the discipline they put into that. And I think those are the things non-Korean teams can learn from, and when they learn those systems – as an example, basketball, it’s not only about the individual player, but also the team and how it’s trained and how it’s run. And those systems, I think Korean teams are leading. And when those systems are spread around the globe, I think it will play a role in terms of balancing everything out.
IR: It’s not just us. I think that MLG, ESL, Dreamhack, IGN – they’ve all done a phenomenal job in the last couple of years at expanding this global esports outside of Korea. I gotta believe it’s just a matter of time that the amount of professionalism in the systems that Jay is describing is going to be the norm. And once that happens, then why not? There could be more heroes than just the Koreans.
This agreement is to work together for a common goal. What kind of vision does Blizzard have in terms of leading these organizations in one direction or another? You probably don’t want to be like the NFL in terms of strong-arming people, so how far do you see your role or your intervention in this going?
IR: We think that the esport industry has grown spontaneously in a variety of formats, leagues, and offerings for players globally, which is amazing. It’s a testament to how strong our community is. But at the same time, occasionally we find that there is a lack of transparency for the new player, for example. It’s easy to get lost across a variety of different leagues and formats, and players for the neophyte. So we feel that certainly Blizzard can have a role in being encouraging to somebody that has played a little StarCraft, maybe seen a barcraft once, and is curious about the space. Blizzard certainly can build systems such as the World Championship Series that are as simple and as clear as they can possibly be to provide entryways, both on the viewership and the participatory side of the equation. So that’s a space that we are really interested in, and we want to be welcoming.
We think that esports organizations are doing a fabulous job, but occasionally it’s a little bit hardcore. Occasionally it’s a little bit of an intense experience for somebody who knows very little about the space. Beyond that, I think that we will put more and more of an effort in supporting esports organizations. We feel that they’ve already developed the entire industry, and it would be silly of us to either take over or grow a second branch of Blizzard whose job it is to organize events. We feel that everybody is just much better off if we play a good partner role, and support them in growing the space that they have built so far.
So now you have OnGameNet coming into the StarCraft II fold, and one of the reasons it was successful in the early 2000s is because they were on television. Blizzard has some experience with television I think, with BlizzCon being shown on DirecTV. So obviously television is a somewhat different sphere from gaming, what do you guys think about the value of having games or progaming on television?
PS: I think it’s a big piece of the puzzle and I think it’s what helped StarCraft. You know when you look at the original StarCraft, the first year in Korea, if you use this as kind of a case study. It did about 20% of the unit sales that it did the second year. What was the difference? Well, it was the tournaments, the esports, and ultimately starting to see it broadcast. And seeing it in a way that was very ubiquitous around the country. And so with StarCraft II, being able to make it available more broadly as a spectator sport and adding in the tremendous immersive aspect of the shoutcasters, some of which are just incredible, I think it plays a big role in the success of the game, being on TV. So we obviously wanted to make that happen, and we’re working hard to try to find ways to have it broadcast in other locales, and then also through streaming. All of the various pieces of the World Championship Series as well as the Battle.net World Championship, we intend to have them streamed around the world so people can watch them everywhere – so that in barcraft events, or otherwise, that those would be viewable by everybody.
So everybody's seen those MLG tweets about “do you want MLG on ESPN?” and all that hype, do you think that’s a feasible long-term goal?
PS: Yes. And we are certainly hoping to make that happen.
Let’s talk a little bit about old stuff. In the old days, the PCBang was instrumental in making StarCraft 1 a participatory esport. Now, Korea has kind of changed its environment – there are still PCBangs, but computers are cheaper and people have computers at home. How does that change the way you look at participatory esports in Korea?
PS: Well you know what? That’s interesting. Because every time we come, we go to the game rooms, and our team here is very focused on keeping their finger on the pulse of the game rooms and what part they play. And you’re right, the number of people playing at home is greater today than it was in the past. PCBangs were much more dominant. But I think for competitive game playing, and especially if you’re gonna play with your friends, there’s something that’s really special about sitting next to each other and being able to play and coordinate. So if you’re playing StarCraft II, or you’re playing an arena environment within World of Warcraft or what have you, being able to have your buddy sitting right next to you, hanging out, having a little bite to eat, and being able to coordinate your efforts and your actions, there’s something that – I think it’s a fun multiplier. It’s already a lot of fun to play these games, but whenever I can do it with my friends, that takes it to a different level. And so even if I’m not in a PCBang – let’s say I’m in Irvine, and I’m at work. If we’re playing together, we’ve opened up a conference bridge and we’re all on the phone together on our speaker phones, playing together to kind of simulate being next to each other in a game room. And so I still think that there’s a really big place for that, and I think it’s, like I said before, it’s a fun multiplier.
On that topic, can you say anything about Blizzard DotA?
PS: Yes. It’s gonna be frigging awesome. That’s what I can tell you. Obviously we don’t have a lot to share, and a lot to talk about right now. What I can tell you is, we’re spending a lot of time playtesting it internally, and before I left I had the opportunity to do that, and I can tell you it is really, really coming together. We’re excited about it, and I feel like it’s gonna be a real meaningful player in the space.
