At Red Bull Battle Grounds, we had a chance to talk to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime about WCS 2013, the plan for 2014, and StarCraft 2 esports in general.
Interview with Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How do you rate WCS 2013? What did you like about about it, and what didn't you like so much?I liked that it gave the scene some order. In 2012, a lot of things were happening, but it was hard to know the relative importance of everything. WCS '13 gave everything some structure, and it linked in tournaments like IEM and DreamHack in as well. I think there's an opportunity to improve upon all that in 2014 as well.
What didn't it do well? I think some of the criticism around region-locking was valid. The hand-off between OnGameNet and GomTV between WCS Korea seasons was a bit awkward, I don't think that really helped with preserving momentum.
Regarding those problems, obviously you guys wanted some Koreans to be in America and Europe, since it increases the level of competition and makes it more interesting to watch. But did you anticipate that they would move over so quickly, and in such large numbers?We felt that having some number of Koreans in other regions would be good. One of the problems you had in 2012 was that most of the best players in the world were in Korea, but a lot of the viewers were outside of Korea. The time zones of the Korean matches made it so difficult, especially if you were in America, to follow what was going on in StarCraft. We wanted to expand the ability to view high level StarCraft to a global scale. We think 2013 actually did a very good job of doing that.
It's sort of a knob – how many Koreans do you want outside of Korea? We still look at GSL as where the top level of StarCraft play is. I think 2014 will be able to preserve the best of both sides.
How early on in 2013 were you thinking about the need for a partial region-lock?We were talking to various stakeholders pretty much right after we announced WCS 2013. The trick is that you want to minimize the disruption to the players that are currently in the system. You have players who have moved to other regions, players who have made it into Premier League, and you really don't want to disenfranchise those players.
I think we came up with a pretty good compromise. It restricts the number of players that can enter through the qualifier, but it doesn't kick anybody out who has already earned their spot in Premier. And it also opens up the flexibility for players to move around between seasons.
In the interest of improving the level of ladder play on non-Korean servers, you've required the wild card players to have a certain number of wins on their account. A lot of people like that idea, but why didn't you expand that fully to the guys already in Premier, since they are generally the best players who would affect ladder quality the most?I think so as well, but you don't want to get into a situation where you're facing kicking someone out of Premier because they didn't play enough ladder games. That's not good for anybody.
There will be a small number of spots for the qualifiers, but I think there will be enough competition for those spots that there will be more high level play on the regional ladders.
What was the intent of trying to integrate OSL/GSL so deeply into the WCS system? Why didn't it work out?The intent was to get the entire Korean StarCraft ecosystem to be pushing in the same direction. I think it did do that, but it was a very choppy system, because you kept having the hand-off back and forth between seasons and we lost some continuity. I think 2014 will be a lot simpler, a lot easier to watch. Our partners in Korea will be focusing on the things that they do best, and the things that they want to focus on.
What did you guys think of having the WCS finals at BlizzCon? Would you have it at BlizzCon every year it's available?Regarding the future, I don't want to make any WCS related statements related to other things we haven't announced yet – we haven't announced anything about BlizzCon in 2014 either.
But I don't think there's a better spot to have a finals. The crowd is amazing, and having the WCS finals there... it was just the perfect location.
How about the format at BlizzCon? StarCraft is a somewhat high-variance game by nature, and single elim tournaments can have wildly unpredictable results. The result this year came out of left field as well. Are you considering changing the WCS finals format so it better fits the entire unified storyline?We do like the single elimination tournament, especially when we're able to seed it from the points that were earned over the course of an entire season. It's fairly common in other sports to use a single elimination format – we're pretty happy with it.
Do you think the entire unified storyline with a global champion at the end is necessary? Compared to say, a system like tennis or golf where you have several majors, but without a specific final tournament to crown the year end champion.That's definitely another approach. But we definitely want to have a global ranking, and I think it adds to the tension and the storyline of StarCraft for it all to be accumulating, leading up to something that's sitting on top of everything else.
But is the global final system you have now effective at reaching that goal? sOs' story isn't exactly one that represented the entire year.You have to admit, he played extremely well at BlizzCon. People may not have expected him to win it, but you walk away thinking he really earned that.
Bob Colayco (Blizzard PR Manager): You look at something like the NCAA college basketball tournament in America, where you have teams like Duke that are ranked number one all year. But then you have the single elimination championship tournament at the end, where Cinderella can get lucky one time... It's great drama, right?
Mike Morhaime: You have that in WCS also, you have the point system for the entire season, and then you have the bracket at the end. It's still a pretty big deal to end the year as the highest point earner.
What was the reasoning behind removing the individual Season Finals?First of all, there was a scheduling problem that happened with the Season Finals because it put constraints on the entire schedule. Everything had to finish at a particular date before the Season Finals. By nature, everything felt rushed toward the end, since we basically had four major tournaments all back to back. It took a little bit of the prestige away from the regional tournaments, because the players got to celebrate for one week and then they were off to compete in another tournament.
We wanted to highlight the regional tournaments and give them more weight in the system, and we wanted to leave more room and space open for other major, international tournaments like DreamHack, IEM, and hopefully other tournaments that will spring up to fill that gap.
You've announced a proportion of WCS qualifier spots have been set aside for the non-America/Europe regions like China, SEA, etc. Is that all we have for those regions in WCS in 2014, or can we expect something more for them as the year goes along?I think you should look at WCS as a work in progress. We're making changes, our intent is to continue to improve the system. As we make these changes, we're all going to become smarter and learn how the changes affect the system. We're willing to make additional changes if we think there's other ways to improve the system.
Considering that WCS is going to be a regular, annual thing, does that affect the Legacy of the Void release schedule, seeing that it would have a huge impact on the competitive scene?We're not ready to say anything about LotV yet. But we understand the concern, and it's something we consider when releasing new content in StarCraft.
The Arcade will be free in patch 2.1, as well as the starter edition getting more features. It makes a lot of people wonder about the possibility of free-to-play multiplayer – is that something you guys are talking about? A lot of people in the industry will say that to stay competitive as premier esports game in this day and age, you have to go free-to-play, a model where someone can watch a tournament and immediately jump into ladder.Well, StarCraft 2 multiplayer will be effectively free to play in custom games.
I don't think many people are going to go directly from watching the game and into the ladder. I think they may want to practice some games first. I think people can decide whether or not they like the game enough to purchase it by playing the free modes.