by All of us
The original thread, September 22, 2010
The book announcement, October 29, 2010.
Purchase the book, January 3, 2011
+ Show Spoiler +
The StarCraft Bible is live.
$16.99 for the 225pg paperback. It is on Amazon!
$9.99, Kindle e-Book (or Amazon.uk here). If you do not own a Kindle, you can still use the service for free. If you purchase the book here, I encourage you to leave an honest review.
A DRM-free PDF is available (scroll down here). Your eReader, computer or the device of your choosing should be able to read it. If you order it, supply me with your email address during the purchase process. The book will be delivered to your email inbox as soon as possible.
Coming soon: Barnes and Noble Nook eBook (should be available within 24-48 hours from now), Apple iBook (No ETA available), Sony eReader (No ETA available), Paperback in 'normal' Amazon store (as soon as Amazon chooses to, likely early this week).
If you'd like to contact me, don't hesitate to do so (TL's PM system is fine, too).
Thank you, thank you, thank you for everyone who liked what I wrote and encouraged me to make it into a book. It's really amazing to see the community work together like this. I hope you love it.
+ Show Spoiler [Announcement] +
Finally, here we are. The StarCraft Bible (225 pgs) will be available as a paperback and an e-book on January 3rd.
The Bible began as an idea six months ago as a posting on a message board. After a twisting journey propelled by the StarCraft community's encouragement, a journey which included stints above and below my consciousness, the Bible has become a book. Finally.
I didn't know what to expect when I began the project. There was excitement and hope from hundreds of people but the actual finished product was just a vague idea in my mind. Now it has materialized in the form of a 225 page book complete with pretty pictures and the sort of writing that won readers over in the beginning.
The final copy of the book is resting in my lap and yet this does not feel finished. It feels more like a first step toward something bigger and better. It was a step taken quickly, excitedly and without much knowledge about what lay ahead. I guess we'll find out if it's anything worth talking about.
I spoke with a number of incredible people including very recent conversations with two of the most well-loved figures in StarCraft. Grrrr...., someone I watched and revered as a kid, talked with me about his struggles and triumphs in South Korea. He was out until 4am the night before he won his Starleague. DjWheat, an e-sports apostle, told stories that will fill you with envy and hope. In Seoul, he had to duck out the back of a restaurant after lunch with Lim Yo Hwan to avoid a rowdy mob of Boxer fans.
Everyone involved put a lot of work into this. The submissions and interviews were top notch and well thought out. I spent more hours than I can count on this book and I know that I am not the only one. It's not perfect but it's a first attempt at raising the bar in e-sports, at creating something that may begin to be justifiably called e-sports journalism if we continue to work hard.
This was published with my money, with the hard work of every contributor and on the high shoulders of the greatest e-sport ever: StarCraft. This is not backed by any major publisher or even website and will not be raking in millions with the next Twilight. But that was never the point.
Allow me to quote an inspiration of mine:
This isn’t some vanity-press sour-grapes effort. The simple truth is that we probably can’t compete on the shelves at Barnes & Noble alongside every other book in the world. The agents and the publishers are right; it might not work for a mass market. That’s okay. We don’t need to sell it to everyone. We don’t need to sell 100,000 copies; we don’t have the rent on a New York office to pay for.
We only need to sell it to you.
We only need to sell it to you.
The goal is to spread the gospel, truths about e-sports. The goal is to create something worth reading, to win new converts, to be passionate about what we love. The goal is to look into the past and to build for the future.
To quote my inspirations once more:
Did you know that on any given day, an Amazon.com bestseller only sells a few hundred copies? Sure, they sell a few hundred copies a day for weeks and months on end, but what we’ve learned is that it only takes a few hundred sales on a single day to become an Amazon.com bestseller.
Becoming a success, being noticed, capturing the attention of a big audience is within our reach. It takes hard work, a quality product and a passionate audience. If we have nothing else, we have that.
Instructions on purchasing the book will be listed here, on Team Liquid, on the book's blog and everywhere I can be found (eg Twitter and other forums). It will be for sale on Amazon as a paper back and from the Kindle and the Nook as an e-book.
Tell people about it. Post links on Facebook, discuss it in forums, talk to everyone you know with an interest in e-sports or RTS games. Tweet it. Call me a nerd as you stay up past midnight to read it. Show your kid the pretty pictures. Capture people's attention.
When you've read it, review it. Do so on Amazon, on Facebook, on forums and at the dinner table. Tell me how you feel about it, tell everyone. Most of all, be honest and be loud if you think the book calls for it.
I don't have a marketing budget and I have no backing but what I have in my own pocket. This project will succeed or fail on word of mouth.
The weapons in our arsenal are passion and excitement. I'm feeling ambitious. Let's see how far they can take us.
Thank you to:+ Show Spoiler +
Team Liquid for being the backbone of StarCraft for much of the world.
The TL writers for raising the bar of e-sports writing.
ilnp aka dudey of old-school fame, an awesome help.
Pillars, an ex-professional who shed light on the old days.
Artosis, one of the best commentators around and always willing to drop knowledge on my head.
Sean Plott for being a phenomenal ambassador.
Marcus "djWheat" Graham for being the sharpest Swiss Army Knife of e-sports.
JP McDaniel for being excellent.
Ret for being unyieldingly impressive and a good psych patient as well.
Guillaume "Grrrr..." Patry, the one and only, for being frankly honest.
Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier for being excited about this and teaching me what geek chills were.
tec27 because he's consistently awesome. Hi tec.
IdrA for being a super-villain.
~NoHunters for being abrasive assholes and just my sort of people for more than a decade.
WaxAngel, the old torch bearer.
blid, the torch carrier for the Warcraft 2 community, always willing to illuminate the old game.
The surviving Warcraft 2 community for being so willing to talk about your game.
Liquipedia for beginning what will likely be years of difficult but excellent work. A completely underappreciated tool.
TLPD for giving me all the statistics in the entire universe.
Spencer Wightman, Xxio, for doing what he does best.
Nathan Smolin for taking the road less traveled by, making all the difference in his piece.
Arrian for thinking big picture and writing even bigger.
Xxio for being a great talent and unsung hero and helping continue a great tradition.
Cedstick for giving us beautiful pictures, a window into the e-sport world.
Stefan “MorroW” Andersson, the Swedish Terran with an eye on Seoul.
KDraconis, the StarCraft: Legacy writer with unique insight into Korea.
Captain Peabody, the TL poster and fiction writer.
Alex “Aeres” Dellinger, the TL poster and pro-gamer biographer.
Leandro Gobbo, who has kindly offered to help in translation duties for this mammoth project.
Wayne “d22-soso” Chiang, the old school gamer with great insight into the beginnings of the scene.
Jay “gadianton” Severson, soso’s right hand man and another great source of insight into StarCraft antiquity.
prodiG, the ICCup map-maker.
emythrel, a man with talent for teaching.
Dakine, a wealth of WarCraft 2 information.
Josh "AskJosh" Suth, the quiet YouTube dreamer.
"Fenix" Jian Carlo Morayra Alejo, the workman Terran out of Peru.
I forgot people, I'm sure. It's been a long process and I am sincerely sorry to those momentarily forgotten. Let me know who I forgot, I'll be glad to give you the thanks you deserve.
If you contributed to and are featured in the book, you deserve a free copy. Contact me and I will get it to you ASAP.
Latest update: 9/22/2010 The Book of StarCraft
Introduction: For the past while, I've been working on a history project. I've been doing my best to trace the idea of StarCraft from inception to reality, from the deep roots to blossoming to clashes for championships. I considered how best to release this project into the wild and it's become obvious that good old fashioned thread is its best chance. I'll leave it to hope that word of mouth and the power of links gets this around to anyone who might enjoy it.
I'm inviting feedback and critiques. I'll be updating with corrections and improvements as is required. Have fun.
Table of Contents.
The Book of Genesis: The Bible of StarCraft
- Preface: The Gravity of The Situation
- The Book of Blizzard
- The Book of Real Time Strategy
- The Book of WarCraft
- The Book of StarCraft
- The Book of Sequels
- The Book of the Future
Preface: The Gravity of The Situation
StarCraft is a game of awe. When you watch players perform superhuman tasks of speed and creativity, your jaw drops. Your blood flows a little faster when you witness a key-stroke of genius. Who knew that explosions of pixels could inspire?
There is beauty in this game, like the beauty in all high-level competition. Whenever two competitors dedicate their entire selves to winning, a corner of the universe grinds to a stop and focuses on the contest, hoping to catch a flair of brilliance.
When you watched Muhammed Ali, he seemed to float. Michael Jordan flew. In StarCraft, Lim Yo Hwan constantly created something out of nothing, inserting a little religion into each match.
In StarCraft, the brilliance has burned bright for ten years.
First came the spoken word. From there, art came from humanity into the world like water from a fountain. The forms are infinite: film, literature, music and on and on. As our development and lifestyle has sped up in modern times, so too has our conception of art forms. The newest kid on the block is a giant, already shaping mightily the culture from which it came: Video games.
The video game industry itself is a titan, one whose reach scales the entire globe and whose net-worth is skyrocketing from tens of billions into hundreds of billions before our eyes.
The birth-pangs of the giant industry are past. A major crash hit in the mid 1980's and threatened to wipe out the entire medium. The 90's saw the industry recover in a big way. Now, our culture has shifted, paradigms have irrevocably changed - major video game releases are noteworthy cultural events rivaling a Hollywood blockbuster.
