Legacy of the Void will be the last expansion released of the 3-part StarCraft 2 trilogy. For those who are interested in the campaign, it looks like we’re finally going to see the conclusion of the StarCraft story. For those who are interested in the professional scene, it looks like we are going to see the conclusion of StarCraft 2 as a main-stream competitive game.
I sincerely believe that Legacy of the Void is capable of bringing not only a resurgence to the StarCraft 2 scene, but also long-lasting interest in the game. This will only be true if Blizzard takes the correct steps. Blizzard is fully capable of dedicating the resources necessary to ensure StarCraft 2’s success, and they can do it while turning a profit. I don’t think they’ve shown that they’re willing to do it yet, but I hope they change their mind with the coming of their final expansion to the StarCraft 2 universe.
Firstly, I want to establish something that some people seem to disagree with, or at least did back in 2011: the more people you have playing a game, the more people you have watching a game as an e-sport.
Let’s take a look at four of the leading e-sports titles right now: League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and StarCraft 2.
Number of players/accounts for each game –
LoL – 7,500,000 concurrent players, 27,000,000 daily players, 67,000,000 monthly players in January of 2014 [source]
DotA 2 – 960,000 peak concurrent players over the last 30 days, 9,800,000 monthly unique players [source, source]
CS:GO – 348,000 peak concurrent players over the last 30 days, 3,900,000 monthly unique players [source, source]
SC2 – 180,801 or 242,627 total active accounts [source] [source]
Peak concurrent viewers for the “most important” finals –
LoL, LCS Season 4 World Championship – 11,200,000 viewers concurrent [source]
DotA 2, The International 4 – “well over 2,000,000 peak concurrent viewers” [source]
CS:GO, Dreamhack Winter 2014 – 409,368 viewers [source]
SC2, WCS Grand Finals of Blizzcon – 155,435 [source]
Can we put this whole “SC2 is a specator e-sport!” thing to rest, please? Far too often people try to shut down discussion of making SC2 a more accessible game with the argument that there are these multitudes of people who watch StarCraft 2 but don’t play it, but the correlations between number of players vs number of tournament viewers is simply too strong to deny. While the ratio of players-to-viewers is indeed high for Starcraft 2, it is undeniable that the more popular your game is and the more people you have playing it, the greater your viewership will be for your tournaments. This establishes a very important, often-ignored link between the professional and casual gaming scene: more casual gamers means a healthier professional scene.
What does this mean for us StarCraft 2 fans now, in 2014? It means we want to have as many people playing StarCraft 2 a possible.
The most important factor in a games popularity is the developer. I’m going to put forth the exact same argument I put forth two years ago: Blizzard absolutely MUST change their approach to Legacy of the Void if we’re going to draw in a steady supply of new players and keep them playing the game. The idea that “we can fix this ourselves!” is absolutely not true. All of the popular figures that claimed that have, for the most part, evacuated the scene. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not accusing anyone of doing anything malicious. I myself almost left the SC2 scene back in 2012 for League of Legends. But it’s important to see that developer support for a game is crucial and that most people have come to understand that now.
Idra no longer plays StarCraft 2 anymore and, ironically enough, moved onto a game that Blizzard is supporting more than ever, Heroes of the Storm. Artosis, who, in response to “some of the negativity going around“, claimed that “StarCraft 2 is in an amazing spot right now” and that ” SC2 is the best damn game in the world. Its more beautiful and complex than anything else being played at the moment.” now plays Hearthstone. DJWheat hasn’t had anything to do with StarCraft 2 for a while, and other figures that were popular have taken a large step back from the scene, such as Grubby, Day9, and Husky. Again, I’m not trying to incite hatred against anyone or to say that these are bad people, I just want people to stop derailing the conversation of fostering a larger playerbase by claiming that StarCraft 2 doesn’t need a healthy, casual fanbase that only Blizzard can attract. To say anything else is ignorant.
Can StarCraft 2 actually grow in a successful way that will propel us into a healthy 2015/2016 and beyond? If Blizzard takes the right steps, I believe so. But how? What can Blizzard do to change the course that SC2 is currently on?
Let’s take a look at CS:GO.
First, read this article. Read all of it.
You skipped the article to read more of what I’m going to say. Don’t. Seriously, here’s the link again. Go back and read that article. It’s fucking important. It’s so absolutely and critically important that you read this article for some context.
So what happened? CS:GO was absolutely dead in the water from its release, August 2012, until the end of 2013. This graph from the last article illustrates how dead CS:GO’s growth was once it was released. This is completely anecdotal, but I remember everyone laughing at CS:GO, talking about how much of a joke the game was and how it would never, ever be in the spotlight in the same way 1.6 was. Hell, people were even praising Source compared to the atrocity that was GO.