Are you at a point in development where you think about esports when making games? Or, is it just 'we want to make it the best we can then see if it becomes an esport?' Even if it’s not for dota, is esports something you think about when making games?
PS: We definitely keep it in mind. First and foremost, we want to make a great game, and a great player experience. Not everybody is going to be playing esports. At least, maybe not today. So we want to make a great game. But we have esports as part of our thought process, for sure. If we can do things in such a way to make it more esports friendly, more broadcast friendly, and we’re not making major compromises on the gameplay experience, then we certainly want to do it. Do we design a game from the getgo as being an esports game where we say “OK, we’re going to make an esports game. What kind of game do we… what franchise do we want to make an esports game in, and what features do we want to make that esport game?” Well, that doesn’t really happen. It’s really, game first and making sure that it fits and works, if that type of gameplay experience is appropriate for an esports environment.
IR: Me and my team are talking to the dev team (Blizzard DotA) on a quasi-daily basis on esports.
PS: Without question, that is definitely happening. And our hope is , that product will also fit nicely into our overall esports plans, and well into our World Championship Series and Battle.net World Championships. So that is absolutely an intention, we think that that product, that game, makes sense in that space also. So I would guess that you will see that happening in the future.
Speaking of StarCraft 2, how has your opinion and thoughts on how you design expansions and the single player experience changed with how esports has come along in North America and the World? Has it changed any? The three-part series, with the massive singleplayer experience has been planned for a long time obviously, so has the success of western esports changed that at all?
PS: you mean, how much energy and focus do we put on single player vs multiplayer?
Yeah, or even if it affects the release schedule.
PS: Well, we have a general framework of what we’re trying to achieve with each of those products from the get go. We kind of design the overall story, and what the arc was gonna look like from the get go. So I would guess that from the single player perspective, you’re gonna see happen much what we planned. I don’t think there’s major departures like we’re saying, “oh, esports is becoming big globally and so let’s not do as much on single player.” I don’t think you’ll see us take our foot off the gas in that regard. We want to make sure that each race within the StarCraft universe gets its fair due. This time around, it’s gonna be the zerg, and then with Legacy of the Void, it’ll be the protoss. And so you’re gonna see that focus and that polish, that Blizzard level of polish, on single player that you’ve always come to expect. As it relates to multiplayer, we’re gonna continue to try to evolve it. The experience, the broadcast friendliness of it, and so you will see I believe more and more features and things within the multiplayer side that will support the esports effort that Ilja and his team are leading.
That’s a good segue into a last, very obligatory question.
Is there any support coming soon, maybe not LAN per se, but anything that will help people pick up from disconnects at least, or something like that, along those lines, to help relieve some of the technical bumps in esports?
PS: I would say we are clearly aware of the challenges that are going on in that regard, and we are trying to find solutions that will alleviate or significantly reduce it. Whether we would do LAN or not, I don’t think that’s something that’s on the table, but we are trying to find other solutions that will address this as much as we can, because we do understand it’s a challenge.
IR: What I can add is, the issue has been brought up, and it has been heard super loud, super clear by the dev team. It’s in the top of their mind at all times.
PS: There’s a handful of people that bring it up far more frequently than anyone wants to hear it.
At IPL4, that scene was a bit amusing, I have to say.
GV: It wasn’t amusing for us, haha.
Interview: Won Jong Wook
Later, Team Liquid chased down Startale head coach and e-Sports federation chairman Won Jong Wook at the GSL studio, and asked him about his thoughts on the big announcement, foreigners, and of course, the GSTL finals decision.
There was a big announcement from Blizzard, KeSPA, GomTV, and OnGameNet on Starcraft II cooperation today. How does the team federation feel about this?
We think that it's good, it's a good thing it happened. It's because we've been running leagues around GomTV, the GSL and GSTL, but with OnGameNet coming in, the breadth of tournaments players can compete in has gotten wider. OnGameNet has said they want to hold an open individual league – though it's not 100% confirmed how it will work out in the end – but my understanding now is that we could compete in it, and in that case, the current Starcraft II team players will all participate.
For Proleague, we haven't started discussing it yet, so we'll have to begin that and try to achieve some kind of result. Personally, I think it was very meaningful, and it was a very good thing for the growth of esports and Starcraft II.
What do you think will happen when Proleague changes completely to Starcraft II? Do you think you'll be able to compete with the KeSPA teams? Do you want to compete in Proleague?
At a base level, we do want to participate in Proleague. But the way the system is, there's some imbalances between the two sides. We would have to balance those through talks and negotiations, and both sides would have to compromise for the greater good. If all that goes well, participation should be possible, but it's easier said than done. So on that topic, I can't really give you a clear answer, but I can say we would like to go forth together with Proleague.
There are some Starcraft II teams that don't have strong financial backing. Is there a chance of mergers or acquisitions with KeSPA teams?
