To keep the information we shared in our AMA on /r/StarCraft in one handy location, we've put together a full transcript for you. If you'd like to read the full threads in which these answers were provided, you can click the name of each questioner. Threads are sorted under each of the participants:
goji_sc2: Overall, after the first season of WCS, what do you think have gone right and what have gone wrong? What would you like to change and what would you like to keep?
KP: Some of the things we think went right include global player ranking, centralized, easy-to-find place for major SC2 eSports, daily top-quality SC2 matches in free HD during the seasons, and integration of external tournaments like DreamHack and HomeStory Cup into the system via WCS points.
Since the beginning of WCS, we’ve taken some steps to improve things like launching the WCS portal, adding daily content like WCS Today and WCS Top 5, and getting the WCS map pool better aligned with the ladder.
We’d still like to continue improving our communication to the players, teams, and community. There are always ways to improve and that’s why we do AMA’s like this to get feedback. We are in constant communication with our partners as well, and they are as committed as we are to making WCS the best it can be.
tree-hugger: Why did it take Blizzard so long to understand the role that esports could play in the company's business strategy? Despite being "designed with esports in mind" and having ten years of evidence from Korea about the role of esports in driving game sales, why did it take Blizzard so long to acknowledge, let alone embrace, competitive starcraft?
I suspect not all of you were around during this period, but I'd love some insight into how Blizzard views esports now, and how it did when you came into the picture.
KP: eSports at Blizzard is not viewed as a primary revenue driver for the company and we've said many times that we view it as community building platform. We've become more involved because we want to help eSports grow.
One of the primary reasons we created WCS was to put a unifying structure around major StarCraft II competition happening across the world. All of the major competitions would be tied into that regular league competition in a cohesive way so as fans, we could easily see how everything ties together and track how our favorite players are doing.
robhoward: Kim, because researched my question in advance, I know you have a history in Anti-Cheat with Blizzard. Are any particular steps being taken to avoid cheating in WCS and Starcraft eSports events in general?
It was only recently that events have started to prevent players from having mobile phones with them at offline events, and that seems to be sporadic and ad-hoc. It has been suggested that it would be possible for a series of subtle signals via vibrations could be used to tip off players to their opponents build order by someone watching the game on a stream or at the event itself.
Are there any extra protections in place for the online sections of WCS games? I think its fair to say that there are issues online with players using additional software to gain an advantage, be it a map hack, exposing of production tabs or being able to see what an opponent is doing in general - are these being mitigated in particular for online tournaments or events?
It certainly seems to the casual observer that it is down to these malicious players being caught out by the community and then Blizzard taking action, rather than a proactive approach from you guys.
KP: While I was on the anti-cheat team, we put a process in place for tournament organizers to report cheat allegations and have provided rapid response. This might be a reason why Blizzard seems to only take action after a malicious player has been reported.
There are additional things we’re doing behind the scenes that I can’t publically share, but know that the development team is constantly monitoring the system to improve both prevention and detection of cheats and other conduct detrimental to the health of the game.
1409981553: Are we ever going to have a consistent map pool among all WCS? I was watching WCS Korea yesterday and I saw a map based off a beach area in South Korea. I've never seen that map before.
KP: For 2013 WCS Season 2, we worked with our eSports partners to put together a pool of 11 maps from which each WCS region can select 7 for use in tournament play. As Kevin has mentioned in another response, we want to give our partners some freedom to add their own flavor by not requiring 100% rigid consistency.
mLalush: Do you have any fears that the WCS points system might become a system of inequal opportunity (when it comes to qualifying for the global finals)? Example: Certain Koreans/foreigners on teams like TL, EG, Mill (etc) have the opportunity to participate in almost every non-WCS tier1 and tier2 event. Such opportunities are not available to a majority of WCS players.
KP: One of the key criteria to be a WCS Tier 1/Tier 2 tournament is to have a good number of open slots available for anyone to participate and qualify. If you look at HomeStory Cup as an example, the winners of the regional qualifiers received free travel arrangements to attend the finals.
What we're seeing so far, is that WCS tiered tournaments are a great supplement to the WCS point system, but they're not intended to have an overly dominating effect on the leaderboard.
AngelCorps: But the game was actually marketed as being "designed with esports in mind". It's in quotes from tree-hugger because it's something I believe morhaime actually said on stage in an interview.
It's hard not to question why blizzard took almost two years to really get involved with the scene they planned on existing in esports, that they admit designing for esports, that they purposely built to continue off broodwar, that they actually denied changes that would benefit the "Casual" community because their primary concern was the "competitive" side, and then let the community and the korean scene build for them in their current game. (and then more to wonder why they then looked at that, saw that sc2 was clearly not a game that started on the ground floor as they used that fact to let it grow in the first place, and then tried to make WCS happen as the primary big thing to begin with).
