The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea 2018 marks a monumental moment in esports and video game history. Olympic sponsor, Intel, held a Starcraft 2 exhibition match ahead of the winter games this week. The matches were broadcast for the world to see the ever-growing wonder that is competitive gaming.

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Intel hosts the Intel Extreme Masters on Feb. 5-7, 2018, at the esports arena in PyeongChang, South Korea, ahead of the Olympic Winter Games 2018. The event features the best “StarCraft II” players from around the world competing for the IEM PyeongChang championship. (Credit: Intel/ESL)

As a prologue, there is a history lesson, in case there are those of you not familiar with Starcraft or even esports.

A Brief History of Esports

Competitive gaming has been around since video games early inception. Starting as early as 1980 with the premiere of Atari’s Space Invaders competition. It wouldn’t be until the late 90s though that PCs would bring LAN events in the form of FPS games like Quake and Unreal Tournament.

These LAN events would be held at warehouses, schools or hotels with thousands of players participating for cash prizes. Starcraft released on March 31st, 1998 from Blizzard Entertainment. The very same Blizzard who brought us Overwatch, Hearthstone, Diablo, and World of Warcraft.

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QuakeCon Lan Party.

Starcraft and Its Inception

Starcraft is a real-time strategy game based in a futuristic and galactic wartime between three separate races. We have the humanoid Terran, the psionic Protoss, and the rapidly evolving Zerg. Like most RTS games, you gather resources in order to build infrastructure.

You then use that infrastructure to build units, which you then use to defeat your opponent. Think of a chess match where both players are constantly moving as opposed to waiting each turn. You can also move all the pieces at once. Players develop strategies and move their fingers at hundreds of actions per minute in games that can last anywhere between 5 minutes or more than an hour.

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Starcraft 2 Tournament.

The early 2000s

Along with the popularity of Starcraft: Brood War, the expansion to the original title, esports in the early 2000s has exploded in the form of major competitions. The World Cyber Games, the Electronic Sports World Cup, and the inception of Major League Gaming are huge examples. We had tournaments for Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros., Halo, Call of Duty, the list goes on.

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The 2010s

Let’s skip to the release of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty in 2010. Now on its third expansion, Legacy of the Void, esports is flourishing in ways most could not have imagined. League of Legends, Overwatch, Counterstrike: Global Offensive, are all having their share of the billion dollar industry.

League of Legends Worlds filled up Madison Square Garden just a year ago. The International for Dota 2 has a prize pool of over $20 million. Madden is being played on ESPN 2. Heck, I got to play in the Collegiate Star League, representing my university. But, probably the greatest of esports contributors was online streaming, particularly in the form of Twitch.tv.

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With online broadcasting, it was no longer a major financial issue to stream video games and these tournaments. As more eyes fell on the world of esports, more money began to be tossed around. Players would receive sponsors from big names like Samsung, Acer, Monster, Redbull, etc.

These young pro gamers receive salaries and are expected to practice 8-10 hours a day, much like a real job. Teams would have coaches, managers and live in team houses. More and more governments are beginning to see the potential of endorsing esports. Some beginning to see competitive gaming as actual sports in fact.

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Starcraft 2 Tournament.

 

IEM Spoilers

The collaboration saw players from 16 different countries duke it out for the grand prize of $150,000. Representing North America, we had the Mexican players: Pablo “Cham” Blanco and Juan Carlos “Special” Tena Lopez. From America: Isaac “PandaBearMe” Fox. And finally, from Canada: Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn.

A fun fact for those that are unaware, South Koreans have a history of dominating at competitive video games. To no surprise, South Korean players (Zest and sOs) were the most favored. But, to everyone’s surprise, Zest was knocked out early by the Polish player Elazer, leaving sOs to face the Canadian fan favorite (Scarlett) in the grand finals.

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Scarlett is a 24-year-old transgender female, hailing from Canada. She plays as Zerg for Team Expert and has over $200,000 in prize winnings alone. She has competed all over the world but has only won major tournaments in North America.

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Scarlett.

Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin is from Sacheon, essentially the countryside of South Korea. He is also 24 years old and plays for Jin Air Green Wings. Considerably one of the most decorated SC2 players, sOs has won IEM twice, the World Championship Starcraft Global Finals twice. With over $500,000 in prize winnings, for lack of a better word, he is the “winningest” person in Starcraft.

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sOs.

The Finals

The real Starcraft jargon starts, so be warned.

Starting the bout of seven, Scarlett throws off the Korean Protoss player by planting a base in sOs’ natural. A natural is the first possible area for a player to expand (meaning to plant their second base for additional resources).

