Press Conference with Mike Morhaime
CEO of Blizzard Entertainment
"We think that at the highest level, it’s important for a game like SC2 to have a healthy pro-scene, so we do spend a lot of attention at the highest level of competition."
Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime took the time to hold a lengthy press conference with the media at the WCS Finals in Shanghai, talking about a very wide range of topics from the success of WCS, Blizzard's approach to different markets, thoughts on esports growth and Blizzard's competitors, Heart of the Swarm, and more! A video is available on Gamespot for those who wish to watch it in video format.
Transcription by Antoine and monk. Press conference was held during day two, before the tournament was completed.
monk, TeamLiquid.net: Why did you decide to hold the BWC in China? What do you think about WoW and SC2’s current conditions in China. And what are you future prospects in China?
Mike: Well, we’ve held events internationally before. We held WWI in Seoul, Korea, Paris, France. We’ve held multiple events. In the past few years, we’ve been focusing on Blizzcon. Since we weren’t doing a Blizzcon, we thought it would be a great opportunity to hold another esports focused event somewhere internationally.
We’ve never held an event like this, I don’t know that anyone ever has in China, but China is the home of our large Blizzard community of any place in the world, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to hold something like this here as a thank you to the Chinese players. As you know WoW is very strong in China. We just launched Mists of Panderia, which has been received very well here.
We think SC2 has a lot of potential here. Historically, WC3 has been more popular. Just kind of the way things happened. StarCraft, there wasn't really a PC gaming market when SC1 and BW came out, but when WC3 was released, it was when the gaming market started exploding. So I think there’s still a lot of untapped potential for SC2. And then the last part of that question I think was around the potential for the market, the gaming market here in China? China is still one of the fastest growing gaming markets in the world. There’s still opportunities for improvements for broadband connections throughout the country to give people more accessibility to play online games, although online gaming is huge here.
But as you go out of the tier one and tier two cities, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities to bring more people into gaming, especially premium gaming such as WoW and StarCraft. And so we look at this as an opportunity. I think that Europe and the US are a lot more mature markets, so they’re very important markets to us. Still, that’s where we’ll continue to spend a lot of time and focus, but in terms of future growth, it’s probably going to come from places like China and actually Latin America and Russia, we think.
Caredo Moreno, Levelup.com: While you support pro-gamers with impressive events, what are your plans for casual and mid-level gamers? And also do you have any other plans for Latin America events?
We think that all the different parts of the ecosystem are important. We think that at the highest level, it’s important for a game like SC2 to have a healthy pro-scene, so we do spend a lot of attention at the highest level of competition. It’s also a big focus of ours to make our games more accessible to new players and to casual players. So a lot of the features you’ll see in HotS are intended to do that.:Better training missions, training section of the game, unranked matchmaking, making it easier to find and meet up with their friends online. I think there’s a lot of good suggestions and comments about the social experience on battle.net and we’re really trying to work to improve that.
Let’s see, second part of the question… Right, so you know the things we've been trying to do this year through the world championship series I think are a start to give players around the world an opportunity to excel within their region, creating local heroes. We have some, actually, great stories going on at BWC this year. We’re in the process of looking at what our plans are for 2013; I don’t have anything to announce right now, but we do think there are opportunities to improve the whole structure around esports.
"...the things we've been trying to do this year through the world championship series I think are a start to give players around the world an opportunity to excel within their region, creating local heroes."Guillermo, from Argentina: When I was a kid, my father told me all the time, “Enough computer gaming, enough. Stop gaming on that computer.” Today with esports being pro, do you think I can get away with it?
I think so. Is it up to me? Absolutely. You know I think it is becoming more and more accepted for people to spend time playing online and interacting with online. I think it’s a fallacy for maybe people who maybe don’t understand what people are doing when they’re spending time gaming online. They think they’re being antisocial maybe, but in fact it’s the opposite. They’re actually spending time socializing, competing, and being a part of a larger community. Much more social than television.
Unknown: Alright, you mentioned broadband roll-out and break markets as one of the challenges you faced growing StarCraft and other Blizzard games. What are some of the other challenges that you've faced? In terms of growing your business and break markets.