If it isn't a revenue driver for the company but is a community building platform...why did it take blizzard almost two years to really enter the community outside of blizzcon? Did they not feel that them actually being involved with the community was relevant? -sad community member needs more hugs-
KP: I think it's not fair to say we weren't involved with the community or eSports. We were highly involved from the launch of StarCraft 2 in working directly with the tournament organizers like GOMTV, MLG, ESL, DreamHack, etc...
BronzeSaint: What are the top 3 priorities that your team is working on right now?
- Smooth transition for WCS America to NASL
- Preparing for the Season 2 finals. More info to come soon!
- Continued communication with our partners on improving WCS for future seasons
buudc: Do you have any plans to foster the growth of chinese starcraft community
KP: We hope that the upcoming launch of Heart of the Swarm in China in mid-July will help reinvigorate the Chinese StarCraft community. We continue to explore ways to make StarCraft 2 thrive worldwide.
We're in talks with local partners in this specific region, but currently don't have anything to share at this moment.
XzwordfeudzX: Any planned changes for WCS 2014 (if there will be one) already that you can share?
KP: Right now the focus for Blizzard eSports is ensuring a smooth transition for NASL in Season 2 of WCS America, and planning for the upcoming season finals. We've been able to make some changes like more consistency in the map pool and better integration into the ladder of the WCS map pool. But we'll need to sit down with all partners and get on the same page first as to what improvements and changes we'll want to implement next year.
DaleyT: Did you consider WCS season one a success?
KP: Yes! We recognize there are issues and we've been looking for ways to improve the system to make it more smooth. But we've had a lot of successes and wins from the first season of WCS, such as a global player ranking system and more high-quality SC2 content to consume. We think this is a great foundation to build on.
goji_sc2: Do you plan to merge ladder map pool and WCS map pool into a unique map pool that would be used in every WCS (season finale, EU, KR, US)?
KP: We’ve already started doing this by aligning the battle.net ladder schedule to the WCS season this year. We’ve also incorporated ladder versions of the WCS maps into the ladder map pool.
KJ: We are looking at this for sure. There were some complexities this season with getting both ladder and all WCS maps aligned; we understand your concerns.
For the time being, all maps are loaded to Custom Games and you can find/practice on them there.
goji_sc2: I feel like both GSTL and Pro league are great competitions with great teams in both sides, do you plan do to something to include those competitions into WCS (such as giving WCS points to the top 3 teams or to the Most Valuable Player of the season) ?
KP: That’s an interesting idea. Right now, we are focused on a smooth transition with WCS America and discussions about on how to incorporate team leagues will still need to happen with our partners.
cam94509: Hey, do you have any idea what happened with the unofficial WCS AM qualifier stream that happened yesterday? It sounded like the streamers thought they had permission, but you guys shut that down, do you know what happened with that?
KP: First of all, we do appreciate the intent and initiative that went into Suppy and friends jumping in to cast a couple of games from yesterday’s America qualifiers. They saw a desire for a service and went out of their way to provide it. That’s awesome and we appreciate that level of interest and passion. But they did it without knowledge or permission from us, which is problematic for a number of reasons which I’ll outline just a few below:
Respect to the players competing. There was one particular match that Suppy and Major commented where they took a very harsh tone that frequently crossed the line from critical into unprofessional. If there are players who want to take part in casting WCS, we want to make sure they maintain a professional tone for the sake of the competitors and viewers.
Potential for cheating. Again the fact that these matches were casted without prior knowledge or oversight presents a problem because of the potential for abuse. If there is going to be matches casted, the admins need to be aware of what’s happening and know who is responsible so we can ensure that proper safeguards like stream delays are in place to eliminate even the question of cheating. If players are acting on their own initiative with no communication, then there is no oversight to ensure these safeguards are in place.
Legalities. If someone is doing work, there needs to be some form of agreement in place for them to do that work to protect both parties. There is no room to be casual about this.
Those are just a few reasons. Having said that, no one did anything wrong. We just need to have the proper measures in place to make sure awesome things like community casts of WCS qualifiers can happen, and everything is up to standard.
Manimal_pro: How many hours a day do you invest in watching tournaments? Do you do it at work? In your free time?
KP: 24, yes, yes.
In seriousness, it depends on the day and if there is a major tournament going on. As a team, we all try to watch as much as we can and always have WCS on if it's live and then catch up VODs during our free time. When there is a big tournament taking place over a weekend, you can be sure to find us at our local barcraft or at the event itself.
