But only one game will tell you what it’s really like to be a professional esports player—the StarCraft 2 Visual Novel.
Created by two devoted content creators and fans of the StarCraft series, SC2VN puts players in the shoes of an up-and-coming semi-pro who's travelled to South Korea, the mecca of StarCraft, to play against the world’s best.
The game could just be a fun romp through professional gaming. Instead, however SC2VN is a realistic, and sometimes somber, look at what it’s actually like to play StarCraft among the world’s elite. You get that sense from the very start of the game's narrative:
There’s a certain feeling that every StarCraft player gets before they lose. Most try to ignore it at first, as if the inevitable is just another challenge to fight through. Like their past mistakes don’t count if they try just a little bit harder… Still, every player must eventually come to terms with a defeat.
If the world of hardcore StarCraft amateurs and washed-out pros came together to make art out of their collective experience, this would be their magnum opus.
But don’t let that get you down—SC2VN isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, it all began with humor, with a funny little video created by TJ Huckabee, known to the StarCraft community as Vogue, called “StarCraft 2: Dating Simulator.”It was a parody of the “visual novel”-style games popular in East Asia. But then Huckabee was contacted by another esports professional, Tim “Shindigs” Young. He'd been kicking a similar idea around in his head for a while, something he described as “Hikaru No Go (a popular anime about the asian board game Go) but for StarCraft”. When Young saw Huckabee's video, he realized it might actually be possible.
When Young broached the idea of turning the idea into a reality, they both laughed about it. But they decided to try anyway. Five months later, their Kickstarter reached its $7,000 goal. SC2VN was really going to happen.
Neither had much experience with visual novels, but Young was a well-known figure in the community, and Huckabee a budding game developer with a talent for writing. They quickly put together a team of artists, musicians, and designers; named themselves Team Eleven Eleven; and got to work.
At first, they floundered. The idea of a dating/professional gaming simulator just wasn't cohesive enough to build a story around. “The story wasn’t working, the romance was stupid and forced, and I had zero motivation to finish a game that didn’t say anything interesting,” Huckabee admits.
So they adapted. Huckabee rewrote the script and removed the dating simulator elements ("That probably saved the game from being a mediocre waifu sim,” he says) while Young dug deep into similar games rework SC2VN’s mechanics. He finally found inspiration in indie RPGs, games that he affectionately calls “story games.”
“These are tabletop games like Microscope and The Quiet Year, and they have really great mechanics that help draw out amazing narratives for any type of player. They reminded me the power of a really great, narratively driven game.”
Huckabee realized one crucial point when he noticed that most of the documentaries and articles being written for StarCraft were only about the best players.
“I saw an absence of authentic eSports stories in the documentaries/interviews that were going around at the time… There really wasn’t a voice for the average StarCraft 2 competitor. The game’s tone arose from this perspective. Having real life friends that pursued StarCraft to the same degree as [the main character in SC2VN] also helped me shape the character’s motivations.”
This explains the sometimes dark tones that SC2VN elicits. But to Young and Huckabee, the heart of SC2VN comes from their focus on the realistic “struggles and triumphs of esports.”
This also explains their success. Following the release of the game, many professional players and streamers contacted the developers, telling them how much they related to the main character's story. Some got emotional simply seeing their own struggles through another’s eyes. “It means a lot to see SC2VN resonate with people,” says Huckabee.
The response from esports fans has been overwhelmingly positive as well. “There is nothing more satisfying that being told that your work resonates with people,” Huckabee says. “The only consistent criticism I’ve heard is that it’s too short.”
The next step for Team Eleven Eleven is trying to get the game available on Steam, one of the largest digital marketplaces.They say that Blizzard, StarCraft's developer, has been instrumental in moving their project forward. Regardless, the game is free to all that want to experience it.
If Team Eleven Eleven has another project in the works, it’s keeping its cards close to its chest. “We’re just focused on getting SC2VN in front of as many people as possible,” Young says. “We’ll think about [making a second game] more when the dust settles.”
Image via SC2VN