Players follow a certain meta, this means players are expected to play a certain way depending on current trends. If this strategy is doing well against a certain race, well keeping doing it! Expanding early to gather resources sooner is basic meta for most players.

With Scarlett denying that natural base, sOs has to adjust his build and strategy. sOs reacts by putting on pressure. Sending aggressive units to the Zerg base, Scarlett struggles to keep her workers alive while sOs manages to expand to his third base. More bases equals more resources which equals more units for battling. To counter, Scarlett decides to use her current income to build a massive army.

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She pushes onto the third base of sOs, preventing the base from mining while also tackling his own army. With incredible positioning and tenacity, both players come out with weakened armies. The Protoss player suffered economic losses though since the battle took place near his own base. All while Scarlett was collecting resources worry-free. With her unscathed economy, Scarlett builds a second army and crushes sOs in the following battle, winning game 1.

Early Aggression

Game 2 starts out with sOs trying to be the more aggressive player, sacrificing a quicker tech (advanced units or abilities) in order to do damage early on. Scarlett defends her economy with almost no damage and bolsters her army far sooner than the Protoss player. With clever tactics and perfect positioning, Scarlett’s army manages to stand between the army of sOs and his own base. Using siege tech (units that plant themselves in order to deal damage from a distance), Scarlett holds her position while doing economic damage in the face of sOs’ army. The Zerg player takes game 2.

Game 3 was a short, but sweet one. Scarlett piles on the early aggression by using drop ship tech. These units that are able to carry other units in order to drop them in strategic positions. Getting this early tech means you’re sacrificing economy, so this must do damage. The Zerg player fills her drop ships with zerglings (quick melee units that deal great damage with numbers) and drops them into the main base of sOs.

sOs thought he was prepared with his extra defensive structures in the back of his base, but he was not expecting so much pressure at the front. Having to defend multiple angles, Scarlett manages to penetrate the Protoss defenses and immediately goes for the worker line. With what would seem like a miss-click, sOs builds less than ideal units to counter and fails to defend against the drop play.

Scarlett is now 3-0 against the Korean Protoss.

Possible Turnaround

In Game 4, Scarlett goes for a similar play with her drop tech but decides to try and use banelings instead. Banelings are units that explode on impact and deal great area of effect damage. This time, sOs was more than prepared with his defense, taking minimal losses while holding a strong economy.

The Protoss player then counterattacks by putting pressure on the third base of the Zerg player. With less resources and weaker tech, Scarlett barely manages to hold, while suffering large economic losses. The second wave of Protoss appears minutes later, forcing the Canadian Zerg to surrender.

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Game 5 begins with Scarlett, again, going for an early aggressive play. Sacrificing economy, she produces many zerglings and invests in drop tech. sOs scouts the enemy base early on, but with clever maneuvering, Scarlett manages to hide her units. This makes the Protoss unaware of the coming attack. Seconds later, with his base wide open, zerglings begin to flood into the Protoss natural. This forces workers and army to try and defend.

With great micro (control of your own units) Scarlett manages to disable much of the Protoss infrastructure, leaving sOs with no way to build units. With the last of the workers dying out, Scarlett wins game 5, along with the IEM PyeongChang World Championship.

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IEM 2018 PyeongChang Champion

With this, Scarlett wins her first ever international tournament. She will be playing again on February 10th in the most prestigious SC2 tournament, the Global Starleague. Be sure to tune in at 13:00 Korean Standard Time to cheer her on! And if you’re interested in watching some of the VODs of IEM PyeongChang, all the matches are available on the ESL Starcraft Youtube channel.

The Present and Possible Future

Though esports isn’t an official Olympic event this winter, the International Olympic Committee has endorsed the Intel Extreme Masters Starcraft 2 tournament ahead of the Winter Games. This is a major milestone. Not just for esports, but for video games in general.

Most of us gamers come from an age where we would be called “losers” for playing video games, let alone making a career out of it. Video games are now used as a way to teach, keep minds sharp, or even socialize. As competitive gaming gains in popularity, I can see more endorsements, as far as the federal level. South Korea and many European countries already have their celebrity pro gamers.

I remember more than a decade ago idolizing the Quake player Fatal1ty as he played in the Electronic Sports World Cup. An event that most people have never heard of. Now, these players fill up arenas and whole stadiums with fans screaming their name. Cable television has broadcast major tournaments.

Disney channel has an esports-based show now! Though many will hold strong to say esports can never be considered REAL sports, there is now enough of a following and interest to make video games one of the biggest industries in the world.

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