Starcraft Statistics: Grassroots Tournaments Give StarCraft 2 Longevity

Published on 11/16/2016 09:00 PST by ROOT Gaming

Much discussion has been made about Starcraft 2's tournament scene and it has mainly focused on Blizzard funded tournaments through the WCS system, so including the WCS Circuit, GSL, SSL, and the like. But one of the reasons Starcraft 2 is actually sustainable is not because of Blizzard, though Blizzard pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the game is most certainly a good thing, but without the community tournament scene Starcraft 2 would likely have collapsed years ago. Let me explain as we delve deeper into what separates Starcraft from other games. But first, a quick fact: 

From January 1st of this year till today there has been 321 days. On 294 of those days we have had a Starcraft 2 tournament streamed, whether is was the IEM World Championship or an Go4SC2 cup. On 92% of the days this year we've had the chance to watch some of the best Starcraft players almost every day. This isn't an "everything is fine!" article, this is a look at what makes Starcraft 2 more stable for both fans and players than it appears.

In Starcraft 2, like most games with a tournament scene, is supported by tent pole events that are partially, or entirely, supported by the games developers. This is the case for all of Blizzard's games, Riot, Valve, the like. This structure naturally provides stability to players who make this their livelihood and also looks to provide key, high profile events for fans to watch. After these events, or often combined with them, you have large tournament organizations that make profit by putting on tournament exhibitions, these would be your ESL/IEM, DreamHack, Red Bull, and such. Lastly you smaller events, put on by sponsors, individuals or groups.

Now each game's scene is different based on its age, developer control and how large it is. Some games have more community support while others have more developer. Let's look at these extremes on this spectrum and break down a few games before we go into why Starcraft is rare among it's peers:

Let's discuss each example:

- SMITE: This is a game with a smaller player base compared to the larger MOBA games with whom is shares its genre and has almost no competitive scene put on by companies like ESL or DreamHack but developer Hi-Rez is doing it's best to support the scene by putting on a yearly $1 million tournament. This is a huge prize pool and attracts a lot of attention but does little to expand the player base or drum up interest for new tournaments.

- Super Smash Bros: A game that has its history among the oldest competitive games and is a bit fractured but it's structure of support is the same. In the Smash scene Nintendo has provided no real financial support for the game but because of the love for the game we've seen tournament providers like Red Bull and ESL have added it to their tournament rotations. Along with the occasional LAN event, Smash's scene isn't big (it had less than $500,000 in prize pools last year) but it's active despite no support from it's developer, though that may change with Nintendo seemingly new focus on the competitive scene for their games in their announcement video for their upcoming console, the Switch.

- Starcraft 2: Like Smash, it's an older game with a legacy but separates itself from the past two models of tournaments in that it has amazing backing from it's developer while also having incredible love and support from tournament organizers and fans. I know this sounds idealistic but let's delve into a few numbers.

e-Sports Earnings tracks tournaments for almost every competitive game and while it is not 100% comprehensive I've found them only missing a handful of tournaments over the years, they are a reliable source. If we take a look at how this year has shaken out, the prize money isn't too surprising but the tournament numbers are what we are here to see, here are the top 10 competitive games of the year so far by total prize money:

Game
Prize Money
Tournaments
Dota 2
$31,961,597
93
Counter-Strike:GO
$14,039,474
720
League of Legends
$9,684,419
106
Heroes of the Storm
$4,309,4749
54
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
$3,749,031
47
Hearthstone
$2,950,222
92
Starcraft 2
$2,939,373
541
Halo 5: Guardians
$2,852,724
23
SMITE
$1,578,657
17
Overwatch
$1,149,229
164

A few things stand out, obviously Dota 2 stands above the rest in terms of prize pool with over $31 million but two games make their mark on the third column, CS:GO and Starcraft 2 both have many, many tournaments. What this means is that while neither is the #1 eSport when it comes to prize money they have the benefit of two things that most other games lack:

- More opportunities to see your favorite players compete. In Starcraft 2 we got to see ByuN compete in over 350 series and over 800 games in 2016 alone. We got to see the world champion compete hundreds of times, his glory on display. That is amazing, that as fans we get to experience that, coming from American football those fans wish they could see their favorite player or team compete 20 times let alone hundreds. Now obviously the physicality is different but from a fans perspective, we are very lucky.