I think that the big opportunity is these economies are developing. There are more people who can afford to spend money on entertainment. More and more people have access to gaming devices and good broadband connections. And these are the kinds of things that stand in the way of growth for us. And so I think a lot of these barriers will go away automatically without us having to do anything. So our job is just to make our games accessible to people to those people in those markets through good distribution, good online distribution, and convenient payment methods for people in those areas.
Frodan, Gamespot. I want to ask about your overall satisfaction with BWC and the WCS series. What are some things that you felt Blizzard got right, maybe some of the challenges you guys can improve on if it was made to come next year.
Ok, so you’re talking about the entire WCS this year? Well I think it’s been great watching a lot of players, especially outside of Korea that are having some very good performance. And actually, one of the pleasant surprises at BWC is how well the non-Koreans are doing in competition.
"... there are also some challenges just with all of these tournaments going on in terms of, as a spectator, not necessarily knowing what to watch or knowing what the significance of winning this event or that event. And having putting pro players in a position where they have to choose between two very important events. And those are some of the things we’d really like to be able to avoid in 2013..."You know, I think it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking to hold all these tournaments all over the world. We certainly ran into our share of technical issues. It turns out holding an event like this in China, broadcasting in multiple languages and streaming to players are round the world isn't as easy as you might think. And so, we've been working though certainly some challenges yesterday, but I think that’s been largely resolved and the overall quality of our streams and some of the glitches that occurred yesterday are behind us and we’re going to have a smooth rest of the day.
That said, there are also some challenges just with all of these tournaments going on in terms of, as a spectator, not necessarily knowing what to watch or knowing what the significance of winning this event or that event. And having putting pro players in a position where they have to choose between two very important events. And those are some of the things we’d really like to be able to avoid in 2013, better coordination and corporation amongst partners.
Rodrigo from UOL: What’s the next thing we can expect from Blizzard and esports. What’s the direction we can see for esports and Blizzard
Well, we’d like to continue growing esports and reaching more people, improving the overall quality of experience throughout the year, being able to tell a better story so that you can understand what the progression is, what the significance is of winning various events. We are, next year, planning to have our global finals at Blizzcon and so that’s something that everybody can expect in terms of the path to getting to Blizzcon. That’s not something we’re prepared to announce today, but it is something we’re working on with all of our various partners around the world.
Sebastian, Spanish speaking caster from Chile: Since I travel with Blizzard for all the WCS events, what do you think of including Spanish and Portuguese streams in future events?
You know, I think that those types of questions will really be answered by the amount of demand in the various markets. We found that by offering English, you end up hitting a really broad, really the majority of people that are watching. But if there is demand in various regions, then I think that’s something we’ll have to solve for the local communities.
Manuel Sepulveda, Spanish speaking caster from Chile: As a player or fan from Chile, we just have two big events: WCS and WCG. For us, this is very important, so first, thank you for having this kind of event, a little event in our country. And we are expecting more. Can we expect more in these countries from Blizzard for esports? For example, WoW and StarCraft.
In general, we view this as the beginning and so we would like to see it grow and in what form that takes is something we’ll have to figure out after we finish our finals and go back home and do our own postmortem and talk about what we can do better. But right now, our focus is on putting on a great event here. We’ll talk to all our partners and we’ll talk about what we can do better next year. But I do think 2013 is going to be a very important year for esports, for us, with HotS coming out. I think the WoW tournament is actually surprising us in terms of the amount of interest around that. So we can talk about what we can do with that next year too.
Andre Depalomino: SC2mx, caster from Mexico: Where do you see SC2 right now? We know that when HotS comes out, it’s going to be kind of a boom again in the scene. But do you think it’s going to have the attention that it deserves, because right now the scene is kind of, might be in a downfall.
Well, we’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from the community around HotS. We think it’s a great expansion. You know it has so many things. The campaign is incredible. I think it’s our best campaign ever. The cinematics team outdid themselves. I can’t wait to share the work that they’re doing. And then on the multiplayer side, I think that we have a great development that’s working on the polish and balance of multiplayer, which obviously is critical. And I think some of the additional features we’re adding will help make the game more enjoyable for casual players and just more fun, more accessible and more fun. We’re looking forward to a successful expansion launch, and I think that it will build on the foundation that WoL has set, which is a good foundation.
