Credit where it is due: the WCS

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Blizzard’s World Championship Series has not always run smoothly, and sometimes Blizzard’s decision-making seems questionable. But as this third and final season of the WCS nears its conclusion, and the European division begins its round of 8 tomorrow at 5 PM UK / 12 PM Eastern on the WCS website, it’s worth acknowledging that the WCS has succeeded at its most important task: reliably producing fantastic StarCraft 2 events and games.

Season 2 is what finally won me over. Well before the astonishingly good Season 2 Finals, the WCS had proved its worth. The European division was terrifically competitive and benefited from ESL’s rapidly improving broadcast quality, while the previously troubled American division seemed to have put its worst days behind it. With a some of Korea’s biggest names competing in the division alongside rising stars like Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, America was becoming as exciting as its trans-Atlantic sibling. Still not a great opportunity for actual North American players, but it was hard to stay mad about that when watching Polt and TaeJa trading blows.

Moreover, it was easier to make viewing appointments for particular matchups. The slow, extended format for WCS might not be as exciting as the champagne-cork explosion of a weekend tournament, but it also tames their chaos. When you have four players competing at a time during the group stage, you can usually make a guess as to who will end up playing, and what the best matches are likely to be. The WCS format may sometimes be a dangerously slow burn, but it also makes it much easier to find the games you want to see.

Especially with Blizzard’s WCS portal, where the options for watching VODs just keep getting better. Setting aside the frustrating (but understandable) lack of Korean VODs thanks to GSL and OSL’s respective paywalls, Blizzard have made it easy and in some ways even preferable to catch up on StarCraft via replays.

It goes beyond just the value of someone finally organizing and indexing matches. Blizzard keep finding ways to add value: their partnership with GG Tracker, for instance, adds incredibly valuable context to the action that the observer catches during each game by including stat and build breakdowns that update in time with the match. It’s not quite the Dota 2 spectator client, but it’s a fantastic touch nonetheless.

But the ultimate proof of the WCS’ success is in the tournaments themselves. The Season 2 Finals were sensational from a production and competitive standpoint, and while I may not care for the compromises that allowed Blizzard to hold the event at Gamescom, I was thrilled by the Finals. They featured some of the best StarCraft of the year — if not the last two years. I mean, watch TaeJa and INnoVation, two of the best Terrans playing right now, pulling out all the stops in their third and final game.

You can’t control when great games happen, but you can set the stage and prepare the ingredients for them, and that’s what the WCS has done. It will only get better as it continues to build its history, intensifying rivalries among divisional opponents. It’s a far cry from the randomness that so often characterized the international tournament scene in 2012, where player lineups were inconsistent and there was no broader context to help raise the stakes.

It’s not perfect, but there are also some problems that I’m not sure it’s Blizzard’s job to fix. For instance, it seems almost certain that the Global Finals at Blizzcon will feature 16 Korean players and not a single foreign pro. But last year, Blizzard did try to engineer a system that would guarantee non-Koreans placement in the Global Finals… and the result was a lackluster tournament.

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