- The Counter-Strike:GO and Starcraft 2 scenes are much more stable, let me explain. If a scene is only supported a few, huge tournaments then that leads to instability, if a team misses one of the big tournaments, they have nothing to compete in for months and could possible be forced to shut their doors, we are already seeing this in Blizzard's other title Heroes of the Storm with many teams shutting down their squads and Blizzard is required to start paying team salaries to keep them up and running. In games like Starcraft 2 and CS:GO, losing the huge tournaments would hurt, but much less so. 

To examine this second point, I've pulled the top 5 highest paying tournaments for each of the top 10 games in 2016 and we'll look at what percentage of the game's total prize money that represents. So for example, if we remove Dota 2's top 5 biggest tournaments we are removing $27,584,386 of the total $31,961,597 prize money, a loss of 86.3% of the year's total prize pool. Here is the table for comparison:

Game

Prize Pool

Top Five Tournament $
% of Total Prize Money
Dota 2
$31,961,597
$27,584,386
86.3%
Counter-Strike:GO
$14,039,474
$5,156,130
36.7%
League of Legends
$9,684,419
$6,894,870
71.2%
Heroes of the Storm
$4,309,749
$2,686,980
62.3%
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
$3,749,031
$3,451,856
92.1%
Hearthstone
$2,950,222
$1,959,085
66.4%
Starcraft 2
$2,950,222
$1,563,964
53.2%
Halo 5: Guardians
$2,939,373
$2,760,000
96.7%
SMITE
$1,578,657
$1,578,657
95.0%
Overwatch
$1,149,229
$781,399
68.0%

Starcraft 2 is one of two games under 60%. You can also see games which are generally propped up by their developer like Smite, Call of Duty and Halo 5 which only have a few tournaments that the developer or publisher puts on but don't gain great traction when 90% or more of your prize money comes from only 5 tournaments.

I think this is a good time to take a step back and say it is in no way a bad thing for a developer to keep putting tournaments on even if they have low viewership or no community support, it may not be a great investment but they may also love their game. Mike Morhaime's love for Starcraft 2 is a big reason we still have WCS. My point is not that developer support is bad, but that relying on only developer funded tournaments creates a weaker foundation for a game to stand on.

Now obviously some game developers and publishers purposely limit outside tournaments, League of Legends and Riot come to mind their. Their system is very stable and one of the biggest around, but intentionally keeps a tight rein on tournaments so it can control the stories, production, prize pools and the like. So Dota 2's low tournament numbers are not quite as indicative as the ones for games like Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone or the shooters.

Counter-Strike:GO and Starcraft 2 are fairly unique in this aspect, they have very supportive developers but they also have an open tournament structure that is actively supported by the community and tournament organizers.

Do I think Starcraft 2 would suffer a huge loss if Blizzard pulled its support for Starcraft 2's competitive scene? Yes, it would be a massive loss and many professional players would retire, but keep in mind that if we remove Blizzard sponsored or supported events from 2016 there would still be around $800,000 in prize money from independent tournaments. For reference that is about the prize money of Smash Melee and Street Fight combined and Smash is seen as one of the bigger eSports despite less prize money and lower viewership. 

A closing point about the community supporting Starcraft 2, we have had 41 LANs that were not put on by the big dogs like Blizzard, ESL, DreamHack, etc in 2016. These were events put on by universities (Gaming Knights), individual teams (PSISTORM Gaming Cups), gaming centers (Cheesadelphia), or even just dedicate persons (OlimoLeague). These are just the ones I know of, there are likely more that I may have overlooked. That means Starcraft 2 has had more community driven LANs than Halo 5: Guardians and SMITE have had total tournaments combined. Last year we even saw Blizzard add a portrait to the game in support for a community driven event put on by BaseTradeTV. Now Blizzard will be adding WarChests, to let us, the community, do even more for the competitive scene.

So let's remember, Starcraft 2 may not be the biggest eSport anymore, but because of the love of the community, tournament organizers, game shop owners, teams, colleges, or even a photography studio in Norway, Starcraft 2 isn't going anywhere just yet. Everything might not be great, but there are plenty of individuals doing their best to make sure we still have Starcraft 2 to watch each day.

Next week I'll be continuing this thought to look at the rise of the online cup and it's role in Starcraft 2's tournament scene.

About the author:

Topher is an NFL and eSports writer with a focus on statistical metadata research.
You can follow 
Topher on Twitter

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