Today, the video game industry is a maturing though still volatile entity whose rate of expansion feels as though it may rival that of the entire universe.
Inside the titan-industry, somewhere near the heart and the guts, stands Activision Blizzard. The company, the result of a 2007-2008 merger, is worth a monstrous $10 billion itself. In its possession are some of the most recognizable game franchises this side of Mario: Guitar Hero and Call of Duty rank high amongst the pride of Activision. Even alone, the Activision house is one of the most storied and successful in all of gaming and in all of entertainment.
But you’ll have to forgive me for shrugging my shoulders at the Activision side of it. When it comes to storied publishing houses, Activision’s other half, Blizzard, is second to none. When it comes to consistently inspiring devotion and passion, the list is short and Blizzard looms large. Habitually, Blizzard’s games don't just sell well, they become phenomena, inspiring lives as much as industries that may have seemed laughable just a short time ago.
Blizzard’s universe is not merely populated by a few pixelated villains and heroes. It is filled to the brim with millions upon millions of flesh and blood people, fans who loudly spread the gospel, asking gamers enamored of rival franchises, “Have you heard the good news? StarCraft just sold out another arena. The Warcraft universe just hit 10 million players. Diablo is about to hit 20 millions sales.”
Among those beloved franchises, StarCraft is unique. It is not the oldest of Blizzard’s legendary trio of bread-winners, that distinction is Warcraft’s. StarCraft and its expansion, Brood War, have sold almost 10 million copies worldwide. The Diablo series has sold nearly twice that number and the Warcraft series has ascended to even greater heights.
But it is StarCraft alone which has flourished as a competitive game, uninterrupted for over a decade, unwilling to simply die off. It is StarCraft which fills arenas, launches celebrities and serves as a major catalyst for the entire idea of professional gaming. It is StarCraft off which players make more than a living, they make a life. This is the game which has been called the national sport of South Korea (an exaggeration, but it tells you something about the intensity of esport) and it is this sci-fi wonder which may finally lift pro gaming in the Western world into the brightest spotlight yet.
That is the phenomenon which I will examine here from the ground up: the people, the ideas, the passion and the gravity which have given life to the StarCraft franchise, the singularly successful and impossibly stubborn universe which Blizzard created over a decade ago.
The Book of Blizzard
"Video games are bad for you? That's what they said about rock and roll."
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Nineteen ninety-one was the year in which the Soviet Union finally dissolved. The United States entered the first installment of what would later turn out to be a national past-time: war in the Middle East. A recession stemming from a then-unparalleled stock market crash gripped the American and global economy. Nonetheless, flags were waved, anthems were sung and, for a moment there, the world did not seem to hang on the precipice of mutually assured destruction.
It was under these circumstances in February 1991 that a group of recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) graduates founded Silicon & Synapse, a video game development company. Michael Morhaime, Frank Pearce and Allen Adham (now respectively President, Vice President and Lead Designer on various projects) were the originators of the studio which would eventually become Blizzard.
As you may imagine, this studio was not the behemoth we know today. In the beginning, Silicon & Synapse was, in large part, funded off of the personal credit cards of the founders and, IGN reported, "the team struggled to rush out a game before the money ran out."
That first game was the impeccably named Radical Psycho Machine Racing - RPM Racing.
RPM Racing was a plodding, "high resolution" racer in which the player competed for money to buy better cars, better parts and entry to better races. A remake of the 1985 Racing Destruction Set for the Commodore 64, Blizzard asserts that RPM Racing was the first American-developed game for the Super Nintendo. Less than four months after the founding of Silicon & Synapse, the game was deemed ready.
Today, Blizzard Entertainment is infamous for its tedious development of games and painfully high expectation of quality. StarCraft 2 was announced three years before its release, the total development has taken over half a decade (Dustin Browder, the senior designer on SC2, joined the company March 9, 2005 according to MobyGames).
RPM Racing, on the other hand, took a few months. The result is game which makes me want to take out my Super Mario Kart cartridge from 1992 for a far superior experience. Consider this game the next time a wave of complaints about Blizzard's tortoise-like pace hits.
What immediately followed were a series of equally forgettable ports quickly churned out by Silicon & Synapse in order to climb out of the red:
Battle Chess, a game of human chess complete with dance fights and magic, and its utterly bizarre sequel appeared in 1992 on Windows, Commodore 64 and Amiga. The surprisingly cool but terrifically unoriginal Lord of the Rings RPG was ported to Amiga by the small company. Amiga Castles, Amiga MicroLeague Baseball, Macintosh Lexi-Cross and Macintosh Dvorak on Typing were all ports completed by the fledgling operation in 1992 and mostly forgotten soon thereafter.
By late 1992, the company had attained a level of stability that allowed it to release its first original and, not coincidentally, awesome game: The Lost Vikings, in which a group of doofy but physically capable vikings solve puzzles in order to make their way through time and space and escape their kidnapper, the terrible Tomator.
Rock n' Roll Racing for Super NES and Sega Genesis followed. Although it was similar in premise to RPM Racing, it benefited from being a more loud and flamboyant game than its dull older brother. A little electric guitar, alien goo, vivid art and sped up game-play added up to a much better experience over all.
The studio's output for the year of 1993 earned them the Best Software Developer award from VideoGames Magazine, an award still touted by Blizzard today.
The next important original from the company was Blackthorne. Categorized as a "cinematic platformer", the game was justifiably called "Prince of Persia with guns". Although the game never stepped out of the shadow of its Persian grand-daddy, it garnered a significant fan-base and a much-needed chunk of change for the still young studio.
A combination of original and contract games followed. The Death and Return of Superman, The Lost Vikings 2 and Justice League Task Force were all released and developed while, simultaneously, the company's first blockbuster had its inception in 1994. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, the first major hit of the Real Time Strategy genre, released an exciting demo in the summer of '94 before the first retail versions were sold in November of that year. Blizzard and the genre would never be the same again.
Sources: GameRankings.com, MetaCritic.com
The Book of Real Time Strategy
There has been a competition inside men and women since well before the first user-controlled pixel lit up and took off across the screen. Still, that pixel has done nothing if not throw a little gasoline on that competitive fire, providing an immense number of new ways and places to square off. From Pong to the big arcades and into the present day, the urge to compete persists. One genre of video games which has always worn a particular affinity for this aspect of gaming on its sleeve is the RTS.
Real Time Strategy (RTS) is a genre of video games in which a player is at war with an opponent and, through the accumulation of resources as well as construction and management of an army and infrastructure, the player must destroy that opponent. Because of the distinct lack of turns (present in the cousin-genre, Turn-Based Strategy or TBS), the games are all, to varying degrees, influenced by the speed at which the players operate. At least, this is the malleable definition that we can all start with.
But you knew that, right? What is it that makes RTS special?
Since the dawn of the modern RTS age in the mid to late 90's, this is one of only two genres (the other being First Person Shooters, FPS) which has consistently produced games played at a high competitive level for long periods of time. While modern FPS titles are far and away higher earners for developers, the RTS genre is neck and neck with FPS as far as competitive chops. Professional leagues have existed continuously for the top RTS games for over a decade - with a few notable exceptions, FPS titles have tended to fade in and out frequently, though they do tend to have very strong showings in that short lifespan.
In my mind, the pinnacle of the RTS genre (and possibly of gaming itself) is StarCraft: Brood War. It has supported competition at the highest levels since its release and has inspired a worldwide following rivaling that of some sports. In many ways, it is the archetype of 'e-sport'.
It is always an interesting exercise to try and figure out the genesis of the idea which would eventually blossom into modern RTS games. This is a contentious issue, with various titles being crowned the originator of the form and with various definitions being given to the genre in the first place. While I do have a distinct title in mind as the 'first' (Utopia), know that there are several legitimate opinions one can hold about this question and that, in the end, no one game truly originated the genre - it grew out of a series of similar games released throughout the 1980's.
In the beginning - 1982, that is - God created heaven and earth on the Intellivision, a little black console released in '79. Heaven was a pixelated blue void with technologically-limited musical abilities and earth was two islands with hurricane problems. God said, let there be real-time competition and there was Utopia and it was good.
Utopia, widely considered the first 'god game' (Civilization .5 is its posthumous nickname), was a 1982 title developed by American Don Daglow in which players owned an island full of people and competed to please their citizens the most by planting crops, building houses, going fishing and, in an awesomely nefarious turn, funding rebel activity on their opponent's island. It was 1982, remember, and the cold war was white hot, raging by proxy with rebellions all over the world - this mechanic was a profoundly zeitgeist-conscious move by Utopia's designer Daglow.
The game is played out over a series of 30 to 120 second turns (one match was your 'Term of Office') during which all decisions must be made as quickly and intelligently as possible, a feature which will ring familiar to modern RTS veterans.
Even now this is a fun game and, at its best, Utopia brings a smooth and comprehensive low-tech competition to your screen. It's certainly worth playing once or twice to get a feel for the genre's roots. Despite reportedly lackluster marketing, great press and numerous awards pushed sales of this game to over 250,000 copies.
A decade later, Daglow would lead the design team on the first ever graphical MMORPG, Neverwinter Nights, thus setting the stage for titles such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft. He is regarded as something of a ground breaker and rightfully so.
Stonkers, a 1983 British title developed by Imagine Software for the ZX Spectrum platform (an 8-bit competitor to the Commodore 64), is also a contender for the title of 'the original'.
