Winter Arena winner MarineKingPrime (photo: TeamLiquid)
Just a year ago, the idea that anyone in North America would shell out $20 to watch people play professional Starcraft over the internet would have been laughable. But over the past year or so, the eSport has grown by leaps and bounds, and has become a full-fledged niche phenomenon with a devoted community who treats the best Starcraft players like professional sports stars.
Major League Gaming (MLG) has been at the forefront of bringing pro Starcraft to the masses, and last year saw its online viewership grow with each passing event. They topped out at 241,000 concurrent viewers for their Providence event last year, which rivals traditional cable TV ratings.
But the problem? The business of pro gaming has never exactly been rife with profits, especially in the US. Tournaments are free to watch, only supported by sponsors or occasional video ads. Knowing they need to bring in more money to make these kind of events sustainable, and realizing they have a devoted fanbase, MLG made a bold move. Theyâ€™d charge for a Pay Per View event.
The MLG Winter Arena that took place this weekend cost $20 for a pass that let you watch the entire tournamentâ€™s matches in high quality, free of any ads whatsoever. Itâ€™s a move thatâ€™s divided the community since it was announced, and now that the event is over, is still being debated among fans. Was it worth the rather hefty up front price?
The event itself from a gameplay perspective was top notch. As always, MLG managed to get the best talent from around the world to fly in and compete, and all the biggest names across the US (Idra), Canada (HuK), the UK (DeMuslim), Sweden (Naniwa) and Korea (DRG, Nestea, MC, too many to count) were there.
The weekend had six to eight hours of gameplay Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and was a constant stream of matches with almost no downtime. MLG invested a lot into their brilliant new stream viewer, which allowed players to jump back and forth across different games that were being played simultaneously, without the constant interruption of ads every time a new stream loaded. It really was the best tournament viewing system Iâ€™ve ever seen for an event like this. Additionally, after game replay analysis and POV streams were also great new additions that made the whole event just a little bit better.
The big story of the weekend was the Korean MarineKingPrime winning his first major tournament, a moment that brought tears to his eyes as heâ€™s long suffered a curse of only managing to finish second at big events.
The matches were great and the stream viewer was fantastic, but the event wasnâ€™t completely free of hiccups, and there is room for improvement if this sort of PPV format is going to continue. A high quality 1080P stream was advertised as one of the best reasons to pay for the weekend package, but mine was simply unwatchable all day Friday and Sunday due to massive amounts of lag. 720P was just fine, but paying customers want the utmost quality, and for me at least, it wasnâ€™t available for almost the entire weekend.
Second place finisher Dong Rae Gu (photo: TeamLiquid)
There were additional lag problems when the game started glitching during key moments of the Grand Finals game and the main stream occasionally went offline completely. This set forums ablaze with viewers angry that they were missing important moments of an event theyâ€™d paid for.
Technical issues aside, perhaps the biggest change that needs to be made is the return of a live crowd watching the event. Even though the matches were incredible, viewers had to rely only on the casters to generate excitement, as usually there has been a roar of a crowd backing them up during particularly epic moments during past events. In this case, with no crowd, when MarineKing won his long awaited title, there were no cheers, no one running up to hug him and no tearful presentation ceremony. Just a kid sitting there not realizing what had just happened as the casters repeated â€œhe won, he won!â€ over and over. The crowd has been one of the best aspects of past MLG events, and I think theyâ€™ve learned that after this weekend, as theyâ€™re usually very good about responding to fan feedback.