Unknown: Right now it looks that to be a progamer, it’s viable as a career. If you had a son or somebody related to you, would you support that? Would you support him to be a progamer?
Sure, I think it’s important to do what you enjoy doing, first and foremost. So if my son wanted to do that if he loved doing it and really wanted to put his focus and attention into it. It’s really not an easy thing to do. It takes an incredible amount of discipline and focused attention to really be successful as a progamer, but sure, of course I would support that. I think that balance is important and education is important. You know, I would also encourage everybody to get an education and become well-rounded, but at the end of the day, I think you need to do what you enjoy doing. Life is short, do what you enjoy doing, and good luck.
James Colony, GamePlanet: The event here is being streamed free. Most SC leagues are PPV. Is free streaming you guys are really pushing for next year?
I think it’s important to offer a free option, a decent quality free option. I think it’s important to grow the size of the audience and really lower the barrier for people who are interested and curious. That’s something we’d like to see in the future. That’s what a lot of the broadcasters are doing already. In terms of the quality of stream, we’re providing a 720p stream for free. Maybe I could see a situation where maybe the highest quality streams are something that have payment gates in front of them. But I do think that there’s some level of quality that should be offered to everyone.
Leon, Coisa De Nerds, Brazil: I would like to refer back to a point to you just mentioned before, which is the amount of content that is being produced nowadays related to SC and the amount of tournaments we have. From the spectator point of view, I think that today there’s too many things being done and in some way, this kind of diminishes the value of the content that is being produced. The tournament are now losing importance because you have so many of them. Is Blizzard thinking of addressing this issue especially in terms of licensing from now on.
I’m not so sure it’s the amount of content that’s being produced. I think it’s the lack of story around the content. If you look at other popular sports, maybe baseball, which is something that is popular in the United States: there’s a huge amount of Baseball content, but there is a story around what’s happening, there’s a context for everything, and I think that’s important, because all games aren't equal.
I think that’s where we need to work with our partners and focus on, “how do we establish an ecosystem and a structure around all of this content so that players understand which are the most important tournaments, what does it do in terms of the overall relatively ranking between players, how do I know who’s the best, how do I know this is a tournament that maybe means more than the other.
Of course the tournaments know it really matters which players you have in attendance, various ones. If you have all the top players out of the tournament, it of course means a lot more than if you don’t. This is a question we’ll try to answer for 2013.
"I love watching Flash. Some of the GOMTV Korean Terrans I really enjoy, MVP, MMA a little while back when he was doing well. I like watching Scarlett. I’m going to be rooting for…well actually, I don’t need to say who I’m going to be rooting for, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how Idra does in this tournament. You know, it’s great to see him doing well."monk, TeamLiquid.net: I’d like more about you as fan. What rank are you right now and what race do you think?
I’m Terran, I’m Bronze. I’m trying very hard to get into silver. I play a lot. I’m going to get into silver, so next you ask me, don’t worry, I’ll be silver. Maybe even…well…or I’ll be gold. I love it, I love watching the pros play, I love reading about it. You know, I enjoyed SC1 a lot also. Actually, all of our games, but SC2 is the first RTS that I’ve been able to have a lot of fun playing online through AMM, because the matchmaking matches me against people that I have decent chance of winning against all the time. And that’s made a huge difference for me as a player in terms of having a good time playing. I know there’s a lot of things…I’m not saying I’m a great player, but I have a lot of fun playing and I really enjoy watching.
monk, TeamLiquid.net: Also, who are your favorite players, professional players, and why do you like them? Who do you like in this tournament? Who do you think will win and who do you want to win?
I love watching Flash. Some of the GOMTV Korean Terrans I really enjoy, MVP, MMA a little while back when he was doing well. I like watching Scarlett. I’m going to be rooting for…well actually, I don’t need to say who I’m going to be rooting for, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how Idra does in this tournament. You know, it’s great to see him doing well.
