The 2021-22 season for StarCraft II looks to start in May, while qualifiers for the season will begin in April. All of this is building up for the ESL Pro Tour Championship of 2022. StarCraft II shares this timeline with the return of Warcraft III competitions well. It seems COVID-19 has made quite a significant impact on this esport. Blizzard has taken extra precautions in planning so far ahead, hoping to stay ahead of the virus as well as managing the loss of the region lock preventing South Koreans from playing competitively since 2016. They will once again be able to compete on a regular basis. Only time will tell how the competitive scene is changed by this act.
They have stated that while they have been proactive in their planning, the schedule is subject to change. Of course if any team member or staff develops COVID-19 there will be a delay I’m sure. It is a wonder that many of the titles in the esports industry were able to make the adjustments necessary to keep their seasons alive.
StarCraft II was once one of the top dawgs in the world of esports, with tournament prize pools in the millions and overwhelmingly high international play. It seems, in recent years, to have taken a back seat to more popular, more profitable titles such as League of Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, and of course DoTa 2. One might think that Blizzard is letting this esports fall in place of some future title. That being said, they ought to be happy that ESL is providing an early tournament running January 12-17. The Last Chance 2021 is its official title. It speaks greatly that the industry’s largest tournament organizer is directing some of its efforts to the esport. Especially when the season won’t start for months to come. It gives fans, players, and sportbetters something to look forward to til Spring. The prize for the tournament sits around $50,000.
Additionally, the StarCraft II Championships will be held in Katowice as a part of the IEM annual event which takes place there. This by far outscales the five day event in January with a prize pool of $500,000 with $170,000 of that going to the winner. This event will feature 36 players from different nationalities and will crown the official World Champion. With any luck it will throw some coal on the fire and spark interest in the new season for the game.
The biggest issue Blizzard faces is public interest. StarCraft II is struggling amongst other esports titles. StarCraft and WarCraft are the only major esports that are part of the RTS (real-time strategy) genre. These games are played generally by two-players at a time. When we compare this to the top ten of the esports industry: League of Legends, DoTa 2, NBA 2k, Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, Call of Duty, Hearthstone, Fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive..excluding Hearthstone all of these games are played in teams. Teams means more people playing the game, more people coaching and staffing events. Bigger player bases and larger audiences. That’s a lot to fight against, not to mention that new esports are rising all the time. So we wouldn’t be surprised if we see Blizzard slowly pulling out of this RTS title if things don’t begin to change.
With Riot releasing Valorant last year and introducing a new digital card game to compete with Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra there is more competition than ever. As we move into the future of esports and the world is in a place where vaccines are available to everyone, it will be important to note what path Blizzard takes in reference to StarCraft II. I don’t see it coming, but I think that a new title in the series would do well to boost interest, profit and longevity. An expansion perhaps to teams where multiple players are going at in a single match. That also might be a stretch for the traditional one-on-one gameplay that StarCraft is known for. It’s possible that the removal of the region lock will drive more players to enter internationally which could then create more fans and an increase in audience size. All I know is that as time moves on, some kind of energizing move must be made in order for the title to compete with the esports currently dominating the market.