Starcraft Statistics: Online Tournaments and Paying the Rent

Published on 11/29/2016 18:00 PST by ROOT Gaming

Last week I made the point that while the WCS system is the main pillar of support for Starcraft 2 that the community lead tournaments are the true strength of this game's longevity. Today I want to expand on that idea by looking at a specific aspect of these non-WCS events by diving into the world of the online tournaments and cups.

In Starcraft 2's history the online cup has had an odd story. In the early days of Starcraft even up until its peak Starcraft 2 was primarily about the larger events, there obviously were online events but for the most part those were either qualifiers or addendums to main events. Surprisingly the ascension of online tournaments came on in the sluggish years of 2015 and 2016. As we've seen Premier class tournaments shrink away we've actually seen a rise in tournaments that are exclusively online. 

So let's take a look at the larger online cups classified under the Minor class tournaments category by Team Liquid. Since this list isn't comprehensive I'll add other tournaments that fit the criteria but they seem to have excluded:

- In 2014 there were 49 online Minor class  tournaments
- In 2016 there were  95 online Minor class tournaments

The cause for more of these online only events is unknown to me but talking to a few players and community members a lot of it had to do with more outsider casters who would be willing to cast tournaments for much cheaper than the traditional casters from companies like ESL would. During this time we saw channels like BaseTradeTV, Gauntlet, WardiTV,  and many others come to the forefront of Starcraft 2's Twitch channel because they were casting tournaments three, four, five times a week. These new platforms potentially were the cause that individuals and companies were interested in running Starcraft 2 tournaments, but at a cheaper cost due to production.

I should take special note of organizers that have been running tournaments since the inception of SC2, like SCVRush, many have little to no prize pool and may target non-Grand Master players but still provide the opportunity to players to compete. While I am mostly focusing on the Minor class tournaments many, many more tournaments compete below the qualifications for that class but that doesn't make them less meaningful.

Now there has been a drop in offline tournaments, that isn't in question, but the rise of online tournaments provides a few benefits that offline tournaments lack: 

- Increase in global play. From 2010 to 2014, two or more Koreans competed in only 19% of online tournaments while from 2015 to 2016 two or more Koreans have competed in 68% of online tournaments. This increased opportunity for players to compete against the best without having to travel or qualify for a major event.

- Some may think this actually hurts non-Koreans but actually Koreans are winning only 8% more tournaments despite playing in vastly more tournaments. Koreans are competing far more often buy only winning a small percentage more events

- Cheaper production allowed for more consistent tournaments and sequels to popular tournaments. From 2010 to 2014 only 29% of Minor online tournaments spawned a sequel while from 2015 to 2016 67% of online Minor tournaments spawned sequels or were part of a series. This allows tournament organizers to tell stories while fans can keep up with more "season" type events.

- Increased opportunities for young or not at high level players to compete and potentially win money. 2016 has been an especially good year for very young players like Reynor on team True eSport, who at the age of 14 has finished in the top four of 15 online cups and won $1,292 in online cups which he leveraged into a top 8 finish at DreamHack Valencia. 

While the overall prize money isn't as high as offline events, players can get by earning decent money at only online events. For example in the Korean scene, while last year saw the loss of a season of GSL and SSL there were actually more online events for players to compete in but due to the standard feelings around KeSPA most players were not allowed to, or were discouraged from, compete in online events other than qualifiers. To expound on this, let's look at an example. ByuN last year (from year start to Blizzcon) earned more money playing online tournaments than Maru and soO earned combined in all of their tournaments. Had soO and Maru been allowed to compete in online tournaments more they could have potentially earned more. This is cyclic as well, as better players compete the quality of games potentially goes which in turn leads to potentially more events.

While the offline events are the bread and butter of any game, the online scene has helped support Starcraft 2 and will continue to do so. Luckily not long ago the largest organizer of online Starcraft 2 tournaments, OSC, joined with ROOT so I had the chance to ask Andrew ‘Eddie’ Edwards, the owner of OSC, a few questions about online tournaments:

- Why did you decided to dive into the SC2 scene in promoting and creating online tournaments?

Like many, I was quite hyped for the game's release in 2010, and although starting off as a casual 2v2 player, the 1v1 competitive bug quickly caught me! So i began to look into finding tournaments to compete in (through forums at the time). I found a couple to play in, but there weren’t that many, so i decided to try running my own tournaments/see if people would want to play in them!

I started off doing 3x Gold, Platinum, Diamond Cups, and 1 Masters Cup (Still running to this day) a month. The GPD’s served as a stepping stone/incentive for players to push for Masters, and provide recognition for rising stars. The Masters Cups were a platform for the region's top talent. 

I soon located other SC2 sites to host/publish event info on, and found more people who loved the chance to compete against their peers and win some money! With players wanting to compete, casters wanting to commentate, and fans wanting to watch, i was more than happy to keep the tournaments running/funded.

I also found that I enjoyed running tournaments, dealing with challenges like event preparation, getting signups/interacting with players, ensuring smooth brackets/limiting delays, finding casters, building relationships, dealing with sponsors, etc. People may not realize, but there’s actually a lot of work put in behind the scenes of any SC2 event! (Thanks and shoutout to all who have/still admin or organize events. It is largely an unrewarding/unnoticed job, done for love of the game! Much respect!). 

Through these first few tournaments, I started to see a community form around the events, many of whom I became friends with, some of which are even still great friends to this day six years later! 

Watching and interacting with the Masters Cup level players on a regular basis was also quite inspiring. This helped fuel my competitive drive/desire to invest into the game, and eventually in ~2011/12 i was able to reach Grand Master myself, and have had the pleasure of joining teams, travel domestically and internationally for SC2 many times over the years since. 