In the game, you, the player, control cannons and tanks and must use resources in order to move and conquer the map. Though the game has an understandably and, frankly, charmingly antique set of visuals, the agonizingly slow pace - barely qualifying as 'real time' at all - dooms it to be more tedious than fun. Perhaps I am spoiled by the more modern and speedy output of the genre but, more likely, I am right in my impatience. This game is torture to even watch.
A year later, in 1984, The Ancient Art of War was released by American developers Evryware. Despite the short amount of time between it and Stonkers, Art of War is one of the prettiest video games of that bygone era when played on its highest setting, 16 colors. Other graphical settings included a, put politely, more drab 4 color look. The game featured two layers of strategy: Unit composition played a large role as three main units interacted with a rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Micromangement also played a role as players could adjust army formations before entering stick-figure battles to conquer the earth.
From 1984, various games came and went meeting a few but never all of the bars of a modern RTS game. The first game universally acknowledged to meet the tenets of the RTS genre was the Sega Genesis game Herzog Zwei (Duke 2 in German) by Japanese developer TechnoSoft in 1989. In the game, you only truly control one unit - your fighter jet - but through it, you can purchase units and issue very basic commands to them in order to wage truly real time war against your opponent. The game has the duel-characteristic of being both slow and high on micro-management requirement. Due to the purchased unit's knack to run out of fuel and become little more than rocks in the desert, the commander's fighter jet must work tirelessly in order to slowly creep their army toward victory.
It wasn't perfect, folks, and it didn't sell exceptionally well but this is Real Time Strategy without a doubt.
Even though the elements were there, the words 'real time strategy' were not uttered until the grand daddy of all RTS games came onto the scene in 1992 - Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty, a ridiculously prescient title for a genre-defining game to have.
Developed by Westwood Studios, who would later become famous for RTS giant Command & Conquer, designer Brett Sperry was the first to coin the now ubiquitous terminology: RTS.
Sperry told GameSpot that although he played and enjoyed titles like Herzog Zwei, he took inspiration for the new Dune game from role-playing games such as Eye of the Beholder, in which combat took place in real time.
Modern RTS gamers will immediately recognize Dune 2's visual set-up - the minimap, the command box and the playing screen are all implemented in ways that would be mimicked for years. Units built by gathered resources - spices, in Dune's case - were pioneered here. This is the first title which adheres to the now genre-defining model: "Harvest, build, destroy". In fact, a myriad of now taken-for-granted features first saw the light of day in the sands of Dune: Tech trees, army asymmetry, mouse-operated game play and total war 'till elimination originated here to name a few.
Two fateful omissions to the game would help leave room for a superior product to gain the limelight instead of Dune.
First, a stylistic choice: the game is slow. Although not agonizingly slow by any means, the game failed to take advantage of the many avenues of creativity that the genre offered by keeping the pace to a minimum rather than ramping the adrenaline up. And this is no mere hindsight - the games in the genre that immediately followed Dune were markedly faster. Rival developers, namely Blizzard, saw wasted potential and took advantage.
The second omitted feature can now be looked at as the defining gaffe, though at the time it must have seemed like a minor feature-choice: The lack of a multiplayer mode.
Although Warcraft was faster and a bit more colorful, the central advantage it had over its competitor was its multiplayer aspect. If speed increases the required level of creativity, talent and skill of an RTS by one measurement, multiplayer's influence on those fields amounts to an immeasurable boost. Just like today, computer opponents were easily tricked and meant that the game had a small, finite life-span. With human opponents entering the fray in a big way, RTS games inch toward a true match of wits, chess-like, one which can go back and forth for years if not decades.
Thus, the stage was set for Blizzard's entrance onto the Real Time Strategy stage.
The Book of WarCraft
Warcraft has been called Blizzard's crown jewel franchise, their alpha and omega. It has also been called a lame theft of gameplay and lore. It is the game which finally brought the company to profitability and, although I look to the StarCraft franchise as Blizzard's tallest peak, the Warcraft franchise is undoubtedly their strong foundation.
The first brick in that foundation was laid in the summer of 1994 when a demo version of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was released to much excitement. It was in the minimal but warm wake of Dune 2 that Warcraft's gameplay was styled, heavily mimicking its predecessor. In Warcraft, the gameplay was noticeably faster, the world was more colorful and intimate and, of course, the creative possibilities were immeasurably greater with the introduction of the multiplayer aspect. It was the first shot Blizzard fired in what would become a war for the genre.
WarCraft: Orcs & Humans, 1994
After the original Warcraft, the next milestone RTS release was in 1995: Command & Conquer by Westwood Studios, the creators of Dune 2. Brett Sperry, a game designer and founder of Westwood, described C&C to Gamespot as a clean start on the idea of Real Time Strategy.
"Command & Conquer was the net result of the Dune 2 wish list," said Sperry. "It was time to build the ultimate RTS."
Following Warcraft, C&C was the next important multiplayer RTS title. Where Warcraft 1's gameplay was in many ways a (slightly) glorified clone of Dune 2, Westwood went in a much different direction with fundamental points such as the user interface, build mechanics and control of the army. For instance, the game did not have the attack-move command which we take for granted today. Players had to choose to attack each target individually.
C&C's online multiplayer games were scattered on various networks such as Kali, a name which will ring familiar to those with knowledge of Warcraft 2. Kali was the site where the first great games on a Blizzard title were played. Important players such as Guillaume "Grrrr..." Patry and other StarCraft and multi-RTS titans got their start on the multi-game network. C&C also saw gaming elevated on these networks as internet competition brought the best out of their game.
C&C's most distinguishing feature is that it sported the greatest distinction between opposing factions of its era. Blizzard wouldn't match the level of asymmetry until early 1998 with StarCraft.
However, without trying to malign the franchise, the first C&C's biggest contribution was attracting more fans to the genre. This is no small feat. Additionally, one cannot overlook it as the game which produced some of the first large online tournaments with significant cash prizes for winners. However, on the level of gameplay and visuals, games such as Warcraft 2 and StarCraft drew much more from other forefathers of the genre than from C&C. Still, this game and franchise is one of the most beloved and best selling in all of gaming.
Command & Conquer, 1995
Although Warcraft was not the first multiplayer title of its kind (Herzog Zwei, the first proto-RTS, gets that honor), it was the most important. If the transition from Dune 2 to Warcraft opened eyes to the possibilities of human opponents, if Command & Conquer opened the flow of money and adrenaline, Warcraft 2 is what opened minds and began to truly resemble what we know today as the competitive Real Time Strategy scene.
The Warcraft 1 demo and even the entire first game can fairly be called simply an appetite-whetting prelude to the blockbuster that was Warcraft 2. It took eight months for the sequel to be released, cutting the first game's lifespan short while ensuring that the franchise would become one of the most recognized in the world. It would go on to sell millions of copies.
"It was popular in school," said Blid, the 28 year old administrator for War2.ru, the largest surviving Warcraft 2 community in the world. "Not only did I have friends who I'd play over modem late at night, but I'd even hear about people I didn't know well but who played the game. And we'd arrange a time for one person to set his game to 'receive call' and the other to dial him up on the modem.
"The biggest difference between Warcraft 1 and 2 was the multiplayer," Blid continued. "Compared to the sequel, not many people played Warcraft multiplayer and it didn't have the same capabilities online. I think with Warcraft 2, a lot of people first started playing with modem-play. I was able to beat up on pretty much everyone, except one good friend. It was fun hearing of someone who was supposedly good and dialing up and taking him out.
"My one buddy though, Howard, I imitated his game a lot and still couldn't beat him. Once you bring in other people, even if it's only over modem, you start picking up on what you need to do to be more efficient and get the edge. Common strategies started getting passed around and aped. The two Barracks, low Peon rush was very common in my modem scene. Now, in the modern days, that strategy is basically just a gimmick, but at the time it was simple and people weren't sophisticated enough to repel it the ways they do now."
The signature of a great RTS game - or any great competitive game - is that of evolution. When StarCraft players are preaching the gospel and attempting to convert others into believers, the game's constant growth is one aspect which must be touched upon.
The game of StarCraft has continued to evolve for over a decade from the inside and out: that is, the base-game and the meta-game. The base-game meaning any strategy, action or method used in a game which remains within the limits of the prescribed ruleset and meta-game meaning any strategy which transcends the limits. This perpetual motion, the constant evolution has provided fans and players with endless fascination as a seemingly infinite stream of strategic discoveries are made. Warcraft 2 is where that sort of evolution began to pick up steam.
WarCraft 2, 1995
"Let me tell you, with Warcraft 2, the strategies have evolved incredibly," said Blid. "Things like making two Town Halls off the bat and protecting it against rushes was probably unbelievable to people in the early days. Now people all know the builds.
"On Kali, [the multiplayer predecessor to Battle.net], there was no shared vision and there were no replays so strategies might be proprietary information. If the guy you played wouldn't tell you, you'd have to fire up single player and try it out against people a few times. You figured it out through trial and error.
"If I brought the modern strategies back in time, no one would have any idea what to do with it. I'd be the greatest player alive. Now though, people also know the counters really well."
The game was a living, breathing entity and that is the mark of something great.
"Some of the biggest things, there's no way Blizzard factored in. The wall-ins and repairing unreachable from inside with a catapult or a tower for protection. The 2D grid gives you great walling and choking abilities and if you and you opponent start side by side, you'll start the fight with your first peon, trapping their peons and towering their town. And that is one of the most interesting components of the game. Those little wars almost never turn out the same."
"Pylons in StarCraft were designed with proxy-attacks partly in mind," said Dakine, a 24 year old Warcraft 2 player. "Flying Terran buildings, too. In Warcraft 2, this stuff was never a consideration." And yet, it all came into being with the creativity, ingenuity and experimentation of the players.
