Battle.net 2.0, what are we missing?
There has been much more active talk on the absence of cross-server play by players who are growing more and more uneasy of what Battle.net 2.0 is to bring to them. I would like to offer a counter-view to these claims that cross-server play is indeed an important corner stone to the propagation of StarCraft II as an e-Sport and of e-Sports in general.
There are very few e-Sports models in the world and the best one would be that of South Korea. If anything, the current situation in South Korea has proved that regional play trumps international play. It has shown us that it does not take users from around the world to make a viable and exciting e-Sports scene. It just takes dedication and interaction from people already close within your own region. And when you think of e-Sports popularity, think about the HSL, or the Havana StarLeague which a few months ago was completely unknown to the community. The Cuban community which has been largely separate from the rest of the world was still able to create competition among themselves.
While the StarCraft community outside of S. Korea has its longevity thanks to the interconnectedness of users over the internet, most BroodWar teams in the past have had their team composition based regionally most of the time. One might look to the cross-pacific partnership of Testie and Mondragon to point out great things to come of cross-server interaction, but if you look at teams such as Media, ToT, or LRM) most have had their players based in a single region. Players like to stick together and play with each other, they might like to compete once in a while with players in other regions, but there is no shortage of competition between players in the same region.
A recent popular argument that has come to mind is that of the total price of playing over several servers with several expansions. A total of nine games will be bought from original to expansion to expansion multiplied by the three different regions. Yes that is expensive, but how often does the average player need to play across realms? The total price would range from an approximate $500 to a possibly $600 over a possible 3-4 year investment. Yes that can be quite a large price to pay for cross-server play, but compare that to other sports and the amount of money put into even just one year of something like football, ice hockey, or even baseball. How much does it cost to buy cleats, sticks, shoes, or even skates?
Great players will always have the resources and money to buy multiply accounts to play internationally. Mediocre players can improve their craft regionally until they start winning regional tournaments themselves. A simple craftcup win in the StarCraft II Beta is enough for a second copy of StarCraft II in Europe, in the American server a CraftCup/Inflow win would guarantee you two copies. With so many tournament already before the release, there is no doubt many more tournaments will come after the release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.
So the resources can be there for players who can compete at the highest levels. With Blizzard's support of WoW Arena competitively, I can only imagine what resources they will put behind a game that is actually aimed for competitive play. So yes, playing with my European or American friends would be nice, but if it is about competition I don't see what's stopping the best players in the world from getting together, but if it's just for community sake, what is stopping from players from gathering and chatting on community websites? So yes, while it would be nice to cross servers here and there, but it goes with what Pierce was saying in the article you quoted when he was talking about the leagues. They don't want players to feel anonymous and inconsequential in a league filled with 800,000 players.
With the ability of players to move from server to server to play on a competitive ladder, that adds to extra smurfing and extra players everyone would have to battle against. Not only that, but it could lead to server migrations where servers could lose popularity. Think of what the East server had become in the past decade. It was regarded as a lower tier compared to that of the West and Europe, and no where close to Asia. How can e-Sports develop if servers can lose talent and competition to other servers so easily? How can competition stay at a high level and develop in regions when players could choose to migrate to other servers to compete instead?
As for the issues with lag, despite the increase in technology and broadband connections, it was not that long ago that the BroodWar communities in Europe and America decided to restrict the participation of Chinese players in their tournaments. Yet here we are in an almost hypocritical way trying to connect players which may not have the ability to play with each other. Now remember, the majority of games that people will play will be randomly matched players so if you do decide to play a player from another server, you might not get the best connection. There will be a minority of private games between players know each other and want to play each other across the oceans, while the majority of these type of games will be competitive. Again if this is the case, then these players will most likely have the resources whether from team sponsorship, tournament winnings, or pure determination. This is going to be a small population of players. While the viewership might be large, the viewership can always watch streams and VODs.
As for chat rooms, I would wonder how hard it is to organize teams and Clan Wars now, maybe we can get some feedback from people who have taken part in the SC2CL matches or even tournament organizers about how hard it has been to contact and organize people without chat rooms. With so many alternatives with IRC and even website forums, why do we need chat rooms as an alternative in communicating with random people?
How well did Counter-Strike as an e-Sports prosper without chat rooms? Even now what in-game lobby exists for Counter-Strike 1.6? While different channels would be a nice feature, the existence of them now on Battle.net 1.0 is a prime example of what it channels would most likely become in Battle,net 2.0, spam. With the current party chat system groups can still gather in one area to chat and organize themselves. Channels will just allow for bots and more spam to occur and the current chat system doesn't prevent what some players are looking for in organization over Battle.net.
So while missing features from Battle.net 1.0 might be missing, a change in the approach towards online gaming could be a good thing. Strong regional competition has always trumped international competition. While the occasional international competition is exciting, it has done very little to encourage people within regions to be more competitive or even play more. Concentration on e-Sports at a smaller scale could be a better step in the right direction.
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