Q&A with Kim Phan, Senior eSports Manager at Blizzard Entertainment
World Championship Series 2014 Q&A
With much speculation going around regarding the future of WCS, Blizzard offered to answer some important questions regarding the 2014 season. While many details for the 2014 season are still being decided upon, we hope this Q&A clears up some of the confusion and gives StarCraft 2 fans better understanding about Blizzard's overall plan and philosophy.
Kim Phan: Before we jump right into the questions, we’d like to take the time to thank the StarCraft II community for their passion and support of StarCraft II and eSports. We greatly appreciate the steady stream of feedback we’ve been receiving about WCS and we want the community to know that we’ve been listening. The planning of WCS 2014 has been an ongoing process, and we have been discussing a wide range of suggested ideas and proposals with partners, casters, players, and community figures. There has been great enthusiasm and involvement from everyone, not only here on the Team Liquid forums, but also on Reddit and directly with Blizzard. We’re close to finalizing our plans for WCS in 2014 and would like to take this opportunity to share our thoughts with the community while also addressing some of the questions and concerns out there. Our goal is to finalize plans for WCS 2014 before BlizzCon so that players, teams, and partners have time to prepare.
We welcome your feedback on the information we’re sharing here and would like to thank Team Liquid for gathering all of these questions for us! Here we go:
What are Blizzard's current plans regarding a residency or citizenship restriction for WCS regions in 2014 (region locking)?
As many of you are probably aware, this is one of the more challenging and controversial topics that we have yet to make a decision on.
Over time we have come to discover that there are a few key factors that positively influence viewership, which was one of the goals for WCS 2013. Though not a complete list by any means, some of the most influential factors are the following:
- Skill level of the players
- Uniqueness/personality of the players
- Players who are viewed as national leaders/representatives
- The rarity of the player matchup
We have found that allowing cross-regional participation for players not from a particular region has allowed for a compelling storm of the factors listed above. We think it’s been a really good thing to have players like Jaedong and Polt competing in WCS America, or MC and Jürgen (Mvp) competing in WCS Europe. This kind of cross-regional play has allowed fans of a given region to love and embrace players like these to a level they never had previously, making the scene interesting and exciting to watch. However, we also realize that these benefits have brought with them a great deal of baggage.
We are aware of the concern that allowing skilled players from other regions to easily swoop in and take Premier/Challenger spots can be a severe roadblock to the growth of up-and-coming talent within a local region. With that in mind, we are definitely considering various forms of residency restrictions, but the biggest obstacles include determining the specific requirements, logistics, and regulations that are fair but also don’t overly limit players. Some general ideas we have been considering include carving out a portion of player slots dedicated to legal residents that would guarantee players living in a particular region would always have a consistent chance to make it into Challenger League. Also, we are pushing for more of our broadcast content to happen in a physical studio environment, inevitably pushing players to commit to longer periods of time where they must reside locally. Other points of interest we feel relevant to this include encouraging pros to play on their prospective regional ladders and requiring that anyone who wants to qualify in a region be ranked at a certain level on that region’s server. We have even been considering rewarding WCS points to players on the ladder who have registered with us as official WCS players.
Ultimately, it’s awesome when players make the decision to commit to playing in a region and show more dedication and investment to that region, whether that be committing to a local residence, competing on the regional ladder, participating in local tournaments, or generally engaging with the fan base located there. We’ve seen this with foreign players who made the decision to move to Korea to compete in GSL and Proleague and vice versa with Korean players who have moved to Europe or America for WCS.
We’ve discussed this topic internally at length and hope to come to a balanced solution to meet the goals for WCS. Please do continue to share your thoughts with us on this one!
Has the past year made Blizzard reconsider WCS's position in the scene? Is the aim of WCS 2014 still to be the SC2 tournament above all other tournaments?
When we launched WCS 2013, our main goal was to create a global system that was capable of identifying the undisputed, best StarCraft II player on the planet, and we did this by creating a unified structure for major StarCraft II competition happening in the world. At the time it was clear that this unifying action was necessary for the scene to grow, and Blizzard was in the best position to help pull together all the various entities involved in fostering professional StarCraft II. The statement “the tournament above all other tournaments” carries with it a strong sense of ego. I can promise you that the attitude of being superior is not a part of what we’re interested in with WCS and we definitely don’t view it that way internally at Blizzard. We have no interest in outshining or overshadowing the various groups that have helped StarCraft grow over the many years, but we do want to help viewers and players understand how all those various pieces fit into a comprehensive competitive picture. We recognize that there are a lot of improvements that can be made to how the WCS tiered system integrates other tournaments into a central story line, and that is certainly a major part of what we’re considering for 2014.
What are the primary goals for the WCS system in 2014?
The goals for WCS 2014 haven’t changed from the goals we established in 2013, but we recognize we can do better and want to make changes to help us get there. These goals include:
- Increase global viewership and reach to make SCII more popular and help grow the SCII community
- Create a unified storyline for professional competition
- Identify the top SCII players in the world by establishing a clear global ranking system
- Simplify the system by making it easier for pros and viewers to participate and follow professional StarCraft wherever they are in the world.
The primary goal for WCS 2014 is to improve the current system by making it simpler and easier to follow. The following will still exist:
- There will be three leagues operating in each of the existing regions – America, Europe, and Korea
- There will be WCS points that contribute to a global ranking system
Here are some of the things we are looking to improve:
- Make the format more linear and simplified, causing a reexamination of how a particular season is played out
- Make the broadcast program easier to watch and follow by having a more predictable schedule
- Reexamine the WCS tiered system for tournaments outside the league.
