Once upon a time in Canada, the hockey season was over for the off-season and I was looking for something to fill the void. After watching some pro-build guides in an attempt to get out of wood-league I thought, “why not give eSports a chance”?
At the time, StarCraft2 was still the eSport. There was no lack of events or coverage, but holy shit was understanding all the different scenes and leagues and rankings and teams and …
It’s daunting at first. But I persevered and have been watching the Professional StarCraft2 scene ever since.
Things have changed since then, and with the final expansion for StarCraft2, Legacy of the Void, came some major adjustments to the organization of the professional scene.
With that in mind, I present to you An Introduction to Watching SC2 eSports, my effort to lower the barrier to understanding and enjoying StarCraft2’s eSports scene.
New to StarCraft2 or never watched professional-level games? Well, there is a lot to learn, but here are some resources to get your started.
Although somewhat dated, the terminology and concepts presented are still relevant for any viewer today. If you have no idea what you’re looking at when watching SC2 broadcasts, Total Biscuit’s introduction will break the basics down for you.
Where to Watch:
Most events will eventually have Videos-on-Demand available on YouTube, or on their respective streaming platform shortly after the live broadcast.
When looking for what StarCraft2 events are live or upcoming, there is really only one place to go: TeamLiquid.net!
Okay, maybe two places: Liquipedia has all the details that supplements Team Liquid.
Team Liquid will show you who is live broadcasting, what events are ongoing and upcoming, and everything else you need to know.
Their calendar page is particularly useful!
Once you’re done here, Team Liquid should really be your main page for everything StarCraft2.
What to Watch:
The Big Leagues:
Blizzard sponsors the World Championship Series (WCS), the main professional league in StarCraft2. The WCS is now the single administrative and ranking body for almost the entire global StarCraft2 professional scene. Think of it as the NFL, or perhaps FIFA without the negative connotations.
There is a major exception to the WCS system: the Korean StarCraft2 Proleague system. While WCS is based on an individual-player 1v1 style, Proleague is a team-based 1v1 competition. Players in Korea play in both Proleague and WCS events, but the standings and results in one do not affect the other.
World Championship Series – Individual 1v1 Tournaments:
By individual 1v1 tournaments, I am referring to a specific tournament format and style.
In this type of event, a player is playing best-of-# events representing themselves. Players sponsored by the same team can be matched against each other and eliminate one another. Championships are won by, and awarded to, individual players. This format is by far the most prevalent in professional StarCraft2 and is the format of the WCS system.
There are two separate divisions within the WCS system: WCS Korea & WCS Circuit.
While there are special events that see overlap between the two (like BlizzCon & WCS Global Events), for the most part players and events in WCS Korea and WCS Circuit are mutually exclusive.
Basically, WCS Korea is for players living and competing in Korea and WCS Circuit is for everybody else.
BlizzCon hosts the WCS Finals, which brings the top 8 players from WCS Korea and WCS Circuit together in a tournament to determine the Global Champion for the year.
WCS Points are distributed at events in both WCS Korea and the WCS Circuit. The higher a
player finishes in a tournament, the more WCS Points they receive.
This ranking system is used to determine who is invited to Seasonal Events, and most importantly, who makes it to the Global Finals at BlizzCon. The top eight players from WCS Korea and WCS Circuit fill out the sixteen-player bracket at BlizzCon.
Korea is the homeland of professional StarCraft, produces the best players, and Korean tournaments are considered the platforms for displaying the pinnacle of StarCraft2 skill. If you make it into the GSL or SSL, you are amongst the absolute best in the world. There are two seasons of both the GSL and SSL per year, the winner of each season secures an invitational seed to the BlizzCon Global Finals.
The champions of seasons one and two of the GSL and SSL secure spots at the Global Finals, with four more WCS Korea players being invited based on their WCS Point Standings at the end of the competitive season.
The longest running and highest prestige tournament in all of StarCraft2. Period.
Dreams of progaming in StarCraft2 are centered around winning a GSL Championship. Nobody can claim to be the best without at least one GSL title to their name.