Personally, I don't think there's any immediate possibility. In that realm, I think there's some basic ethics both sides need to keep. Whether the teams are sponsored or not – most teams are not sponsored – the existing Starcraft II teams have worked hard up to now bring the industry where it is, and they've developed some excellent players. I think those teams can keep accumulating results, become more appealing to larger companies – international or Korean – and can come to a position where they can acquire sponsorships.
We need time for that, while the existing Starcraft 1 teams need time to practice Starcraft II, and I think if there's a sufficient transition period for both parties, everyone could end up in a better place.
Starcraft 1 started off being very individual league centric and moved on to be focused around the Proleague. When you started doing Starcraft II, did you think that it would inevitably end up that way as well? Which system is ideal?
I don't think that there is such a thing as an ideal system. Systems will just adapt to specific market situations.
Present Starcraft 1 teams were founded with large corporations at the head, as mother companies that gives them a huge amount of support. So Proleague became longer, and certain team vs team matches became big draws.
For Starcraft II, we're creating a lot of stars from individual leagues, and GSTL is coming along pretty well as well. If we can combine those systems, and adjust it as necessary, it could be good situation.
But right now, we're happy with the current system.
There have been problems with foreign teams poaching skilled players from Korean Starcraft II teams. Are you worried that KeSPA teams might do the same?
Those things could happen, player transfers and such. I wouldn't call it poaching – we've all been in this industry for a long time, and I don't think anyone would really 'poach' a player. I do think that talk of transfers is possible, and ideally that kind of thing would happen after the Starcraft II team federation and KeSPA have talked, worked it out, and put in some regulations.
Do you think that in the beginning of the full Starcraft II proleague, the GomTV teams and KeSPA teams will stay separate for a while?
We've played this game for 2 years now, and we've all brought our skill up to a certain level. KeSPA teams have just started playing, and no matter how many ace-class players there are on those teams, they still need some minimum amount of time to practice and understand this game.
From our side, we should understand this transition period too, and find a way to compete together after enough time.
How do you think Starcraft 1 and Starcraft II differ so that players who didn't do quite well at Starcraft 1 were able to be champions in Starcraft II?
I think there's some differences in unit-counter relationships, the interface is different, and I think the game as a whole has a lot of new units, so the ability to understand games was very important. There are players who were 'right' for Starcraft 1 and adapted to it, and I think maybe some of the players who switched to Starcraft II have just found a game that fit them better. Just like in Starcraft 1, players can play for the same amount of time, and there will be good players and bad players. Even if Starcraft 1 gamers come over, depending on how well they understand and how much they practice, their ability to adapt can vary a lot.
How long do you think it will take for some Starcraft 1 pros to reach Code S finals level skill?
I think at fastest, 3 months, though that might be a stretch. 3 – 4 months? But safely, it would be 6 months or so.
The reason I project such a fast transition is because our players have played so many games, and there's so many VODs and strategies available for anyone to see – you don't even need separate replays. Also, playing on the ladder against existing Starcraft II players, they'll see their strategies and tactics. That kind of thing is very exposed, and they can catch up in those aspects in a matter of months, not years.
NaNiwa and Sase have been playing at the Startale house for a while – what's your opinion on the foreigner-Korea skill gap?
I think if foreigners play in the organized, systematic practice environment of Korean team houses, playing against skilled Korean players and having coaching staff to help them along, then there are a lot of foreign players with potential.
But so far, foreign teams don't have a strong concept of living together in a team house and practicing, so they make partnerships with Korean teams.
Looking at just NaNiwa and SaSe, I think there's plenty of possibility for foreign players to practice at a Korean team house, and become semi-finalists, championship level players.
The GSTL is still working in the all-kill format. What do you think of that format vs the Proleague format?
I think every viewer has their own opinion on that.
As someone who started as a coach for a Starcraft 1 team in 2003, I don't really think there's one format that's better than the other.
The current GSTL format is pretty fun, and it creates fun storylines like all-kills, multi-kills, and coaches can deploy players on appropriate maps or to cut off an opponent's win streak. I think that in that respect, the GSTL format can be a bit more exciting.
What did you think about the GSTL finals decision?
Personally, I do think that bad decisions are part of the game.
Of course, from our perspective, we would be dissatisfied, because we think our player had the advantage. But also, the opponent would obviously think it was a re-game situation. So everyone is bound to have their own opinion in that respect.
The problem was that the entire process wasn't as smooth as it could have been, the way the judges went around it, it was a bit unprofessional.
The way they handled the matter wasn't ideal – we didn't have the situation explained to us well enough, and what happened was that while we were still talking to the officials, the foreign announcers just announced a re-game out of nowhere.
Thanks. Anything you'd like to say as a closing remark?
The Korean Starcraft II teams and players have worked hard, and I think we've pulled eSports along well in some tough circumstances, and we've grown a lot in the process. Please keep supporting Korean players, and also support the teams and coaching staff behind those players! It's something that can be our strength, strength we can use to play even better games in the future.