Compared to modern RTS games such as StarCraft, the Warcraft 2 community was and is a tight knit one. At the height of Warcraft 2's popularity, depending on your choice of locale (Kali, MSN Gaming Zone, AOL Gaming or Sega Heat gaming networks preceded Battle.net), you tended to play with a smaller group of opponents with whom you have an extended and familiar history. The Warcraft 2 community generally credits themselves with inventions of shorthand politenesses such as "GG GL HF" and "pwn". Remind me to thank them later.
WarCraft 2: Battle.net Edition, 1999
The social aspect cannot be discounted. Today, we take for granted the social nature of video games and the internet as a whole. It is a huge part of what helps keep gamers sticking to a single title.
"Another thing that I think was unique about the Warcraft 2 experience is that since we all knew each other - the good players - we all sort of grew up together," said Dakine. "Before everything was a multiplayer game - like your phone is a gaming platform now, everything is - Warcraft 2 was one of the first human interactions that most of us had. It was awesome and we got hooked. Many of us are still a part of the community even though we haven't touched the game in a decade."
Warcraft 2's list of innovations was long:
The old concept of 'fog of war' (the blacking out of unexplored terrain) was tweaked. In previous games of the genre, once an area was explored, it became permanently visible. In Warcraft 2, the familiar and modern mechanic is implemented: A player must have a living unit within a short range of sight in order to see under the fog of war. Exploration revealed terrain but to stay current with the situation, you needed a pair of eyes there at all times.
The graphics were a huge upgrade from previous games and notably superior to its contemporaries. It was one of the only games with a 640x480 resolution at the time.
The ideas of a navy and a third resource (oil) were explored in Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness. With a few exceptions (Red Alert, for instance), that branch of the military has not had a successful run in the genre. Numerous resources have been attempted in various games with some degree of success (for instance, Rise of Nations had six distinct resources), but the blockbusters of the genre have stuck nearer two ever since.
Easy to use map editors became a great source of fun and contributed enormously to the replayability of the game. Although the custom map editors were initially freeware built by fans, Blizzard saw their utility, designed their own and thus set the standard for packaged map editors to this day.
Finally, Warcraft took the very minimal factional asymmetry (having different units and abilities in different armies) of Dune 2 and continued down that path, though not nearly to the degree of the Command & Conquer series. Although Orcs and Humans are almost the same, the differences that are present - namely spells such as Bloodlust - are enough to make Orcs the far superior race, used exclusively at almost every level of play. This unsuccessfully balanced asymmetry and to a greater extent the asymmetry of C&C, was enough to set the tone and lead the way to StarCraft, where asymmetry was perfected to a degree not
since matched in any game.
By the time the Warcraft versus C&C rivalry was going full speed, it was obvious to everyone paying attention that Real Time Strategy games could mean big money. Big studios and small studios alike contributed to a torrent of RTS games hitting the market in the wake of the Big Two's success. Most were panned by critics and fans and contributed nothing to the genre.
However, C&C continued to build its much-loved franchise with Red Alert in 1996. Innovation was not the key word with this installment, refinement was. The user interface was improved and features from competing RTS titles such as control groups (directing a group of units with a single key) were added for easier command. Army asymmetry was increased and, for its time, Red Alert boasted the most diverse unit roster in the genre. Last but certainly not least, competitive online play came to the forefront with this title, continuing the tradition of the genre to inspire a great competition in all who touch it.
Total Annihilation, 1997
1997 saw the release of Total Annihilation designed by American Chris Taylor. The 3D units and terrain and the ability to issue complex orders to individual units (such as multiple sequenced orders in a queue or recurring ones like patrol) were major selling points. The game did extremely well with critics and fans alike.
It developed a particularly vocal community in the late 90's with an especially pronounced inferiority complex concerning StarCraft's astronomical commercial success. In writing a brief history of the RTS genre, Gamespot's Bruce Geryk goes as far as to say that Total Annihilation was "superior on many technical levels" to StarCraft and continues on to assert that it is only Blizzard's style and panache as opposed to substance, gameplay or community that led to their game's larger success. In the early years of StarCraft's existence, the TA versus SC rivalry was a more hostile and widespread version of the Warcraft versus C&C rivalry of five years prior.
Age of Empires, 1997
Another 1997 title was Age of Empires by the Americans at Ensemble Studios. This was the patriarch of a franchise which would eventually go on to sell over 20 million copies over the course of ten titles and 11 years.
Commercially, this is one of the most successful strategy franchises of all time. It took the idea of technological advancement (tech trees) and stretched it out over eons with the 'ages' dynamic. The game started in the Stone Age and progressed through the Iron Age, a period of time which covers approximately 2.5 million years on earth. The game itself managed to progress through the periods slightly faster. Additionally, the game was one of the first in the genre to bring match replays to the forefront after FPS Quake had proven their immense worth.
Age of Empires brought a considerably randomly generated maps and unique resource dynamic to the genre.
"For example," writes ilnp, a competitive RTS veteran, "food gathering in the early game required scouting to find it, micromanagement to hunt it with no casualties and constant management for finding new animals to hunt when your supply ran out. This provided a large skill difference between different levels of play as the harder ways to get good were the most lucrative. Village harassment played a huge role as resources and buildings were much more spread out than in StarCraft. Overall, Age of Empires is a very underrated game with the StarCraft crowd."
The game brought a great deal of polish and historical drama. I know I am not alone in having read through guidebooks of the Civilization and the Age of Empire series - two franchises who shared designer Bruce Shelley. These video games sparked a love of history in tens of thousands of children at least. The next time a man on a soapbox calls video games useless and harmful to children, hit them the face with this book (or your hand if you are reading the e-book) and explain their ability to inspire.
On the video game tree of life, real time tactical strategy games split off around this time. The advent of series such as 1997's Myth, developed by American studio Bungie of Halo fame, would set the stage for an entire sub-genre or subspecies which would come to flourish in the new millenium. This evolutionary tree of life concept will be explored in my next book, The Origin of Species. Just kidding, I hope.
As 1997 came to a close, the RTS genre was becoming more and more saturated. Fans became more discerning and it became increasingly difficult to get an original franchise off the ground, though not to the extent of difficulty that exists today.
In that state, the world spun into 1998.
The Book of StarCraft
"Successful innovation has consistently proved to be fluid and flexible, fast and furious - that is, passionate."
There was life Before StarCraft (BS) and after. Its 1998 release was obviously a milestone and an evolutionary leap for not only the genre, but for video games as a whole. The culture surrounding games was never the same after '98 and StarCraft was a huge contributor to that. Half-Life, Resident Evil 2, Tekken 3, Unreal, Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time, Brood War and several other phenomenal games make it a watershed year in the history of gaming. For the sake of our sanity, let's keep our focus on StarCraft. Just typing that last paragraph made me dizzy with nostalgia.
As I've explained in the previous chapter, StarCraft's RTS contemporaries were quality games, often with innovations and worthwhile gameplay in their own right. Upon StarCraft's release, legitimate arguments were taking place wondering which game was superior and which would reign supreme. Total Annihilation and Command & Conquer fans touted their games as above and beyond StarCraft for years.
StarCraft's superiority was not so apparent immediately following its release. It took patches and the development of the game into a fast-paced strategic masterpiece that supported an intellectually impressive meta-game and a bloodthirsty competition like none other in order to fully arrive at the fact of its dominance.
Once one begins examining the state of today's competitive StarCraft, it becomes apparent that the game is worlds away from where it was in 1998. The key to StarCraft's superiority is not so much in where the game has gone as it is in the fact that the game can so readily go places. Most other games are monolithic and immovable objects. Following StarCraft from its release has been like speeding in the world's first automobile while most bystanders just keep walking.
A combination of luck, patience and excellent decisions led StarCraft to become the premiere competitive game of all time, so stubborn that after a decade of high level play and passionate fans, it would not be bled dry.
The discussion of which game was at the top of the RTS genre was a legitimate one in 1998. In 2010, if you are still having that discussion, there is something that millions of fans know that you don't. Allow us to enlighten you.
Blizzard today is a company known for its delays, a group of people who will wait and wait until a game is truly ready, no matter the cost. In the middle of the 90's, the opposite was true. After releasing a torrent of mostly middling console games from '91 to '93, Warcraft and Warcraft 2 were released within eight months of each other. StarCraft was slated to move out at a similar pace.
In 2008, Sam Didier, the art director at Blizzard, told EuroGamer that the team moved quickly and took some of the old Warcraft stuff, and said 'let's draw over them and give them a space feel.'
"We did that and it was rushed," said Didier, "and obviously [it was] not the coolest thing in the world."
Everyone agreed. StarCraft's first public showings at the 1996 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the 1996 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) were universally panned as "Orcs in Space", simply a unenthusiastically made knock-off. This was a criticism that was startlingly accurate. The artwork as well as the dynamics of the game essentially added up to a clone of Warcraft 2. Those involved have since fessed up, admitting that a purple-tinged clone is exactly what they were aiming for.
However, it is not what they would end up with. Negative reviews of the new game were everywhere Blizzard looked and so the team set to work on rewriting the game engine and creating a new look for the universe that came to be known as StarCraft.
3D tools (specifically, 3D Studio Max) were used to create a different aesthetic, visually and in the gameplay itself, though a full 3D conversion was avoided by Blizzard. This decision, made with the opinion that 3D would sacrifice the quality of gameplay, was lamented by some at the time. Years later, with numerous lackluster 3D RTS titles on the market, the developer's feeling of vindication for that choice has not worn off.