There are two basic tiers in the GSL: Code A and Code S.
Code A is made up of 62 qualified players competing in best-of-five matches to determine who makes it into Code S. Players who fail to qualify for Code S are awarded ₩2,000,000 ($1,692 USD) and 100 WCS-Points.
Code S is a 32-player tournament split into two Group Stages (Round-of-32 & Round-of-16) and a eight player Playoffs.
The Group stages are divided into 4-player groups/divisions based on player’s historical performance. The first two players to lose two Best-of-Three series are eliminated.
The Playoffs are a seeded single-elimination tournament (winner of Group A plays Group B runner-up, etc). The Quarterfinal series are Best-of-Five, the Semi-Finals and Finals are Best-of-Seven.
If there is only one single tournament you can watch for StarCraft2, might as well stick with the best and watch the GSL.
Broadcast Info: Everything GSL from Liquipedia
StarCraft II StarLeague (SSL)
The other Korean StarCraft2 league, the SSL may lack the heritage of the GSL it does not lack the quality of play or players. With a prize-pool equal to that of the GSL, the best players in the world treat the SSL with equal reverence.
The SSL Qualifiers are done as a massive, offline, best-of-three, single-elimination tournament split into eight brackets/groups. The top two players from each group advance to the SSL Main Event.
The SSL Main Event is a sixteen-player, double-elimination best-of-# tournament. Players who lose once in the Winners Bracket still have a chance at making the Finals through the Loser’s Bracket, but another loss there and they are eliminated from the tournament. A great format for drama, rematches and sweet, sweet revenge.
The best-of-seven finals are held between the winner of the Winner’s Bracket and the winner of the Loser’s Bracket.
Broadcast Info: SSL Overview from Liquipedia
There is a thriving StarCraft2 scene outside of Korea, but the decentralized nature of global
online competition has led Blizzard to adopt a unique strategy for organizing the World Championship Series Circuit.
The WCS Circuit is split into three seasons: Winter, Spring, and Summer. Each season has a Championship tournament worth big money, WCS Points, and a seed into the BlizzCon Global Finals for the winner.
Although sponsored and subsidized by Blizzard, WCS Circuit Events are held at regional eSports events and conventions. Basically, major StarCraft2 Tournaments, usually Intel Extreme Masters and DreamHack eSports events, are incorporated as WCS Circuit events and Seasons Finals.
This differs from the studio-based structure found in WCS Korea. WCS Circuit sees major events and Season Finals being held in different continents and countries, events run by various organizations. Qualifiers are necessarily complex, as tournament seeds are awarded through region-based qualification tournaments, meant to provide both competitive and diverse rosters from across the globe at WCS Circuit events.
This system means that almost every major StarCraft2 tournament, regardless of who is hosting it and where it is based, can be worth WCS Points – adding value for players and fans, as well as relevance to the year-long WCS tournament system.
The champions of each season secure spots at the Global Finals at BlizzCon, with five more WCS Circuit players being invited based on their WCS Point Standings at the end of the competitive season.
When all the various WCS Seasons are over, it’s time for the Playoffs. Held at BlizzCon every year, the WCS Global Playoffs and Finals pit the best sixteen StarCraft2 players from across the globe together to determine who takes home the title of StarCraft2 Global Champion.
Both GSL and SSL Champions, the WCS Circuit Winter, Spring and Summer Champions, along with the remaining top players based on WCS-Points, will compete for the $200,000 USD Grand Prize.
The other major style of professional StarCraft2 Tournament is the Team League. Dating all
the way back to the early days of Professional Brood War, the 1v1 team-based tournament system is an established and exciting format of StarCraft competition.
Unlike the WCS system, cheering for a team, instead of specific individual players, is more the focus of ProLeague. Held entirely in Korea and totally separate from the WCS system, ProLeague’s style of competition offers a fast paced, highly variable and pressure soaked atmosphere. Surrounded by teammates and coaches, ProLeague gives an entirely different feel to 1v1 competition in StarCraft2.
