The Korean eSports Association has announced that 2016 will be the final year of Proleague, the world’s first professional eSports team league that ran from 2003. Becoming recognisable as the year-long competition it is today in 2005, it formed the bedrock of eSports in Korea and eventually the inspiration for the global eSports industry we have today. Along with closing the league, KeSPA also announced it was stopping support for and effectively shuttering the StarCraft divisions of five of the seven pro teams that took part this year.
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The announcement was made through Korean eSports site Fomos, and is also available in English. It takes the form of a statement from Chairman Jun ByungHun who places the blame on a combination of lack of sponsorships after the 2008 financial crisis, high-profile issues with match fixing and a decline in the number of teams. The official discontinuation date is today, October 18.
The five teams that will be releasing players and shutting their StarCraft II divisions are SK Telecom T1, KT Rolster, Samsung Galaxy, CJ Entus and MVP. Many of these teams have histories dating back half a decade, with SKT1 and KT Rolster having legacies in the very first competitions within Korea. They also all, along with the two remaining teams the Jin Air Green Wings and afreeca Freecs, took part in the LoL Champions Korea 2016.
Jin Air have committed to continuing to support their players, while rumours abound that afreeca will be disbanding as well.
While it isn’t the end of StarCraft II in Korea – indeed, the Brood War scene has continued to exist and grown in the four years since Proleague stopped supporting that game – it’s both worrying and sad to see an institution such as this close down. Blizzard could step in to set up their own version, although they’ve seemed hesitant to support non-individual tournaments in the past. A strong Korean scene has always been a part of StarCraft, and eSports, and without it there wouldn’t be incredible stories like Neeb’s triumph earlier this year.