StarCraft was Blizzard's first strategy game in which the faction's units were not remotely symmetrical. The designers thought of Warcraft 2 as a game with chess pieces - equal parts, for the most part, doing battle on equal terms. On the contrary, the diversity of units in StarCraft was and, for the most part, is unparalleled. The Zerg, Terran and Protoss are three utterly unique factions whose main characteristics are completely exclusive of the other two races.
As development continued, ideas were added and shed. One particularly strange idea that did not make it to the final product was revealed by Bill Roper, the producer of StarCraft, in 1996: There would be three theaters of war (space, planetary and installation) and only a small number of units would be available in each, thus requiring completely different approaches to strategy. This idea was dropped quickly.
The 1997 showings of the game were received much more positively thanks to the many changes implemented. Rather than the top-down view of Warcraft, StarCraft adopted an isometric view so as to give the world a 3D feel. Likewise, the units had received major visual upgrades. Glenn Stafford, the man behind the music of Warcraft 2, was charged with creating a soundtrack for the new sci-fi game. The interface was shifted and given a much-needed face lift. It is considered so efficient and well done that a decade later, StarCraft 2's interface is not much more than a shinier copy of its predecessor.
As has become standard Blizzard practice, units were born and transformed throughout the development process. Many of the units we know today went through various phases (the Terran Science Vessel once had legs, the Wraith was called the Phoenix) before reaching their final name, appearance and functionality.
After almost two years of soon-to-be characteristic delays, March 31, 1998 saw the release of StarCraft in the West (it would be released in South Korea later). Already, a relatively major competitive scene had developed.
There was immediately a large immigration of players from Warcraft 2, whose competitive scene effectively ceased to exist soon thereafter. The StarCraft beta test saw the development of individual talents and the game was already developing into a giant of e-sports. Finally, upon release, overwhelmingly positive reviews combined with hype from Warcraft and the red-hot RTS genre added up to an enormous sales and player base.
The game was Blizzard's biggest launch to date, selling one million copies in three months - an impressive feat in that era.
In 1998, you had to strain mightily to find a critic who found major fault with StarCraft. They did exist, of course, and the comment sections of their articles have since been filed with 12 years' worth of I-told-you-so put downs.
Before I continue on to discuss some of the major complaints about StarCraft, I must note that the game as it stands today is not the same game which Blizzard released in '98. It took approximately three years of patches and fixes until May 2001 (patch 1.08) before the game had essentially the same foundation as it has today. Still, many of these complaints do not apply to anything changed during that period, rather to core game concepts and so I think that they are worth briefly discussing.
Some critic's negative remarks focused on the lackluster single player, revealing that the author so thoroughly missed the point that they had come back around and hit themselves in the face. As with all Blizzard's RTS titles before StarCraft 2, StarCraft's single player is a dinky little distraction in the grand scheme of things, fun for some (I enjoy it on occasion) and skipped by others but of relatively little lasting impact.
On the other hand, this was 1998 and the "average" gamer (as '98 critics understood them) was not necessarily looking for a multiplayer experience such as the one StarCraft offered. I understand this and, so, I do see the critic's side of it. You must forgive me for getting defensive and insulting back there. I don't know what got into me.
The most common complaint at the time was that the game lacked originality. I find myself cutting these critics some slack. The game was released on the (heavily modified) Warcraft 2 engine and so, even with the substantial visual upgrades, could certain be pointed out as clearly Warcraft's offspring - Warcraft itself started with questionable originality.
A few critics pointed to Dune 2 as the originator of asymmetrical armies and said this was yet another copycat job by Blizzard. As we've already thoroughly been through, there is the smallest, tiniest bit of truth there! And yet these critics get no slack cut as over a dozen years of play have proven their dismissive underestimations of the game's diversity wrong again and again and again and . . .
Critics of the multiplayer (inexplicably including a Blizzard employee or two) have moaned and continue to bellyache that the game is more about speed than strategy, all about clicking quickly and not at all about thinking through your actions. Although these criticisms are among the most frustrating to hear, they are understandable. Without having a somewhat clear sense of the incredible depth of the StarCraft meta-game and the countless strategies visited over the course of the decade, it is easy to see astronomical numbers (300 to 400 actions per minute by professional players) and assume that speed is the lone, overwhelming factor in StarCraft success.
As we will explore, this particular qualm is largely wrong but do not rush out in a hate mob to assault the nearest critic just yet! Instead, we will explore the game and try to illuminate what it is about these assumptions that are false. But just in case, get your pitchforks sharp and torches burning.
Finally, any detractor whose principle complaint is that the game is not "original enough" deserves a roll of the eyes and this: Yes, the personality of the game was ripped from science fiction archetypes such as Warhammer 40K. Yes, the gameplay is clearly descended from its forefathers in the genre. And? When the sum total of the parts is superior and long-lasting brilliance, then complete originality for its own sake - rather than for the sake of quality - is overrated.
The short version: So what?
Now that I've been through some of the original complaints (original sins) and have got your blood boiling, we can recall that StarCraft has won honors such as 'Game of the Year' and 'Greatest Game of All Time' dozens of times as well as going on to sell over 11 million copies. Clearly, you and I are not the only fans of the series.
In the beginning, the competitive scene developed in places where Warcraft 2 had been thriving. A new Battle.net attracted newer players while Kali, the old online gaming network, was home to Warcraft 2 veterans turned StarCraft players and immediately saw the very top level of play for most of the eight months in which the original StarCraft was an only child and for some time beyond.
On November 30, 1998, the expansion pack known as Brood War was born, thus shoring up the game's transformation from 'Game of the Year' to 'Game of the Future'.
As became the norm for Blizzard titles, Brood War spent part of its time in utero in public view: beta testing. The expansion had, of course, been fully planned prior to StarCraft's release - units such as the Valkyrie had brief stints in the original game's beta testing before being removed temporarily. Competition steadily grew in intensity inside the beta, culminating in a Blizzard-sponsored tournament a week prior to the retail release of Brood War. Tom "Zileas" Cadwell, a Protoss player, was the beta's champion.
Zileas was an MIT computer science student at the time and would go on to develop an independent and well-received RTS game dubbed StrifeShadow and, later, would work at Blizzard on Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne and World of Warcraft before leaving in '05 to obtain a MBA degree. As of 2010, he is working at Riot Games on the title League of Legends, one of the most highly regarded video games releases of 2009.
The second place finisher in the tournament was Agent911, a former WarCraft 2 player and Terran user who later went on to work at Gas Powered Games, the developer for Supreme Commander, the 2007 "spiritual successor" to 1997's Total Annihilation.
Clearly, 'StarCraft savant' is a nifty thing to have on your resumé.
Over the course of the tournament, Zileas became such a feared Protoss player that his units began to receive their own colloquial names. When carrying Reavers, his Shuttles became known as "the Shuttle that fires Scarabs" because of the speed with which he maneuvered his harassing Reavers. He was so fast that it became almost impossible to hit his Reavers before they had launched their Scarab bombs into groups of enemy workers. Zileas' revolutionary work with the unit changed the way it was used and forced Blizzard to weaken Reavers through balance patches, increasing the Scarab cool down and build time. Even so, the deft touch he displayed served as a model for Protoss players for years to come.
Over the course of seven games in the finals, a wide range of strategies were thrown at each competitor including proto-early expansions and a now-bizarre looking Scout and Zealot rush. The many balance patches of Brood War have changed much, such as making the Scout one of the few utterly unusable units in the game. However, in 1999, they were utilized to great effect despite their expensiveness.
` It is important to note that in addition to balance changes, replays and game speed have also altered the fundamental nature of the game. It took until May 2001, in the milestone 1.08 patch, for replays functionality to be added to the game.
During the beta tournament, the game speed was 'fast' as opposed to 'fastest'. Blizzard employees have stated several times that the game was never meant to be played competitively on the 'fastest' setting. However, community pushes and the quality of competitive play quickly made the quickest setting the default for almost every level of play. One notable exception was the Battle.net ladder, which remained set to its default speed of 'faster' until its demise years later. For this reason as well as a general deterioration of play and rampant cheating, the Battle.net ladder quickly became obsolete, abused and eventually disbanded.
Zileas, of Brood War beta fame, was one of the most influential StarCraft players of his era.
In the early Brood War era, a rift persisted between the old Warcraft 2 turned StarCraft players and the "new school" who had come to the game through other avenues. In addition to the social breaks, the style of play also differed greatly between the two camps.
"[Warcraft 2] players strive to build a strong economy to finance overwhelming hordes of units," read an ancient and now lost article on Sirlin.net. "When they outnumber the enemy 10 to 1, they attack; 5 to 1, they surround you. You get the idea. Individual battles matter little to these players, since it's more important to build a large mobile force capable of attacking the opponent's weak spots."
The article continues, explaining the difference: "Warcraft's interface and units didn't allow players to gain much benefit from micromanaging individual battles. Warcraft's units were more homogeneous, meaning you didn't see kill ratios of 50:1 like Templars and Reavers are capable of in Starcraft. In short, macromanagement was the only way to go. Build a large army. Divide the enemy's army. Concentrate the firepower of your army."
Cue the "new school".
"And then there was Zileas," concludes the article. "He came along and pointed out the amazing effects micromanagement of individual battles can have in Starcraft, and he preached the revolutionary ideas of divide and conquer and concentration of firepower on the small scale, that is."
