Blizzard has announced changes for the next season of their official World Championship Series competition, and the ramifications of those changes will be huge.
The World Championship Series is Blizzard’s own StarCraft 2 competition, designed to draw the best players from around the world through a set of regional qualifiers to determine the participants at each year’s Global Finals event.
In the biggest of the announced changes, each qualifying region will now be locked to players who are legal residents of a country in that region.
This means that playing in the Americas or European regions will require legal residency in a country that falls within those boundaries.
The change is so significant because it has become routine for Korean professionals to disperse themselves out amongst all three WCS qualifying regions rather than restricting their participation to the heated local competition in Korea.
The move has been met with a mixed reaction.
Some fans are happy for the announcement. It will undoubtedly lead to more players who actually represent a given region participating in the late stages of that region’s qualifier. Last year’s round of 16 in the Americas region featured only one player originating from that region, Terran player Juan Carlos “Major” Tena Lopez. He was joined by two Chinese players and 13 Koreans.
The European qualifier was more inclusive of European participants, but still featured 7 Koreans among the 16 qualified players and all-Korean semifinal round.
But while local players may now have a better chance of advancing to the Global Finals through their own region, some would argue that the move actually stands to harm players outside of Korea in the long run.
One of the most often cited reasons for Korean players maintaining a healthy distance ahead of their international opposition was that the existing infrastructure supporting StarCraft in Korea was so advanced that it produced the world’s best players, and these players were only available to practice against other Koreans or foreign players who would take the great risk of moving to Korea to train.
The dispersal of Korean professionals throughout Europe and the Americas may have helped players in those regions catch up to their Korean counterparts through increased exposure to them.
Having said that, some of these Korean players would only play outside of their local structure in Korea when absolutely required by the structure of the American or European qualifier.
The move could also harm the professional scene in Korea, where an overabundance of players trying to make a living through playing StarCraft—likely a remnant of the region’s StarCraft: Brood War glory days—may cause a number of pros to retire from the game. This could include names who have become favorites to fans across the world.
Blizzard’s decision to restrict WCS participation does harm to the opportunity Korean players have now come to count on to spread themselves out across the globe.
But it also opens new opportunities to Korean players who have already obtained legal residency.
Choi “Polt” Seong Hun, one of the world’s best in StarCraft 2, currently lives in the United States while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. And he, for instance, was very likely pleased by the news that his Korean countrymen will now have a much more difficult time competing with him in WCS America.
Blizzard has also made it clear that players will be expected to qualify through each respective region from scratch. All points will be reset for the 2015 competition and the wild card system will be removed.
This year’s World Championship Series, which does not include any of the new rule changes, is still ongoing. The 2014 Global Finals will be held at BlizzCon in November.