The regular season of ProLeague is split into three Rounds. Each team plays each other, their wins providing points that determine the standings for the Playoffs at the end of each Round.
Team rosters are pitted against each other in a unique best-of-five 1v1 format. Teams select one player per map, they play a single match, the winner scores for their team. A player can only play one map each, with one exception. The first team to win three maps is declared the winner.
Should a matchup come down to Game Five, the Ace Match, players who may have already played a match that day can be reused as team Aces.
The top four teams compete in Playoffs at the end of each Round to determine a seasonal winner. The playoffs are best-of-seven series, with a slightly altered format. A King-of-the-Hill style allows the winning player to continue playing matches until he is defeated. This can produce the epic and feared All-Kill, where one player single-handedly eliminates another team.
The final end-of-season Playoffs feature the top four teams, qualified based on their year-long points standings. Round 1 and 2 of the playoffs feature two days of competition between the teams, the first day a classic one-and-done format, the second day a king-of-the-hill style. The Third and Fourth place teams play to determine who advances to play the Second place team, who then play to see who advances to the finals against the highest ranked team.
Broadcast Info: Proleague Overview from Liquipedia
Major and Minor Tournaments:
There are a ton of tournaments and competitions outside of the WCS and Korean systems. They can mirror WCS tournament formats, team leagues, or very often organize themselves completely differently. New events pop up constantly, and creating a comprehensive list of the various professional semi-pro and open community tournaments would keep someone very, very busy.
While the new WCS format has actually included a lot of the relatively smaller events into the WCS system (as qualifiers, challengers and regional events), there are still some major events that fall outside Blizzard’s system.
Here is a not-at-all comprehensive list of some of the more notable and established StarCraft2 events and tournaments not already mentioned:
Rifkin and ZombieGrub provide some of the best and most comprehensive coverage of the StarCraft2 scene. Period. Not only do they cover a wide array of the WCS events, but they host their own tournaments and support other non-WCS organizers. Top quality production and an independent attitude come together for a unique and never-dull viewing experience.
OlimoLeague – The only major non-KeSPA/WCS tournament for Korean players
Oceanic, South East Asian, North American and Chinese regional championship
The OCS is an online tournament system that caters to Oceanic, South East Asian, North American and Chinese communities and players. Integrating many disperse tournaments with a WCS-like point system (OSC Points), players competing in a variety of tournaments earn points to qualify to the annual OSC Finals. A great organization for the semi-pro and professional SC2 scene outside the WCS system.
The only non-korean alternative to ProLeague, the SC2Improve team organizes and hosts this Team-Based competition for all willing professional teams outside of Korea. Sc2Improve also covers a large number of other tournaments and events, their stream is always worth checking out for quality SC2 action.
The ASL provides a platform for players of all levels to compete in a high-quality production environment. While the ASL has tournaments for Bronze all the way to Professional level play, their Prime League draws on a talent pool that brings Korean and non-Korean progamers together, which is somewhat rare these days.
The ongoing monthly league tournament hosted by ESL has events twice a week, Thursdays and Sundays, that are open to any and all players. Results are awarded Go4SC2 Points, the sixteen players with the most points at the end of each month are invited to a €600 Monthly Finals event.
Although a relatively new organization, Gauntlet StarCraft has been providing some top notch online tournaments, bringing together a great combination of rising talents and big name players. This grassroots organization began with a focus on the Americas region, but have expanded their reach to a global scale with ongoing leagues, show matches and events with some excellent production by Nexus Recall.
It’s a complicated pro-scene, but here is the most bare-bones summary I’m capable of:
BlizzCon Global Finals: The Superbowl/World Cup/THE Championship of StarCraft2
WCS System: Player Rankings for BlizzCon Finals
Korean Scene: WCS Leagues (GSL & SSL) and Team League (ProLeague)
Global Scene: WCS Circuit Seasons, various non-WCS tournaments and events.
Catch almost everything on Twitch.tv and YouTube.
Here’s hoping this helps in your pursuit of StarCraft2 eSports!
GL and HF!