Will Blizzard go on as planned with four Premier seasons in 2014, as laid out during the initial WCS 2013 announcement?
There will be three seasons instead of four in WCS 2014. We want to do this for the following reasons:
- Allow for more breathing room for players, league hosts, and spectators, also granting us more flexibility with our schedule
- Simplify the system and make it more linear
- Allow more room in the calendar for other tournament events to take part in the system
Is Blizzard considering extremely drastic changes to the WCS format for 2014? To be specific, a change on the magnitude of what happened between 2012 and 2013?
This is something we’ve considered and discussed at length internally and with our tournament partners. That said, we’re happy with the general direction of WCS and have decided that 2014 is not the year to make drastic changes but instead make improvements to what we currently have established.
Will there be any new regions added to WCS 2014?
We have considered supporting additional regions with WCS, but are not planning for it in 2014. We would like to find ways to support and incorporate these regions into the overall WCS system by increasing local opportunities and allowing them to be a part of the points system. We also hope to work with regional tournament organizers to operate more WCS tiered tournaments.
Will there be any changes in regional partners in 2014? Is Blizzard looking into working with more than one organization per region?
At this time, WCS America is operated by NASL, and WCS Europe is operated by ESL. In Korea, where we currently have two partners (OGN and GOMTV), we are talking with them to find ways where we can streamline the experience for players and viewers.
On a related note, what does Blizzard think of the role of non-WCS tournaments? Are there plans to further incorporate them into the WCS system? Are there plans to make it easier for other organizations to hold major events during the WCS season?
We think non-WCS tournaments are crucial to the StarCraft II ecosystem, and we do have plans to extend the WCS storyline to more tournaments. In order to do this, we plan to simplify the broadcast schedule for WCS to allow for other organizations to hold major events during the year.
Is Blizzard looking into expanding or contracting the online portions of the WCS Premier tournaments? (i.e. is the Ro32 going to be played live for every region?)
We’re looking into how we can make all of WCS Premier League take place in-studio, but with this come additional operational costs and greater logistical challenges in the regions where players are more spread out across multiple countries.
What does Blizzard think of team leagues and their place in the scene? Is there any way they might be incorporated into the WCS system?
We think team leagues are great and we’re supportive of them, but we do not have any plans to incorporate them directly into the WCS system in 2014. However, we do have ideas around how we can make WCS points more meaningful to teams and players by encouraging team spirit and support in WCS. One idea is to track a WCS team ranking based on the points earned by players on teams. From there, we could potentially do something fun—for example, inviting the top-ranked teams with the most WCS points to compete in an exhibition match at a major tournament event. We’ll be putting more thought around this moving forward and look forward to hearing the community’s ideas as well.
Will WCS 2014 try to help promote lower level tournaments and small LANs?
Yes, the Blizzard eSports team plans to help promote and support lower level tournaments, but this is independent from our plans for WCS 2014.
Will the prize pool for WCS 2014 be raised? Will the prize pool for WCS 2014 be more evenly distributed?
This is something we’re discussing, but we haven’t made any decisions because we’re still evaluating other ways or areas we can contribute to the ecosystem outside of the prize pool to better support more players.
What were the contents of the memo sent out that has many players believing Season 3 Challenger League is not giving seeds into the next Premier League?
The intention of the memo was to let the players know we’re planning to make changes to WCS in 2014. Unfortunately, we haven’t made a decision on the format changes yet, which affects how the current Season 3 Challenger League will feed into Season 1 of 2014. As it exists in 2013, the Challenger League bracket stage feeds into the following Premier League. This may or may not change with the possible adjustments in 2014. Why? Because we’ve considered making changes to how Premier League works. We are also considering changes to Challenger League. We still have more to determine, but here is what we know for sure:
- The top 8 players who are already in Premier League will continue to stay in Premier League in Season 1 of 2014.
- There will be a new Challenger League format for WCS 2014. We haven’t agreed on the Challenger League or qualifier format yet, which is why we haven’t shared additional details.
- Placement in the current Challenger League Group Stage will seed into the new Challenger League or qualifying process.
- When we sent the email to players, it was communicated that Challenger League would not directly feed into Premier League because we wanted to restructure Challenger League. There are currently two phases in Challenger League, the group stage and the bracket stage, and there is a possibility that placement in the current Challenger bracket stage could still seed directly into Premier League. This decision hasn’t been made yet because we have to finalize our plans regarding region-lock first.
What is Blizzard's plan for seeding Season 3 players across all leagues into the first season of WCS 2014?
We’re still finalizing the format changes for qualifying into Season 1 of WCS 2014. This is contingent upon the decisions we make around region-locking.
The seasonal grand slams received a lot of criticism for negating the storylines built up over the course of the season in each individual region. Will they be continuing in their current form?
We think the season finals are exciting to watch and have a different story from the regional finals, but we agree that it would be good to give more attention to each of the individual regions. We have decided that the season finals will not be continuing in their current form and we’re looking to change how they work in 2014. By taking away the season finals from each season, we hope to give more significance to each of the individual regional finals and global tiered events.
We think the international moments from season finals could potentially be substituted by creating more opportunities for other major tournaments participating in the WCS point system. We hope to provide a greater spotlight and give more importance to the major tournaments such as DreamHack, IEM, and Red Bull Battle Grounds.
The viewer and player base for a game are closely connected. Is Blizzard considering any changes to SC2's distribution method so WCS viewers can get into the game more easily, or create a wider potential audience for WCS?
We are always looking for ways to improve the spectating experience as well as grow both the audience and player base. While there will be opportunities to make improvements and changes to the game in the future, we aren’t announcing anything at this point.