Pedro, caster from Brazil: There has been a lot of discussion on SC as a business... ...It has been suggested that SC might have some kind of premium portraits or units that might be able to be purchased. Do you there’s a direction you might consider seriously going? It’s going to be a change, because it’s probably going to be something that changes a lot. How do you feel about the progression, and are you going to strive to get more of that kind of content? How do you feel in general about this; are you concerned about a change to the philosophy or the way people perceive the game?
Well our focus right now is really on the content in Heart of the Swarm, not around what other things we can add necessarily in terms of micro-transactions or business. I think that it's much more important that we focus on making a great expansion and I think the current model is a viable model.
Sebastian Villaseca Aguirre, SC2LA - Chile: I want to know, you already talked about creating stories about players, creating role models maybe. I know that one of the objectives of World Championship Series was to create content about a personal life, about some player. Do you think that that mission was accomplished with this year?
Yeah, I think that it was largely accomplished. I think we were able to create some local heroes, the Home to Hero program where we had casters from around the world interviewing local winners of the WCS actually produced some really great interviews, so hopefully some of you have had the chance to see some of that.
It's been really great to learn about these guys, and how they were able to get good enough to win the WCS and what they think about BWC, so I think that was really interesting. I think that this is sort of where there's opportunity for some very interesting stories. Already we've had some pretty surprising upsets, with Stephano being knocked out by Idra, or at least losing to Idra and now being knocked out of the tournament. That is not something anybody predicted. Nobody knows how this is going to end, and that makes it really exciting.
Paulina, GameMaster Magazine: There has been a lot of discussion about how American gamers has different tastes from Asian gamers, but Blizzard seems to appeal to all audiences. What do you think Blizzard is doing right, and do you think all gamers should be treated the same?
So my philosophy on that is, obviously all gamers aren't equal, but even within the United States you have different styles of play that people prefer. And I think that the differences aren't so much that players in a particular region are so much different than players in this region, but I do think that maybe the percentages across the different styles maybe varies.
We try to make our games accessible to everyone and we try to take into account the various preferences and styles that people have. I think if we do a good job of that, then that allows it to appeal to players all over the world because then it doesn't matter what the percentages are. Maybe for instance the players in Korea prefer PvP, and players in the United States prefer PvE, and obviously there's PvP players in the United States and PvE players in Korea, but if we have something for these different styles and preferences that allows the game to appeal everywhere.
And then it just becomes the challenge then is accessibility, and recognizing that in some countries, like in Asia, out here a lot of people are playing in internet game rooms, where they don't own the PC they're playing at, they're sharing it with many other people, and your game has to behave well in that environment. And the way that people pay, maybe in some countries credit cards are very popular, and in other countries you have other payment methods that are also popular. We need to make it convenient for people to pay and access the game in ways that they're used to.
Frodan, Gamespot: I think one of the big themes surrounding the BWC was, this is Blizzard's time to shine for this year. A lot of other companies, like Riot had the Season 2 Championships, Valve had the international, how happy are you guys with BWC in that regard and what does Blizzard plan to do to beat out the other companies. Everyone's comparing these three games, and trying to say who's the best. Do you guys feel the pressure? Because a lot of the other companies are controlling it, like they're injecting money non-stop; how is Blizzard going to respond to this?
"SC2 is a very different type of game than the other games you mentioned. It's a very different experience, I think it's very unique, I think it has a lot of things that the other games don't offer, I think that in terms of watchability and strategic depth, I think it's just a very unique game."Well, the way we respond to everything, really. We're always competing with other companies and other games and everything. The way we've always reacted to that is, we like to learn from what everybody else is doing right. But at the end of the day, we're not focused on what they're doing, we're focused on what we're doing. We're trying to make our games as good as our games can be, and we're trying to provide a great experience for our players. We listen to feedback from our players, and we are always trying to improve.
But I think our games, SC2 is a very different type of game than the other games you mentioned. It's a very different experience, I think it's very unique, I think it has a lot of things that the other games don't offer, I think that in terms of watchability and strategic depth, I think it's just a very unique game. So, we don't really think of it in terms of "Hey, how are we going to respond to everything that these other companies are doing?" We really look at our game, and focus on that, and work with our partners to create a great experience.
