On Oct 18th, KeSPA announced the closing of StarCraft 2 Proleague.
After 14 years in eSports history, Proleague has come to an end. It’s not just an ordinary tournament, at least not for those who spent their youth celebrating the prime time of StarCraft: Brood War.
Proleague was a stepping stone for modern game tournaments. It led large corporations to join the eSports industry and became the paradigm of spectator experiences for gaming. Before Proleague was established, eSports fans watched and cheered for individual gamers like BoxeR or YellOw, but Proleague created fans who cheered for entire teams. I enjoyed watching Proleague myself when I was young, and it’s a precious memory for me because it inspired a little boy to dream.
But I was surprisingly calm when I heard the news. The issue of Proleague discontinuation has been brought up annually over the past couple of years, but it just hasn’t come to the surface yet. Quite sadly, StarCraft 2 hype was long gone, and its popularity had drastically decreased.
14 years of history have finally ended, from the KTF EVER Proleague 2003 to the SK Telecom StarCraft 2 Proleague 2016. No one would dissent that Proleague contributed the growth of Korean eSports industry.
The most important aspect of Proleague was the joining of large corporations. SK Telecom, KT, CJ, and Samsung started their own eSports team, and Proleague became the foundation for organized infrastructure in eSports today.
Proleague also provided memorable moments through many events. 100,000 audience members were gathered in Busan, Gwanganri to watch the 2005 Proleague finals. Firebathero's ceremony, Boxer vs YellOw, and the era of Bisu-Stork-Flash-Jaedong were all fun to watch. The establishment of Air Force ACE handled many Korean gamers' mandatory army service issue, which was the main reason for progamers retiring.
Despite the continuous success, Proleague had its own crisis. As KeSPA proclaimed their right to broadcast in 2007, conflict grew larger between KeSPA and the two major media platforms, OGN (formerly Ongamenet) and MBC Game. On top of that, an intellectual property issue came along in 2010 that even Blizzard was involved in.
Korean eSports had the worst time shifting from Brood War to StarCraft 2. The rapidly changing environment directly affected many players. They couldn't focus on one particular game, and it confused them. They had to practice both Brood War and StarCraft 2, and the conditions put them in a stressful state. Some lost interest in playing StarCraft 2 altogether.
SPOTV Games continued to cast StarCraft 2 Proleague, but the 2013 season got harsh criticism. Though many fans praised the Nexon Arena Studio, the popularity of StarCraft 2 in general was decreasing, and 2016 was destined to be the last season.
It's more accurate to describe Proleague as ended by others. Any tournament needs fans in order to be successful or at least to maintain the status quo. I can't deny the passion of StarCraft 2 fans I've witnessed during my two years of intense work in StarCraft 2 leagues, but the number of viewers and fans is relatively small compared to League of Legends or Overwatch. It's not only a problem in Korea, either; decreasing passion in StarCraft 2 is now a global phenomenon.
For example, top Afreeca TV streamers playing LoL or Overwatch have thousands of viewers while StarCraft 2 streamers rarely have over 500. Besides streaming, StarCraft 2 players represent less than 5% of players in Korean PC Bangs.
Despite the harsher environment, fans cheered even louder to make StarCraft 2 leagues great again, but the reality was brutal. There had not been a single super rookie in years, and the match-fixing issue in 2015 caused waves. One of the top StarCraft 2 players was also involved in the second match-fixing in 2016 only three months after the first issue. Proleague was practically out of control and impossible to revive.
The discontinuation of Proleague directly led to many pro teams disbanding. On Oct 18th, SK Telecom, KT Rolster, CJ Entus, MVP ChickenMaru, and Samsung Galaxy announced that they were disbanding their StarCraft 2 squads. On the other hand, Jin Air decided to retain their unit, and Afreeca hasn’t made an official announcement yet.
The dissolution of SK Telecom and KT Rolster, teams with 10 years of history, affect most SC2 progamers. With the only exception of Jin Air, every player is having a hard time trying to figure out their future career. An anonymous player said that he will continue his progaming career despite the being teamless since there still will be individual tournaments: "Self-management became more important since the organized system and support stopped due to disbanding. But there are still constant tournaments available, so I'll continue to stay as a progamer a little longer. But I feel a little sorry for the game developers for their lack of will while many in the industry tried so hard to maintain Proleague."
Although some progamers decided to continue their career in StarCraft, many others have already planned to play different games, switch to streaming or even join the army. In fact, MyuNgSiK of SKT T1 joined an Overwatch squad called Team First Heroic and start practicing on Oct 19th, only a day after SKT disbanded.
"Disbanding went faster than I expected,” A source within the industry told us about current situation, “There were some future guarantees for coaching staff and player support at the beginning, but most of [the players] are still worried since the situation is changing on a daily basis."
Proleague was a big part of StarCraft 2 tournaments, but StarCraft 2 is not dead yet. Dedicated fans showed great passion and support in 2015 despite StarCraft 2 losing its popularity, and individual tournaments are still available and will be held constantly.
It's no use crying over spilled water. Fans with their unwearying supporting will create a great league once more. Remember, the only reason eSports could stay alive at all is because of fans.
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