From that humble start, I’ve seen the Starcraft online competition grow, and had the pleasure of watching and working with many great people over the years. From starting out just doing the GPD’s and Masters Cups once a week, I now spend dedicated hours every day setting up numerous tournaments, supporting others do the same, interacting with players, sponsors, working with our great team, tournament partners, and do a lot of planning! 

Looking at where we are at now with OSC in particular, I’m very proud of how much the online scene has grown and would have loved something like what we have now while I was still playing semi-competitively (stopped ~2013 for work + focus on OSC). I’m really excited about what we can achieve over the next few years as we continue to grow the game, and increase opportunities for players!

So it would be fair to say it’s a combination of the people/community and the competitive nature of the game, that did, and continues to make me dive into/contribute to SC2 :) Poetically you could say that without Starcraft I’d definitely be a lot richer (and probably healthier), but I’d be a poorer person in many respects!

- What impact do you feel online tournaments have on the SC2 scene?

At it’s core, Starcraft is an online game - That’s where everyone makes their start and accesses the game. On SC2Online, our wensite banner says “Online tournaments - the backbone of competitive esports”. I believe this to be very true! As the OSC League demonstrates, there’s a lot of events, money and players competing online - And that’s just within the league. There’s other organisations out there doing great work as well. 

Without these daily tournaments, and the competition/practice and stories they provide, SC2 players and fans would be limited to a few LAN events (which also rely on and utilize online viewership and community networks to contribute to their appeal), and one could argue that without the ongoing online ‘backbone’, the LAN events wouldn’t be sustainable/possible. 

LAN events can also be difficult for players to attend due to a wide range of reasons, notably cost, travel, limited to a specific date, limited to invites/single bracket qualifiers and visa requirements. With online, the only real issues are time zones and servers/ping, but these can be planned for, aren’t as large of a commitment, as doesn’t require you to leave your residence/pc, and server rules are usually setup to be set as neutral/fair as possible. I like to say, you might not be able to play in every OSC tournament, but there’s always a tournament you can play in! 

Quite often online events are run and funded by passionate community people, who love the game and want to support it, and who may be less likely to be influenced by larger organizations/sponsors/market pressures, or competition from other sports. People who are passionate about the game, and are invested into it and the community built around it!

So in my opinion, online competition is far more accessible, and less of a time and financial commitment from all involved. It is what the game was designed for, and the foundation the sport is built on.

- OSC promotes their online tournaments with unique twists like bounties, can you tell us a bit about how they came to be?

OSC is run by the community, for the community, so we recognize everyone plays tournaments for different reasons. We are proud of the fact that Starcraft is an extremely difficult game, but acknowledge at times, given it’s 1v1 nature, in the past it could seem unrewarding to some people (payments only going to 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, single elimination, etc). At OSC we are always looking for ways to incentive and reward players for competing. These core values have seen us develop many unique rewards and systems over the years. If you play OSC, you’re not likely to walk away empty handed!

We started off forming our rankings system for partnered tournaments, which was aimed to serve as a tool organizers could use for seeding, as it’s reflective of the years tournament placings/results. The more you compete, and the better you do, the greater the chance for you to increase your rank, and see the rewards in the next tournament. The rankings conclude in the end of season championship featuring the year's top players - The same core model we still use today, just now it’s on a far larger scale! 

All OSC Partners, past and present have helped build the league and rankings up to the stage we are at now, where the shear size and data provided, combined with its ongoing nature, enables teams to appeal to sponsors, and players to earn small salary or $ incentives from! That is the our greatest achievement in my opinion! And it will only get bigger. But on a smaller, individual tournament scale, we also have a lot of other cool rewards for players to win.

OSC $ Bounties are one of our unique player rewards, available to be won in any partnered event. Going back to the idea that games of Starcraft can be hard to win, let alone tournaments, OSC $ bounties are an idea i came up with, to act as recognition and a $ prize for taking down a well performing player in a bo3+ series. Much more achievable for most than taking out a tournament. We’ve seen many times in the past, and still in non OSC events, players having great runs, taking down big names, but then being knocked out before placing. But in OSC that might result in a bounty or two! Bounties can range from $15-$100. In 2016 we’ve had 180 Bounties claimed!

We also have $1000’s in participation prizes, where you accumulate points from any OSC Partnered Tournament played. This competition runs from Jan-June and July-Dec, and the top 5 players in each take home some nice $’s for their dedication, as well the top 5 being featured on SC2Online through the competition. We’ve had a couple of players compete in 150+ tournaments already this year! In 2016 we’ve ran the competition for NA/L.AM + SEA/ANZ, but we’re looking into a 2017 model for EU/KR.

There’s a few other active rewards running at the moment (Player + Rising Star of the Month, Scalp Points, Challenge Matches), which can be viewed at SC2Online. We’ve also run a few other competitions intermittently over the years (Terran Bonus comes to mind - Where at that point in time Terrans weren’t winning as many OSC events, so we decided to double their winnings, in an attempt to boost/incentivize Terran activity.), and are always open/looking for new things to bring in that are fun, and incentive players to compete. (I noticed a recent tweet from SC2Online about cool rewards coming for teams in 2017 - Might be something to look out for!)

Thanks Eddie for the interview and make sure to give him a follow on Twitter.

Next week we take a look at how each country fared in the earnings category. In 2015 France was seen as the dominant country among foreign countries, let's take a look at 2016 shall we.

About the author:

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

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