Fundamental moves such as shift-queue (allowing groups of units to have a list of orders to follow) attacks, paying special attention to unit formation, constant worker production and the art of worker harassment can all be traced back toward Zileas.
It must seem strange to many that the idea of constant worker production had to be invented, that the habit of harassing workers needed to be devised. After all, it all seems so obvious now.
Simply put, StarCraft was very much a blank slate upon its release. Ideas as seemingly simple as transferring groups of workers to newly built expansions (rather than building them one at a time) were groundbreaking. It took a player the caliber of Miguel "Maynard" Bombach (a former Age of Empires player), probably the most dominant American player of all time, to invent a concept as simple as the worker-transfer. And it changed the game forever.
Dudey, an accomplished old school StarCraft player also known as ilnp, had this to say about Maynard at his peak:
"You guys have no idea what dominance is -- you weren't around when the game was new. The only people who could come close to Maynard's sort of dominance was Grrr.... and BoxeR. We're not talking win most everything, win a lot, impressive play. We're talking most of the top players were directly influenced by his play and his play alone, after a long period in which many refused to play him because they swore he cheated. We're talking literally invincible in even 2 on 2 play with shitty allies against every other top player in the world in practice, ladder, and tournament games."
Maynard's thorough dominance, borne out mainly on the Kali server and before modern competition had truly taken off, has thus largely been forgotten. He is remembered more for the worker-transfer bearing his name than his God-like status in the first year of Brood War.
Although he stayed near the top, Maynard's hold on the title of world's greatest player slipped as 1999 progressed.
That same year, Koreans started popping up on Battle.net with greater and greater frequency. Christopher "Pillars" Page, an American who spent four months as a professional gamer in Korea, explains Korea's rise in the StarCraft world.
"Both Starcraft and SC:BW were released later in Korea, and it took them a while to get up to speed. What one noticed about them at first was the relatively mechanical and robotic style of play. The way many Koreans seemed to learn to play was to master a single racial match-up on a single map and come as close as possible to perfecting it. They followed build orders rigorously, and often very efficiently, but didn't adapt well to new situations or creative responses by their opponents. Often they would play a moderately strong game for the first ten minutes of the match, but once the game became more dynamic and opened up a bit they would have difficulty doing anything other than throwing the same mixture of units at you over and over again.
"Obviously, this didn't remain the case for long."
The first true superstar of StarCraft, the one who truly attained celebrity, followed Maynard's domination with a two-year burst of brilliance that burned brighter than almost anyone in the past decade. I speak, of course, of the Protoss French Canadian, Guillaume Patry "Grrr...."
In late 1999, before launching into stardom on the Korean professional circuit, Grrr.... was the most feared player in the world. Online ladders and live events alike fell to him like dominoes and he took prize purse after purse for thousands of dollars in total loot. The AMD Professional Gaming League and the i2e2, the two largest prize pools in the world at the time, were both taken down by Grrr.... prior to his landing in Korea.
In early 2000, Grrr...., Maynard, Pillars and Jérôme "Thor" Rioux were approached by General~Khalsa, a well-known member of the Kali community, said Pillars, and were offered to start a professional gaming team composed of foreign players which would move to South Korea and compete in the burgeoning Korean professional StarCraft leagues.
"This seemed like a pretty insane and fun opportunity," wrote Pillars in 2008, "and I eventually decided to go. The four of us showed up in Korea in early 2000. We stayed in the international dorm section of a prominent women's college (Ewha Women's University) in Seoul for the first few months and made Slki Bang (the internet cafe and home to the best Korean professional team of the time) our training space."
For Pillars and most of the foreign invasion, their results in Korea were lackluster and their motivation and willingness to dedicate their lives simply did not measure up to the natives' will power.
Guillaume Patry, on the other hand, was an unstoppable force in StarCraft and Korean culture.
In an era where perfect technical play was a distant dream, Grrr.... stormed through opponents - or, rather, he Scarabed through them - with relative ease.
He remains the most successful non-Korean of all time by far, having won several prestigious tournaments including the all-important first OnGameNet StarLeague (OSL), consistently the most prestigious league in all of StarCraft, predating its little brother MBCGame StarCraft League (MSL) by two years.
As the televised StarCraft scene began to boom, Grrr.... was its chief celebrity. He appeared on talk shows and was the subject to more than his fair share of screaming female admirers. His good looks and charisma (call me, Giyom, we'll go out to dinner sometime) added up to a level of celebrity not seen before him.
His in-game dominance and his relatively laid back training schedule led to the myth that he almost never trained. Compared to other Korean professionals playing the game for a full work day and beyond (10+ hours per day), the Canadian's schedule was light. Like the other foreigners who had at first accompanied him on his trip to Korea, the motivation to keep up with the native's hours was hard to find. For Grrr...., though, the lighter hours did not detract from his winning in the beginning. However, his "lightest" schedule while still an active player, about a year after he left Korea and was well past his peak, was 20 hours per week in 2003 - that's three hours per day, every day.
The OSL's position as the superior tournament is in its perceived pedigree. It is older, its television ratings are higher, its live audience is larger and its original champions are StarCraft legends: Grrr...., Garimto and BoxeR. As the late 2000's have come, other tournaments have risen in prestige - particularly the MSL and the team-based Proleague - but the OSL has remained on top, if only because of history.
Outside of the world of StarCraft, other major e-sports tournaments had been established by 2000. Notably, the Cyberathlete Professional League, a semiannual FPS-focused tournament based in Texas, began in 1997. It would eventually hand out millions of dollars in prizes for various games (most consistently Counter-Strike) before sputtering mid-decade and folding in 2007. The CPL was, for years, the pinnacle of e-sports in the Western world.
While the CPL was streaming its footage online and holding twice-a-year events, the OSL and MSL had dedicated television channels and were packing arenas with crowds of over 10,000 on a weekly basis and 100,000 on the big days. The OSL's prize began around $15,000 and has skyrocketed to as much as about $90,000 for first place in 2010. The 'Golden Mouse', the trophy one receives upon winning three OSL championships, is the most coveted prize in StarCraft.
The StarLeague popularized the idea of tournaments producing custom maps to keep strategies fluid and games interesting. The constant flow of well-balanced but constantly changing maps has, from both a player's and spectator's point of view, kept StarCraft progressing rather than at a standstill.
"Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war."
David Foster Wallace
In mid to late 2000, Grrr....'s run as the world's best ran out of time. Although he would continue to play at a top level (his last great tournament was placing third in the May 2001 StarLeague), the lack of hours put in caught up to him and his dominance had come to an end.
The mantle of the world's best Protoss passed to Kim Dong Soo "GARIMTO". However, for most of his prime, Garimto would sit in the shadow of StarCraft's all-time greatest celebrity, the most renowned and revered professional gamer of all time: Lim Yo Hwan "BoxeR".
If this is the bible of StarCraft, BoxeR might just be Jesus with spiffier clothes. The man known to the hundreds of thousands of members of his fan club as "The Emperor" landed in the throne of StarCraft right as patch 1.08 hit, introducing replays to spread the word of BoxeR around the world.
Ironically, 1.08 ended the era of patched balance changes, so as to balance the game perfectly right before an unheard of 20 year old came out of the dark arcades and showed that in StarCraft, factional balance meant little when genius was at hand.
His unquestioned supremacy, his unparalleled charisma in game and out as well the maturing of the professional circuit meant that he has remained the iconic figure in StarCraft history, nearer to Michael Jordan or Diego Maradona than most other e-sports stars. His popularity helped raise professional gaming to a new plateau in Korea and the widespread love of BoxeR has long outlasted his playing abilities.
The President of the Korean E-Sports Association (KeSPA) had this to say about BoxeR when writing the introduction to the legend's biography:
"Lim Yohwan, with the thorough mentality of a professional as his foundation, has imprinted on the minds of the public through his sincere games that progamers are not "game-addicts without any prudence," but "hard-working professionals."
BoxeR is one of the few e-sports professionals who transcends not only the game he plays but, often, the escapes the box of games at all and slips comfortably into the expansive idea of greatness.
At the dawn of the age of BoxeR in early 2001, Terran was considered a weak, slow race with miles of ground to make up before it could match Protoss and Zerg. A Terran had never even made it out of the group stage in the OSL - in the first two seasons, both winners were Protoss users Grrr.... and GARIMTO.
Turning the game on its head, BoxeR was a pioneer of creative attacks and an artist who was able to take disadvantageous positions and throw them in the face of his opponents as he stretched each of his units beyond their prescribed physical limit. The hulking, immobile Terran race became a sped-up monster in his hands. Dropships became lethal hit-and-run weapons. Floating buildings became mobile fortresses, ready to land in an opponent's base at any time.
Micromanagement, the ability to control units on a small or individual scale, was BoxeR's greatest advantage. Some of his most iconic signature plays include: the simultaneous Ghost Lock Down of almost a dozen opposing Battle Cruisers. Killing a Lurker with a single Marine shooting, running and avoiding spikes, shooting and running and shooting. Irradiating two Science Vessels and using them to wipe out a player's worker population.
The worth of a single unit was never looked at in the same way once BoxeR landed on top. As Zileas had taken strides in this direction, Grrr.... had highlighted the use of a few key units in the Protoss aresenal, it was BoxeR who took the entire Terran army and proved their worth beyond all previous measure.