In everything that we do, we're looking at how we can do better next time. In terms of the investment that we're making, we're also making significant investment. We're maybe doing it in a different way. We spent an awful lot of money in terms of travel, and hotels, in terms of making it easy for all of these pros and the people involved in putting on these tournaments are able to get to the places they need to be. And so maybe it's not as flashy as putting all the money into just prize pools, but it's still significantly expensive and from what we're told, that's actually more helpful for the ecosystem than just the flashy prizes.
James, Gameplanet: What do you think it would take to get SC2 broadcast on TV in the west?
Ha. You know, I'm not so sure that we're far away from being able to do that. I think it really comes down to the viewership, the eyeballs, being able to tell a story, and being able to, with some amount of certainty, to be able to say "Hey, if we do these things, how many people are interested in watching?" This event right here is being televised in China and Korea. Obviously over the Internet all over the world. That alone is actually a huge feat when you consider we're in China, and we're broadcasting a live event globally. That does not happen, really, ever, except for maybe the Olympics.
Gunta, GuntaTV - Brazil: You already told us that one of the goals for Blizzard is to develop new markets, new places where it's not already totally saturated. Speaking about Latin America, and Brazil, are you happy with the movements that you've already made? Do you have some new plans? What do you guys have in mind - you guys translated the games to Portuguese, so speak something about this.
I think that in terms of the quality of the games and the localization into Portuguese, I think we're doing quite well, and we've been getting very positive feedback from our players in Brazil. I think in terms of what I mentioned before, one of our jobs is to make it convenient and accessible for people to pay for the games, and acquire the games, and I don't think we're doing a very good job of that right now at all, and it's something we talk about how we can be doing better. But we know that we need to improve in terms of convenience, in terms of acquiring our games.
Sebation, Chile: Do you think right now, in this moment, esports is growing because of players, public figures, and casters, or are the players, public figures, and casters growing because of esports.
Mike: So the chicken and the egg question. I think all of those things are important. I think it's important to have recognizable figures, I think it's important to have stars to root for. I think that's important in any sport. If you follow a sport, you need to have your home team, or your favorite athlete. So I think that's important. I think the casters are very important, in terms of helping the viewers understand the context of what they're watching - that's also important in any sport. I think that actually the casters have done a great job, in not only casting the live events, but also adding additional content in terms of strategic tutorials, and things like that to help players improve. And so I think all of those things contribute to grow the ecosystem, but I don't think it's necessarily that - I think they feed on each other.
Rodrigo from UOL: Do you believe StarCraft can be the eSport that is learned and taught in US colleges and universities, and all over the world? If so, which college would you choose to do a better training in StarCraft?
Well that's a good question. I think that would be great. I think that there's a lot of opportunity for growth and more mainstream acceptance of StarCraft as a sport, or esports in general as kind of a mainstream legitimate sport. I think that things are actually heading in a great direction over the past few years. In terms of college in general, there are amateur college tournaments that are being run, and I think that there's opportunity for these to become more highlighted and followed by the college community. I think it probably has to start there, in terms of growing popularity at the colleges, spilling over into more mainstream acceptance. It's a grassroots thing, and I think that is where it has to start.
You know I got an interesting question in one of the previous sessions. I was talking with Chinese press, and they sort of asked me a similar question. I think another area that actually is the next level, the next step in terms of mainstream acceptance is, media needs to help us. Like, mainstream media really needs to start acknowledging these types of events as significant sporting events, and reporting on them on the level that they would report on other sporting events. Even like tennis, and golf, and things like that, you see reports on TV about what's happening at those things, even though everybody doesn't follow tennis and golf.
You hear about it, and it legitimizes the sport, and I think that when we start to see more of that, where the sports page starts to report on who's winning these major events and doing profiles about the top pro players, not just in gaming press, not just in gaming circles, but actually starting to do that in mainstream circles, I think that that will also help legitimize esports.
James, Gameplanet: How is Blizzard All-Stars progressing, and can we expect it to get the same kind of support that we see for StarCraft?