So what happened? What gave CS:GO the “push” it needed to see the explosive growth it’s had over the past few years? It wasn’t community support, it wasn’t large community members, it wasn’t a vibrant tournament scene and it wasn’t positive posts on a subreddit.
Valve supported their game. Valve’s released 45 patches in 2014 alone! They’re constantly working with players to keep the game fresh via new maps and balance tweaking. The Steam market place and skinning system make the game feel alive and fresh. They added a new queuing system that allowed people to find matches easier (ever hear complaints about SC2 matchmaking/MMR decay..?). They reworked their ranking system. They reworked a TON of weapon balance in early 2013 based on player feedback (ever hear people calling for a redesign of Protoss..?, or SC2 movement/”grouping” mechanics?). And on top of all of this, they found a way to finance their development teams – by using the Steam market to sell skins and keys.
No one knew 4 years ago what the e-sports landscape would look like today. A large number of people and organizations dumped money into the StarCraft 2 bubble that we saw burst in late 2012/early 2013 (remember NASL, IPL, MLG, Ministry of Win, Slayers, GameOn.org, etc…etc…?) with no idea of what the future would bring. Looking at things now, though, it’s very clear to see what will work and what won’t work. Blizzard doesn’t have to “guess” at which monetization scheme for LotV would be effective, there are plenty of successful examples that have had time to grow on the market already. At this point, Blizzard could simply copy another monetization model from another successful title. There’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel here.
To further this point, look at another thing all of these games have in common – their developers are able to monetize content past the initial sale of the game. In DotA 2/LoL’s case, they don’t even require an initial sale to generate revenue. Skins, hats, and new characters all generate revenue for these companies which allows them to justify the development time they put into the game. And all of these monetization schemes bring greater content to the players. Players are motivated to play more in a way that generates more revenue for the developer. This relationship is so important to the success of these other leading titles.
One of the most frustrating things about my encounter with Blizzard after I’d made my initial post about SC2’s shortcomings was that every single suggestion I’d made about increasing the appeal of the game to a casual fanbase was met with similar responses. “Oh, we don’t have enough developers to work on that” or” ah, well all of our engineers are currently working on other projects.” This is why monetization schemes are so absolutely crucial for StarCraft 2, and it is beyond frustrating that Blizzard refuses to implement any of these into the game. There are so many people who want to spend more money on StarCraft 2 but simply can’t because there’s nothing to buy.
StarCraft 2 could easily rip the skin system off of CS:GO COMPLETELY and enjoy some resurgence. If you had the chance to get a new skin for a unit after x number of ladder games, imagine how many more people would play now that they actually have something to build towards? The prospect of “skinning out” an entire SC2 army is so insanely exciting, even my inner fanboy quivers with desire. You could release skins that only drop after playing team games, or FFA’s, and it would also bolster popularity for those match-ups as well. You could require players to purchase a “Blizzard Key” to open said crates and generate money that way. You could out-source your designing of skins to individuals or teams who might get a small % of the money. There are so many different ways Blizzard could be collecting revenue from players that it absolutely kills me to see them neglect these things.
Voice packs are another exciting prospect. How many people would love a Day 9 voice pack? I guarantee he’d be willing to do one for way less than what you’d have to pay a professional voice actor for, say, an Abathur voice pack. I know I’d do one, probably at no cost (as long as my flight to the recording studio was paid for) because the idea of being involved in the game would be so exciting. Even Call of Duty got a Snoop Dogg voice pack. DotA 2 has similar announcer packs available as well.
All of the new changes announced for LotV are awesome, no doubt, but they’re only awesome for people who already play the game. There are no new players who are going to be drawn to the game to play Archon mode, and there are no new players who are going to come and play the game again because of a change to the number of minerals in a patch. Blizzard absolutely needs to do something to matchmaking that makes it a worthwhile experience for someone who’s not trying to climb to Grandmaster’s. Right now there is virtually no reason to play the ladder unless you’re trying to rank up to GM. You get a pointless portrait that you see for all of 1/1000th of the time you’re actually interacting with an opponent (at the loading screen) and the “leagues” don’t really feel rewarding except to a small handful of people.
Please, Blizzard, please let us get something in exchange for playing ladder games that make it feel like there’s a purpose to playing. The level system isn’t enough. The portraits feel empty and hollow. Let us get skins for our armies or voice packs for our games! We WANT to give you money! We want YOU to make enough money to justify spending more time developing the game!