BoxeR won an unprecedented two straight StarLeagues in 2001, the Hanbitsoft OSL and the Coca-Cola OSL. Only Garimto, the best Protoss in the world, prevented him from winning a third straight. The SKY2001 OSL finals, which Garimto came back from a 2-1 deficit to win, remains one of the most talked-about upsets in StarCraft history. Additionally, BoxeR won the KPGA Tour in early 2002 over his greatest rival, the best Zerg in the world at the time and forever the "King of Second Place", Hong Jin-Ho "YellOw".
Of these three players (BoxeR, Garimto and YellOw), it was surprisingly YellOw who was able to maintain the most consistent, highest level of play for the longest time. Garimto faded first and BoxeR's reign as "unbeatable" had ended in 2003 and his position as a top-level professional fell soon after. He would surge back toward the top over the course of '04 and '05, never again capturing a major gold. YellOw was consistently on top of the Zerg race until 2004, an impressively long hold on the top.
Even after BoxeR's fall from the very top, his popularity remained at unparalleled levels until his entry into the South Korean military in 2006. He was more than the sum of his victories, he was a heroic testament of artistry and willpower rising to the throne.
Cementing his international fame were his two victories in the World Cyber Games of 2001 and 2002. Although less prestigious and stocked with talent than the Korean leagues, the WCG has the air of an electronic Olympics. BoxeR faced off against non-Korean opponents and his games were shown throughout the world, boosting his already considerable notoriety.
In fact, the 2001 and 2002 World Cyber Games proved the pinnacle of the competition as far as StarCraft was concerned. Although it was the most popular game in each successive year, the title of WCG champion became increasingly irrelevant with each passing tournament.
As the game of StarCraft was exploding in South Korea, it was changing in the West. The RTS genre continued to march on, most significantly with the release of Warcraft 3 in 2002. Warcraft 3's most lasting contribution to the genre was permanently shifting the status quo to 3D.
With its release, an excited fanbase was quickly established and a pro circuit analogous to StarCraft's solidified in Korea with significant tournaments running in Europe as well. While the Warcraft 3 pro circuit was organized similarly to StarCraft's and was easily one of the most successful of all time, its early momentum was not sustained. The popularity of the televised leagues never matched that of its sci-fi older brother.
As time passed, competitions with a significant prize pool were becoming much less common in the West and, overall, the level of play began to sink. Although several westerners did play in televised Korean leagues throughout the decade (Dutchman "Liquid`Nazgul" and American "Idra" were two of the more famous), they generally had limited success while competing.
One notable exception was the Australian Peter "Legionnaire" Neate, who is the only non-Korean to complete an all-kill - that is, a individual 4-0 sweep of the pro team Toona.
As the financial support for the game dried up in the West, a cult following began to amass in various corners of the internet around the birth of replays in 2001. Although several websites significant to western fandom have come and gone, the one truly worth mentioning is Teamliquid, which has been the most important outside of Korea for almost seven years. Founded in September 2002 and grown as a mix of Europeans and Americans, it has served as the central beacon for western StarCraft through thick and thin.
A substantial following also took root in China during the decade. In the second half of the '00's, China's StarCraft scene was almost certainly the most impressive outside of Korea, producing several professional gamers of some merit and holding numerous significant tournaments. Language barriers maintained separation between the West and China but various competitions and collaborations in the latter part of the decade have brought the two communities closer together.
As BoxeR began to fade, the Terran Lee Yoon Yeol "NaDa" took on the mantle of greatness.
BoxeR's strength was always his micromanagement. His weakness was his macromanagement, his inability to consistently secure the resources and army size generally thought to be required for victory. During his reign, BoxeR confounded those expectations and won titles with sheer force of will. As now seems inevitable, another great player eventually came to the top, using BoxeR's weakest point to do so.
NaDa's ascendancy was a milestone in top-level StarCraft play. NaDa's play was considered technically perfect, a product of countless hours of practice, unheard of timing and a huge focus on macromanagement. The style was accurately summed up as 'pure power'.Whereas before NaDa, a less technically sound player had always reigned at the top (Grrr.... and BoxeR), one with the focus on micromanagement rather than the entire game, after NaDa, the entire pro-circuit and the top in particular became much more focused on macromanagement and technical perfection in their games.
The old adage of 'BoxeR is Jordan' led American Protoss user Rekrul to sum up the new player in 2003 this way: "NaDa is Shaq."
NaDa's powerful and utterly muscular play rolled over opponents. By long-term statistic measurements, NaDa is the greatest player of all time. He won three straight KPGA tours in 2002 (the precursor to MSL), an OSL in 2003 and two more OSL championships over the course of four years. He is the only player to have won three of each tournament. By the middle of the decade, he had won several hundreds of thousands of dollars and had cemented his place among the greatest of all time.
While NaDa's championships came over the course of four years from 2002 to 2006, he was not universally considered the best in the world during much of the last two of those years. Choi Yun Sung "iloveoov" wore the crown for most of that time.
If BoxeR was the brightest star in the StarCraft universe, iloveoov was the black hole which devoured him.
Iloveoov's style took NaDa's powerful macromanagement style and raised it to levels never before seen.
According to longterm statistics, iloveoov is the second greatest player of all time. However, during his peak, he was so far and away the most dominant player that he owns the records for both the greatest single streak of all time (33-3 in major matches during the first half of 2004) and the greatest single Terran versus Zerg streak of all time (25 straight wins versus Zerg in 2004).
Although his two OSL and three MSL championships fall one Starleague short of NaDa's record, it is the opinion of many that iloveoov's more intense peak play proved him to be the best player of all time.
In 2004, he won three straight MSL championships against YellOw, NaDa and the Protoss Park Young Wook "Kingdom", one of the greatest Protoss players of the era.
November 2004 saw him win his first OSL in convincing fashion against Boxer, perceived to be his mentor. Iloveoov's already considerable negative status among fans only intensified after Boxer broke down in tears on stage following the match and the arena emptied quicker than any Starleague in memory.
The Terran's hated status can be traced to two roots: his unprecedented consistency during his peak and overpowering style which led to many to see him as an unthinking robot, much in contrast to the view of BoxeR as an intelligent artist blazing paths with a new medium.
With hindsight, one can see that this view was based more in emotion than fact. Iloveoov invented and honed more new strategies and build orders than almost any Terran has during the television era.
The final root of the hostility was the front of confidence he put on in interviews.
"I always use interviews strategically," said iloveoov. "That’s why I would mock my opponents, or pretend to be strong. I thought all of that was momentum."
In retrospect, it seems inevitable that his ostentatious bragging and his technically superior play would lead to hate amongst fans.
However, at the time, even through the hate, one could do little but stand in awe of his accomplishments.
The Proleague, a team league in which players battle until an entire team is eliminated, has its roots in 2003. It proved an overwhelming success: in 2004, the Proleague Grand Final saw a live audience of over 100,000 come out to watch the greats play.
Meanwhile, the OSL continued to grow and the MSL, though more than viable commercially, remained the second string.
For the first half of the decade, the best players in the world were almost always Terrans. BoxeR, NaDa and iloveoov won seven OSL championships and seven MSL titles (counting the KPGA tours).
Until the middle of 2004, it seemed that winning championships was something that only great Terrans, excellent Protosses and no Zergs could do.
Six Protoss OSL championships were won from 2000 to 2004: Grrr...., Garimto twice, Reach, Kingdom and Nal_Ra.
During that time, five Terran titles were won: Boxer twice, Sync, NaDa and Xellos.
For seven of those finals match ups, Zerg players came in a disappointing second place: H.O.T.-Forever twice, SKELTON, JiNam, YellOw twice and ChoJJa.
In the MSL, the story was similar.
From 2002 to 2004, seven Terran MSL championships were won: three by NaDa, three by iloveoov and the first by BoxeR.
Nal_ra won the only Protoss MSL title of the time in mid-2003.
Zergs fell to the runner-up position four times during the period: Yellow did it three times and ChoJJa fell once.
The Terran race was top-heavy for much of the opening of the decade. Legendary players Boxer, NaDa and iloveovv carried the race to title after title but this did not translate to thorough domination on every level of the pro circuit. Protosses still won a significant number of titles and competed on every level.
Zerg, often the most used race, was shut out of a title until (appropriately) July 2004, when a revolutionary Zerg user came to the forefront and brought his race to the top with him.
Park Sung Joon "July" was the first great Zerg.
July will forever be remembered as the man who changed the Mutalisk. The technique, known as stacking, allows entire groups of the flying unit to be controlled with such precision that it is as if they are of one body. The unit entered and remains in a state of prominence largely thanks to July's technical innovations.
In July '04, during his rookie season, JulyZerg became the first Zerg to win the OSL and begin his trek to be the first Zerg #1 in the world. He was nowhere close to as dominant as the previous #1's but, for for two years in 2004 and 2005, he was consistently among the best in the world, winning two OSL titles and earning runner-up twice.
He occupied the #1 position in the KeSPA (Korean E-Sports Association) rankings 11 months from 2005 to 2006, sandwiched in between two brilliant and oppressive reigns at #1 by iloveoov.
Still, July had proven that a Zerg could become the world's best and that simple push of encouragement is all it took for the greatest Zerg of all time to arrive.
Ma Jae Yoon "Savior" was the first Zerg to truly dominate professional StarCraft. He personally put an end to iloveoov's reign with multiple lopsided victories over the Terran master on his way to three MSL victories in 2005 and 2006. His first OSL appearance in 2006 saw him win another championship and walk the "Royal Road", the prestigious honor of winning a major championship in your rookie year.
The word "Bonjwa" came to use during this era to describe a player of complete dominance, a player at the level of BoxeR, NaDa and iloveovv: Savior.
