Diggity on eSports: StarCraft 2, League of Legends, NASL Finals (Interview)
What is the greatest obstacle preventing eSports from making it as big in North America as it is in South Korea?
There’s a couple. First, the Korean competitors. The viewership wants to see the best players, and the best currently are the Koreans. The Europeans can compete a little bit, but the North Americans are generally not competing at the flat Korean level. The head of GOMtv said it best: they just don’t have the infrastructure. It’s not a full time job, currently.
Unfortunately, it’s a reciprocal problem. The viewers want to see the Koreans because they want to see the best, so they will give priority to things like GOMtv and Code S, and as a result, the Koreans will continue to garner the majority of the viewership. But at the same time, for the North Americans to grow, they need a protected industry where people would be willing to watch them as well.
When SC2 launched, all the SC pro players had to start over again, allowing non-Korean players to compete. But there’s a closing window where the Koreans are just going to have more practice under their belt and as a result, anybody trying to compete anywhere else will be run over. It doesn’t matter what talent you have starting out — what delivers at the end of the day is putting obsessive amounts of time into the game, and the Koreans have the ability to do that, with full-time pay. Nobody else really does, except for a handful of privileged individuals, and even these individuals don’t have the same practice partners, coaches, facilities, and entire groups around them that are dedicated to making them better players, like the Koreans do.
Another problem is complacency. The viewership is still large and still growing, but there’s been a loss of momentum. Everybody in the community feels North American eSports will make it big, but if everybody just sits and watches and assumes it will happen rather than take an active role in making it happen, in another year and a half a large portion of the viewing audience will have moved on to a new popular game. There are many games that people thought would be the next big thing that didn’t make it, and the biggest in my mind is Counter Strike. The developers, Valve, thought CS was untouchable, and it was, for a very long time. People in the eSports scene just assumed things stay that way forever, and of course they didn’t. That’s my worry — that when we’re talking about this two years from now, SC2 wont even be on the map anymore.
There’s also been criticism across the board directed at the North American leagues. The viewership has gotten more demanding. I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold people to a higher standard, but at the same time, tell your friends, get people motivated, support sponsors, get sponsors involved, get involved yourself where you can. You don’t have to be an amazing player to help eSports out. You can do things like organize parties or start clubs that help out every bit as much. I feel like this is still a huge grassroots movement and people are treating it like eSports has already arrived.
I also feel like the viewership has been rewarding bad behavior in all of those lines. The groups they support seem to be the ones that favor the “let’s keep it on Korea” mentality.
Is there still a reasonable chance of successfully establishing eSports in North America?
I definitely think there’s a very strong chance, but it’s not a sure bet. Having done SC eSports for 4.5 years and seeing how everything has developed, seeing things in their current state is very nerve-wracking. I hope it moves forward in a positive direction, and that the scene continues to snowball and grow.
Do you feel there’s room for more than one StarCraft 2 pro league in North America?
We currently have the NASL, MLG, and IPL. Instead of groups competing with other groups, I would love to see them merge, but I don’t think that’ll be the case. The viewers tend to reward the single large events, rather the long, consistent events like NASL, and there’s so many of them that it doesn’t feel like there’s a distinguishing factor. There’s a champion one month, and two weeks later, someone else is crowned. For example, Polt wins the GSL, and he’s almost instantly forgotten as Huk wins DreamHack, and everybody’s already forgotten about MLG Columbus, which was less than a month ago.
Do you expect the NASL finals in July to see a spike in viewership?
I think there will be a spike in viewership, but whether that will be positive or negative has yet to be seen. The biggest problem I believe the NASL has is that they’ve gone for quantity over quality. I feel like the viewers have been burnt out between the streams, between IPL, NASL, MLG… it’s hard for the viewers to keep up with what’s going on.
My recommendation has been to go to something smaller, more clean-cut. But if the finals go really well and are a clean production, it’ll bode well for Season 2. Everyone is hyper-critical of the NASL right now because they got off on a bad foot and have had problems along the way; if it the finals are not flawless, I don’t think the community will look on the NASL favorably.
Nevertheless, I feel NASL is still the best bet for an establishment of NA eSports because it’s an actual league, and in my opinion that’s the closest thing to transitioning into actual teams and salaries and player positions. Anything can happen here — it just depends on what kind of show they deliver.