It is progressing well. We're doing a lot of experimentation with it right now and that's sort of why we've kind of gone dark a little bit in terms of information. We're testing out some things, and we're not ready to talk about what they are. Right now the focus, our next big launch is going to be Heart of the Swarm, and that's really where our attention is. After Heart of the Swarm releases, we'll probably start turning more attention to preparing Allstars for beta.
monk, TeamLiquid: As a community site, we're always wondering how much attention Blizzard pays to us, the community. So I want to ask you, on a daily basis, how much do you personally visit sites such as TeamLiquid and reddit, or do you mostly stick to the Battle.net forums?
No, definitely, I view TeamLiquid and reddit all the time. And actually, I just want to say, you guys are doing a great job. The preview that you guys did for BWC was fantastic, and we really appreciate the stuff you guys are doing. Thank you.
monk, TeamLiquid: And also, how much weight do you put on things that are said on these websites vs the battle.net forums?
I don't think we weigh them any more or less than what we see on our own forums, although I think sometimes the discussion is frankly better on some of these other sites. But we try to keep up on what the community is saying, and what they are suggesting, and we try to take those suggestions for what they are. And some things we agree with, some things we don't agree with, obviously some things we have more information than the people who are making the suggestions. We definitely look at that stuff, and we definitely appreciate the feedback. Even when it's critical, we know that people are making those suggestions because they really care.
Rodrigo, SC2mx: How does Blizzard feel against other games or companies, like League of Legends for example? Do you guys think that these games are taking the public figures, or the player base from Blizzard games? Do you feel threatened as a company?
We don't feel threatened by other games, especially other good games. Like we said, I think we welcome competition. I think it will encourage us to make our games even better. I think it's great when other companies can produce popular games, so good for them.
"StarCraft 2 isn't just a game, it's also an esport... ...So when we made the decision that SC2: Heart of the Swarm wasn't going to be released in 2012, we thought it was important to let people know, and to let them know when they can expect it."Leon, Brazil: You guys already have a release date for Heart of the Swarm. But from a player's point of view, it seems that there are a lot of things missing from the multiplayer beta of the game that we have access to, especially regarding the Terran race. It seems that you haven't found yet what you want to do with it. How do you guys manage that? Do you have a date, but that is something you cannot put a date on. You don't know when you're going to get this right; how do you manage that?
Well, we do have a general sense for how long these types of things take. Our release date isn't til March, and we feel like we've given ourselves plenty of extra time. One of the questions that I've been getting at this show, is "Hey, how come you announced a release date so far in advance? Blizzard generally doesn't do that." I think the answer to that is, SC2 isn't just a game, it's also an esport. And the timing of our launch actually impacts a lot of people in this ecosystem.
So when we made the decision that SC2: Heart of the Swarm wasn't going to be released in 2012, we thought it was important to let people know, and to let them know when they can expect it. We also, of course, need to give ourselves plenty of time to lock in these features, and everything, but i don't think that the multiplayer features are going to end up being our critical path anyway. So, I think we have plenty of time. It's too bad Dustin isn't here, hopefully you have a chance to hear from him on the thinking that he has around changes to Terran. I know that he has various ideas that aren't locked in, but that he's going to want to be experimenting with during beta. But again, I think we have plenty of time. We're not worried.
Rodrigo, UOL: Do you think that we soon will be seeing Diablo 3 on esports scenario, and how will you get the competitive people out together to an event like this?
We don't have plans to make Diablo 3 an esport. Diablo 3 was never really designed to be an esport, and not every game necessarily needs to be an esport. SC2, on the other hand, was designed from the beginning with esports in mind. Actually, WoW wasn't, but I think there are elements from WoW that we felt worked well in terms of esports environment, and actually we're getting a great response from the Chinese community at this event. I think that there are different ways, there are certainly competitive things that we'll be able to do with Diablo, and I think that at future Blizzcons we might set up different ways for people to compete at the game, but that's very different from creating a professional tournament structure around something like that. In order to do that, you really need to get everything right and you have to have the depth of strategy, you have to look at making sure that the strategies that are successful are balanced, and fun, and entertaining to watch, and all those things. So we're not so sure that that's where we should be focusing for Diablo. There are a lot of other elements of Diablo that are a lot more important.