Blizzard have one of the most robust libraries of competitive games in the world, and while none of those individual titles might quite match the heights of League of Legends or Dota 2, the Blizzard catalog as a whole is perhaps the most defining one in esports. You can even point to StarCraft’s success, particularly in South Korea, as the foundation of modern competitive gaming.
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According to cofounder Allen Adham at today’s Behind Blizzard’s Worlds event, that’s almost a happy accident. “We never had any idea what StarCraft would become,” says Adham. “It surprised as much as it surprised the world.”
That approach hasn’t changed in recent years, even as more and more of Blizzard’s games have developed robust competitive scenes. “We don’t approach game making with esports necessarily in mind. One of our pillar design values is ‘easy to learn, difficult to master.’ It encapsulates this aspiration that our games would be simple enough that a ten-year-old could pick it up and play it after five minutes, and spend the rest of their life enjoying it and playing it. That takes the form very commonly of player versus player, in order to make a game competitive and replayable for many years.”
The ‘original esport,’ if you want to call it that, wasn’t an attempt to foster pro gaming so much as it was a response to the popularity of competitive games online and in arcades – and even long before that. “StarCraft was just our recognition that playing competitive games is really, really fun. Back in the days it was Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. If you really wanted to distill it down to the pure essence of design you could look at a game like chess as almost the perfect, canonical example of a game that’s very simple to describe, but then you could spend the rest of your life learning to master it.
“Games, to be great, don’t have to be complex,” says Adham. “We try to do that in everything we do. You see that in Hearthstone today, you see it in Overwatch today, where they’re very easy to pick up and play, but then you can play very high competitive levels. Esports is almost a happy side effect of what we’ve done for many, many years.”
A very happy accident indeed, particularly as we stand poised to see what may be a new era in competitive gaming with the launch of Overwatch League very soon.