Everyone knew that 2016 would hold big changes for StarCraft2 with the release of the final expansion Legacy of the Void. But I don’t think anyone was expecting all that 2016 had in store for us. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 2016 proved to be a watershed year for StarCraft2, one that would profoundly change the professional landscape. Whether this is for better or for worse is up to interpretation, but one thing that can’t be argued is that some of the best games of StarCraft2 were played this year.
→ Part VII – Epilogue
2016 provided high drama and the best competitive StarCraft2 yet.
It is at the very highest echelon that this fact rings true. ByuN stole the hearts of Terran players everywhere, broke the hearts of everyone with an anti-reaper bias, and eventually won over the entire eSports scene with his incredible journey this year .
Dark took up the mantel of Uber Zerg, dominating throughout the entire year. If ByuN broke the mold on his way to success, Dark is a testament to the old way, the KeSPA way, and living proof of why the best players in the world come out of the Korean system. Unfortunately, that system broke under the weight of pressures both inside and outside the game.
The Korean StarCraft2 scene was essentially destroyed in 2016. Scandal rocked both KeSPA teams and StarCraft2’s brightest rising star . ProLeague, the longest running eSports event and Korean StarCraft2 staple closed it’s doors, and with it almost every Korean StarCraft2 team with it . The short-lived SSL was also shuttered, meaning Dark will have to go back to the GSL for more titles in Korea.
The Final Series of the Last Proleague
All that being said, the GSL is still going strong as the premier StarCraft2 tournament. Korea is still the homeland and mecca of StarCraft, Korean players still the absolute favourites to take any tournament they enter. TRUE, Polt, and Hydra all won championships outside of Korea, showcasing that Koreans competing outside of Korea is still a recipe for success. That being said, the first non-Korean player to win a KeSPA Championship inside Korea was crowned this year, with Neeb(let) accomplishing what so many others considered impossible .
In fact, the controversial WCS format seemed to catapult the best non-Korean players into true contender status. And this wasn’t just a case of charity work. Players like ShoWTimE, Nerchio, Snute, Neeb(let), and Elazer would prove themselves as world class players on par with their Korean counterparts. Regardless of where you stand on the Korea/non-Korea split in the WCS system, the playing field has never been more level that it is now heading into 2017. The infrastructural, and possibly cultural, advantages that professional players in Korea had over their dispersed foreign counterparts has largely vanished, and the facade of that KeSPA environment cracked beyond repair with ByuN’s not-sponsored-by-KeSPA ascent to the GSL and WCS Global championship.
Neeb breaking the mold at the 2016 KeSPA Cup
But what truly set this year apart from any other before it in StarCraf2, what signifies more than any other factor the true turning of a page in the history of the game, can be found in who left the game. Not forced out through scandal, or from a lack of team sponsorship, but those who retired. An entire generation of Brood War and Wings of Liberty pros called it quits in the first year of Legacy of the Void, some of them make up the very foundation on which the professional StarCraft2 was built.
Oh, and also those two left. You know, those two.
The faces of StarCraft, not just StarCraft2, not just Brood War, but of the entire scene in general. Hell, at one point they were the faces of eSport itself. They need no introduction, but they made one hell of an exit:
Both Flash and Jaedong called it quits in 2016, retiring from professional StarCraft 2 competition to go on Brood War streamers and competitors.
There are very few Brood War/Wings of Liberty pros left, fewer still that are still relevant competitors. Korean dominance over the scene is wavering like it never has before.
You could look at all this in context of doom and gloom: the scene is contracting, players are being forced into retirement, ded gaem. But look closer. The quality of the games and productions (both professional and amateur) have stayed high, and the fallout from Korea has made the professional scene more competitive than ever.
Now let’s not understate this: StarCraft2 in Korea appears very tenuous at this moment. Over thirty Korean players were left teamless when ProLeague disbanded, and while some have retired or found new teams, for many players the future is uncertain. That being said, the GSL is still fully supported by Blizzard, but the new WCS system for 2017 still supports the Korea vs The World partition.
Things have changed, and will continue to shift, as StarCraft2 settles into it’s place in the eSports world, but this is hardly a bad thing.
While the huge, unsustainable growth has fallen back in on itself, what is left in the StarCraft2 scene will be a healthy, if smaller, community of dedicated fans, players, and content creators. Blizzard, ESL/IEM, DreamHack and and a thriving community scene are still supporting StarCraft2 as an eSport, and the game’s consistent draw has secured it’s place as a staple in the industry.
The future is bright, and our time with Legacy of the Void and this new Era of StarCraft2 has just begun.
GL and HF out there!
Author’s Note- 10,000 words. It took 10,000 words to put together this “brief” summary of 2016 StarCraft2. It started out as as single Year in Review, grew to be a five-part series, and finally bloated out to be seven installments. Yikes. Cheers and a ton of appreciation to anyone who made it through all, or even just part of it! I wanted to make a small contribution to the history of StarCraft2, create something that people could look back to that captured the surface of a complex and ever changing community of StarCraft fanatics and fans. There won’t ever be another year like this one, with so much change, scandal, loss and triumph. I hope I did it some justice here.
The Full 2016 Year in Review:
Images used in this article are reproduced without the express permission of their copyright holders under Fair Use as defined by USA federal copyright law (17 U.S.C. 107) as nonprofit review/commentary with full credit given to original creators and copyright owners. If you feel your work is being infringed please contact the author.