If you watched the GSL grand finals last Sunday, you probably had a blast. No, I’m not talking about the actual match between the finalists Eo "soO" Yoon Su and Kim "Stats" Dae Yeob. As good as it was, it was just heartbreaking to see soO losing the grand finals for the fifth time, thereby setting a new sad record.
Before the game, we witnessed a pre-show that would shake the StarCraft community. After years of speculation and vague suggestions, it is finally happening: StarCraft: Brood War is being remastered! And there is more. The latest patch 1.18 will make the original StarCraft free-to-play. If there ever has been a reason to believe in a renaissance of RTS games in esports, here it is.
StarCraft: Remastered Hype Train
StarCraft: Brood War was one of the most crucial games for the development of esports. In the early 2000s it gained such a great popularity in Korea that its best players became national popstars. Names like Boxer, Flash, Jaedong or Bisu are well-known even beyond the scene, as their achievements are linked to esports history forever. In fact, StarCraft pro players were the first gamers who could earn their living thanks to their profession, as they were paid salaries and got lucrative endorsement deals. Professionalization and commercialization of esports started off in Korea back then.
Due to its long history, and the many stories that have been created in its almost 20 years, the game has a nostalgic factor that can’t be overestimated. Accordingly, the first response to the announcement of StarCraft: Remastered was a new hype train for the game. Celebrities from the scene like Nerchio or Sean Plott praised the announcement and mirror the general opinion of the StarCraft community.
However, this was hardly the start of the current hype, although it might have been a new peak. The renaissance of StarCraft commenced last year in December, when legends like Flash, Jaedong, Bisu, Shuttle, and Rain took part in the second edition of the Afreeca Starleague. The tournament peaked at around 100,000 viewers which is gigantic considering the game’s age. Even its successor, StarCraft 2, comes rarely over 50,000 viewers at once.
These numbers pale in comparison to League of Legends or Counter-Strike, however it shows that there is still much interest for the game, the scene and its players. And I dare to predict that its popularity will increase massively when StarCraft: Remastered is finally being played competitively. Will all these factors make RTS in esports great again, or will the hype recede after the first tourneys have been played? Will the new old game replace Legacy of the Void?
StarCraft 2 is dead, long live StarCraft: Remastered?
Ever since its release, StarCraft 2 has had a very hard time to keep up with Brood War’s legacy. The expectations towards the game were higher than the Mount Everest, as the original was seen through rose-colored glasses. Until today, Brood War is considered one of the best-balanced games in esports, incredibly hard to master, and to be a blast to watch.
Of course, StarCraft 2 couldn’t live up to these ridiculous expectations. Brood War was a child of its time, and thrived thanks to perfect circumstances. StarCraft 2 could have been objectively the best game ever, but that would still not have been enough to become as popular as its predecessor. When part two was released, times had changed, RTS games were on the decline, and MOBAs were on the rise. Despite the fact that StarCraft 2 heralded the advent of the Twitch age, its significance had faded by 2013, and was declared many times after.
Legacy of the Void is still being played by a relatively large community, and it features some of the most intense tournaments in the esports scene. To neglect its ongoing importance would simply be ignorant. Still, with the renaissance of the original StarCraft, we have to evaluate the situation. Is the remastered version going to replace StarCraft 2 in esports’s RTS department? Or will the two games coexist peacefully?
Many pro gamers seem to enjoy both games. Most prominently, Flash declared his love for both games stating that a rivalry between them is ridiculous as they are both StarCraft. Flash was one of Brood War’s veterans who did pretty well in StarCraft 2, though he couldn’t repeat his former success in the new game. His return to Brood War was often interpreted as another nail in StarCraft 2’s coffin, as a declaration that the StarCraft legend prefers the original over the descendant – but this assumption does not do justice to this rather complex matter.
In fact, the games are quite different from each other. Each one has its own unique game mechanics and it would go beyond the scope of this article to elaborate on that in detail. If either game was objectively better than the other, we wouldn’t have this discussion at all. But the quality of the games has much to do with our subjective opinion, and therefore no game is superior to the other.
Here is a direct comparison between the original StarCraft and the remastered version with HD graphics. From: Blizzard Entertainment.
The current hype is a result of Brood War’s nostalgia, its newly rising competitive scene, and Blizzard’s current efforts to modernize their classic games of which StarCraft: Remastered is but the first step. On top of that, the Korean StarCraft 2 scene received a critical blow when the biggest teams disbanded a few months ago.
This prompted many players to retire, join teams overseas, or keep going on their own. For many fans, especially in Korea, this was a deathblow to the scene. As a result, they returned to the RTS classic that seemed to thrive again. With the current changes, StarCraft: Remastered might be in a healthier state, at least in the Korean scene. Watching and playing Brood War means preserving and reliving memories from the good old times, and I argue that this is the essence of the current hype.
Apart from the announcement of the HD version, the original game will be available for free from this week on. This will bring back many older players as well as acquire a large amount of people who havn’t played it yet. How many players will stick to the free-to-play title? And how many will go back to StarCraft 2, League of Legends or Dota 2 after a short time?
Especially younger players will have a hard time playing the remake. As Blizzard won’t change the archaic mechanics, many newcomers will have problems getting used to managing their micro and macro. Today, controls are designed much more comfortable, which is both a weakness and strength of Brood War’s. While mastering mechanics distinguishes casuals from the very best, it is also a reason why the scene of StarCraft 1 is regarded as elitist.
Nathan "Nathanias" Fabrikant has mixed feelings when it comes to the community. On Twitter he posted: “Only bad part of BWHD announcement is I get to have BW elitists committing nonstop verbal diarrhea in my chat for the next month”
Brood War enthusiasts have often the reputation of being arrogant. To them, StarCraft 2 is much too casual and has many flaws in its design. Therefore, they are notorious for advocating the original as the gold standard in esports, while opinions that differ from that are usually being belittled.
As much love as BWHD is getting currently, it is doubtful whether a new generation of players will join the competitive scene, or if the renaissance will be all about the old legends returning. If the remake cannot attract and hold a younger player base, it might, despite all the hype, not become a prime title in esports again. At least, not outside of Korea.
What long-term impact this has on the esports scene is hardly predictable. However, I think we will have a new Golden Age of RTS in esports, at least for one or two years. What other plans Blizzard has in store remains to be seen. But it is safe to say that StarCraft: Remastered is an important step in the right direction.