StarCraft II championship launched

Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Morhaime said Wednesday that it has launched a world championship series Wednesday for its strategy game StarCraft II.

“We are here today to announce a massive partnership that unifies StarCraft II and eSports under one global system, reducing schedule conflicts of major international events and creating a global ranking system that will allow us to determine who the top players in the world are at any point of time,” said Morhaime at a media event for StarCraft II World Championship Series (WCS) at InterContinental Seoul COEX, Seoul.

“The growth of the ecosystem has accelerated for the past couple of years, all of us (Blizzard and partners) felt that it was important to work collaboratively to adapt to the changing environment,” he added.

From now on the disparate eSports, or electronics sports, leagues played in Korea, Europe and U.S. will come under the new system, said the CEO.

“We strongly believe that the launch of WCS will be a catalyst for the growth of eSports,” said Jeon Byung-heon, chairman of Korea eSports Association (KeSPA), also at the event.

The chairman said KeSPA plans to fund amateur tournaments together with Blizzard. Each region will run 3 seasons, and five top ranking players from each region will compete in a global, grand final at BlizzCon, a popular game show organized by Blizzard this November in California. Starting next year, there will be 4 seasons, one per quarter.

All matches worldwide will be broadcast by onGamenet and Gom TV. A new global ranking will also be launched allowing fans to access player information.

Major League Gaming will run the leagues in the U.S. and Turtle Entertainment in Europe. Players can also take part in leagues in different regions where they are not based. “It will be a positive impact on the rest of the world, some amount of Koreans competing in North America and Europe will increase the competitive bar,” said Morhaime.

Players can also get “points” from no-WCS tournaments that will be reflected in their rankings for the championship. The CEO declined to comment on how these points will be measured but said it will be revealed soon.

On why China and Taiwan, where the popularity of eSports is rising fast, was excluded, Morhaime said the three regions chosen were “the most mature” and that the company was open to including other regions at a later date.

WCS is currently for individuals, but the CEO said it could run team leagues in the future. Blizzard released the first expansion pack to StarCraft II, Heart of the Swarm, last month worldwide to boost the offering’s popularity. The original game was launched in 2010.

The growth of eSports was significantly boosted by Korea’s active leagues and the popularity of the title’s predecessor StarCraft fifteen years ago. The game has rejuvenated gaming culture in PC bangs, or Internet cafes, and a strong professional league.

The popularity of Blizzard games, including the Warcraft and Diablo series, have made the U.S. company a household name with vast cultural influence here.

Game channel onGamenet was the first to organize a league for StarCraft. Though Korea is not the most lucrative market for game makers, the country’s competitive eSports league serves as an important barometer for them on where their game play evolves.