Many believe that Savior, known as "The Maestro", was the last truly great player of Brood War, that all who came after him failed to reach the heights he rose to.
After years of macromanagement-specialized players dragging the game whichever way they wanted, Savior pulled back. With the impeccable micromanagement of BoxeR, his Lurkers and Mutalisks and, most of all, his Defilers became legendary as they were stretched beyond what anyone had imagined. Among the StarCraft faithful, his real name is one of the most recognized for one simple reason: when the television commentators watched his beautifully orchestrated battles come to apex, they could not speak but to scream "Ma Jae Yoon!" again and again, louder and louder until voices were lost.
High-profile victories against resurgent old masters iloveoov and NaDa forever ended the debate concerning Ma Jae Yoon's own greatness. While the rest of the Zerg field struggled with maps perceived to have anti-Zerg features, Savior remained atop the world. Following an especially devastating victory over NaDa to win the OSL in early 2007, the StarCraft world took a deep breath and prepared for the plunge into the extended era of Zerg dominance.
With four major titles under his belt, Savior advanced to the GomTV MSL finals in 2007 to face an up-and-coming Protoss, Kim Taek Yong "Bisu". Attempting to becoming the most successful MSL champion of all time, Savior was utterly dominated in three games by the young Protoss.
Mentally shaken, Savior's downward spiral accelerated with further losses, most notably to the Terran firebathero and, numerous times, to Bisu. The Maestro had completely lost his form and hit his first low-point when he was briefly demoted to the B-team of CJ Entus, his employer.
However, the greatest descent and the lowest point of Savior's career came in 2010, after he had apparently made strides back to a high level of competition. It was revealed in the Korean media that extensive match fixing had taken place throughout the professional StarCraft circuit. Savior and 10 other professionals received lifetime bans for the cheating from KeSPA.
In the West, the incident was often analogized with the infamous "Black Sox Scandal" in which baseball players fixed the 1919 World Series and were forever banned from the game. Aside from the fix itself, many fans theorized that relatively low pay motivated actors in both incidents to collaborate with professional criminals in order to make ends meet.
Though the scandal is a stain on his reputation and brought on the end of his career, he remains most known as "The Maestro", "The Bonjwa" and the player who brought Zerg to the stars.
Near the tale-end of Savior's reign, StarCraft 2 was revealed to the world.
This led to a long-term influx of new faces to the StarCraft community and a revitalization of the Western community in particular. Teamliquid, by 2007 the long-term king of western StarCraft, saw a rise in popularity immediately.
The TeamLiquid StarLeague (TSL) was held in 2008 with some of the largest prizes ever seen outside of Korea. The winner, Canadian Jian Fei "IefNaij" Wang took home the biggest chunk of the $10,000 prize pool after coming out on top of a field of thousands.
As the StarCraft community continued to expand, Team Liquid held the 2009 TSL with $20,000 in prizes. American ex-professional gamer Tyler "NonY" Wasieleski won, defeating professional gamer Greg "IdrA" Fields along the way in perhaps the most talked about series of western StarCraft in 10 years. Nony took home a full $10,000 for his efforts.
New players in the Western community meant new fans for the Korean pro circuit and new eyes to watch the next great player, whomever that might be.
Bisu's defeat of Savior in the 2007 MSL finals catapulted him in the eyes of the world. Afterwards, his dominance of the Zerg race was so thorough that he became known as "The Revolutionist". The Protoss versus Zerg match up was altered through his inventive use of massive Corsair fleets and his surgical Dark Templar.
When Bisu won the next season of MSL as well, the StarCraft world wondered if they had another master on their hands. However, instead of going on a Savior-like march of destruction, Bisu confirmed fan's fears: he was inconsistent in his dominance. His career has resembled that of a high-altitude roller coaster: it is always looking to the clouds, going up and down over and over again.
While Bisu was struggling to maintain his hold on the top of StarCraft in January 2008, a future king was climbing up to dethrone him.
Lee Jae Dong "Jaedong", known as "The Tyrant" Zerg, wrote the next chapter in StarCraft history.
Winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, he had been climbing to the apex of StarCraft ever since, sitting behind Savior as the best Zerg for what must have seemed an eternity before finally claiming his race's top spot in the beginning of 2008. As of 2010, he remains in the top spot for Zerg and has done so for 31 straight months, breaking YellOw's streak of sustained racial dominance of 27 months.
As his career progressed, Jaedong became far and away the most successful Zerg versus Zerg player of all time. The match-up is usually called "rock-paper-scissors" because of how easily one build can beat another without a player's skill entering the picture, however Jaedong continuously shocked viewers as he built a better than 80% winning percentage against fellow Zergs with unprecedented micromanagement, in particular of his Mutalisks, and extremely solid macromanagement. Previously, a 60% winning percentage in the match-up had seemed an exceptional event.
Over the course of three years, Jaedong has become one of the best players of all time as he's raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and guaranteed contracts. He has won two MSL titles and three OSL titles and, at his best, has showcased a level of domination worthy of being called masterful on the level that recalled Savior's highest point. Truth be told, on a level of technical skill, Jaedong is more adept than The Maestro ever was.
More than most competitive games, StarCraft rewards creativity. Players such as BoxeR (Terran), Nal_ra (Protoss) and Savior (Zerg) are remembered as ingenious inventors who turned popular perceptions of the game on their head.
As time passes, the game of StarCraft shifts and warps. Different units and build orders ascend to prominence and descend to obscurity, only to change again when the next great imagination touches the game.
Most players most noted for their imagination are famous for their micromanagement - that is, the control of small groups of units. However, it is important to note that many players noted for macromanagement skills - the control of the bigger picture, eg. economy and production - have also invented and altered the way the game is played. It is simply easier to appreciate the way one single unit acts than the way an entire economy and build order interacts to create something new.
Iloveoov is not the first player to come to mind for most when the word "imagination" is mentioned. His overwhelming macromanagement led him to be criticized as a computer. But in fact, he invented highly efficient build orders and executed them to perfection. Still, it is hard to think 'artist' when 200 units are stampeding on your base.
The modern era has seen a shift. Whereas older players tended to be perceived as either/or, a player such as Jaedong is noted both for his artistry with single units - his Mutalisk work is particularly impressive to watch - and his ability to muster the numbers to crush opponents.
The next player is noted for innovative build orders, and having a sixth sense for seeing weakness in an opponents defense.
If you take 2008 to early 2010 as one monolithic hunk, Jaedong can be named the most successful player of the era. However, even at his most dominant, his peak can't be compared with the likes of iloveoov or NaDa. Jaedong's periods at the top have fractured by great spurts of play from his chief rival, the Terran Lee Young Ho "Flash" as well as resurgences from two Protoss users, Bisu and Song Byung Goo "Stork".
Flash, in particular, has served as a phenomenal foil to Jaedong (the reverse also being true), testing each other and vying for the top perch above StarCraft professional gaming. Flash moved quickly from the rank of amateur to up-and-coming professional. He spent time in various organizations before bubbling to the top at the KT Rolster team.
His inventive Terran versus Protoss and tireless macromanagement created an unenviable amount of hype for the young phenom as the 16 year old won his first Starleague in 2008. He won three significant invitational tournaments that year, beating up on the likes of Jaedong, but would not return to a Starleague final until January 2010. After capturing his second Starleague title in an incredible match against the Protoss "Movie", Flash was in a position to become the first player since NaDa to simultaneously hold both the OSL and MSL title.
Just a week later, Flash faced Jaedong for the MSL title and the chance at history. In a well fought but decisive effort, Jaedong defeated Flash with a bold 3-1 statement.
It took until 2010 for Flash to accomplish that goal: His victories in the MSL and OSL, both, importantly, over Jaedong, have brought both great StarCraft championships under one deft hand for the first time since NaDa was atop the StarCraft world.
As Brood War continues to thrive and StarCraft 2 is released, the Flash and Jaedong remain locked in the same battle they've been in for two years now - to win ultimate supremacy before the end. Although neither player can claim to match the dominance of the greatest players of all time, they can more than match their abilities. Now, the two vie to become the last great StarCraft player.
Note: The fair majority of what was written above as well as the charts provided below were put together in late July 2010, around the release of SC2. As of 9/22/10, things have progressed and, as briefly noted above, Flash is winning left and right. An updated version will reflect the specific events that have taken place.
+ Show Spoiler [Stats] +
'Charting the masters' measures length of dominance based on an algorithm using major tournament results and KeSPA rankings. Note that the vertical axis is not especially accurate because the number of tournaments as well as the formulation of KeSPA rankings has changed over the years (with the KeSPA rankings leading to more favorable numbers for BoxeR while the tournament results weigh in favor of newer players). Note that when a player descends below '0' on the above masters chart, it simply demotes them to mere mortals rather than StarCraft gods.
'Racial Dominance' measures the success of races at a given time at the very top of StarCraft on an algorithm using major tournament results and KeSPA rankings. Note that the rating numbers themselves are rather arbitrary (much like Elo ratings or any given rating system including the 'Masters' chart). The usefulness of this chart is in comparing each race's rating to another at any given year. And even then, it's not that useful, just fun to look at. And yes, at the absolute top of professional StarCraft, Protoss has drawn the short stick (not unlike in this chart which sells their '08 short in favor of Terran's MSL and OSL .
These charts were created in July 2010. They are for fun, are not authoritative in any way and will be updated for accuracy in a future version of The StarCraft Bible.
Chart Sources: Liquipedia.net, KeSPA Rankings
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