AlphaFerg: Just a few questions:
1) I notice that WCS AM Season 2 has no more “live” games than the previous season had, with the entire offline portion of the tournament (Ro16 and down) being run in a six day blitz. The result of this is that WCS AM players only need to be in the region for six days. Are there any current plans to extend this offline portion, and are there any concerns that this lack of offline play has an effect on the overall vision for WCS? Are there any additional factors Blizzard has planned towards getting these WCS AM players living and competing actively within the region?
2) WCS AM and EU are notably different from WCS KR in that KR offers more qualifier slots in the Challenger Bracket (32/23 opposed to only 8). Is there any specific reason for this, and is there any concern that this lack of “new blood” will have a chilling effect on the competitive nature of the tournament?
3) As hinted in the last question, are there any concerns that the differences between GSL- and OSL-run seasons will be confusing for the audience? Is there any plan to get these two organizations to adopt a more similar format to the other regions? I guess what I’m asking is, will we ever see a WCS that is run consistently with the same format in all three regions?
4) Content on wcs.battle.net is a bit concerning to me, to be honest. I notice that most written content on the website is provided by TeamLiquid and GameSpot, and that there is almost no editorial content at all. Video content, on the other hand, has been left up to Blizzard. Are there any ongoing efforts to expand the content offered on the website, such as through partnerships with other e-sports outlets like ESFI or GLHF magazine, or perhaps through hiring your own writers and editors? Does Blizzard have any other thoughts about growing not only the player base and audience base, but also the content creation base of their e-sport?
Thank you for all of your hard work so far, looking forward to the future of WCS!
KJ: 1.) We’re talking internally about the possibility of moving to a system that expands offline play, which we think will make it so that playing in a different region requires more commitment to live and practice there. But this will need to be discussed and agreed to among all the partners, so we can’t make any guarantees at this time. Our aim was that we’d see something more along the lines of what we saw in WCS Europe in Season 1 – a strong core of local talent with a sprinkling of Korean players that push the local players to new heights. We’d still like to find a way to get closer to that original vision.
2.) We think it’s OK for there to be some freedom for partners to add their own flavor to the regional competition, which is why we didn’t mandate 100% rigid consistency in every single aspect across the world. We will continue to keep an eye on these decisions and whether they are contributing positively to the WCS system.
3.) We’re working on this with our partners. It is important to realize that some of our partners (like OSL) have a long tradition and history in StarCraft eSports. We have been sensitive to forcing strong changes upon these traditions, but obviously will keep the health of the system in mind with future seasons. Some diversity is interesting and good but certainly not if it is overly confusing in the end.
4.) Obviously the portal is a new thing for us. We think we’re doing a pretty solid job of both providing our own content as well as helping to highlight all of the great content coming from the community and various outlets covering SCII. We obviously want to do more and are certainly open to your feedback. There should be a link at the top of the portal where you can submit directly.
AlphaFerg: For 1), I mean there's many paths you could take. Residency requirements, a flat out country cap, other extreme measures. Extending the off-line process is simply a suggestion that seems most reasonable under the circumstances. Right now, there doesn't seem to be any dis-encouraging factor for a non-AM player to signing up, providing they can get to LA for a six day period. I think in the end, having all Premier and Challenger League games played live in NASL studios or wherever would be a good way to establish the vision you want, without enforcing a limiting rule like residency requirements.
KJ: Keep in mind that there were never regional requirements to compete in a tournament like GSL. That was always seen as the premium SCII tournament prior to WCS.
SniXSniPe: How does Blizzard feel about WCS NA slowly becoming into a secondary Korean regional event?
KJ: Our vision for WCS 2013 has always been to establish the most premier SCII tournement in the world. We want the best players playing.
Obviously we are sensitive to the fact that in our current format it is easier for players who do not reside in a particular region to play via online matches, and that the requirement to commit to a region for a full year has had some difficulties in this year of launch (needing to allow players the opportunity to switch for Season 2). We do expect that as we move to longer commitments for offline matches, as well as a renewed decision to commit for a full calendar year in 2014, the environment will change.
I also think it is important to remember that WCS is a singular, global tournament. The 2012 tournament season had a heavy regional focus, and the viewership of these regional-focused competitions was lower than we'd hoped (with the exception of WCS EU 2012). The current WCS format was reaction to this.
We want the best players playing, we want compelling matches, and we want to make it an easy tournament to play in, no matter where you live globaly.
funkdamental: Thank you for this answer. The unfortunate reality is that everyone wants the best of both worlds - lots of "home-town heroes" and local competition, but also the absolute cream of the crop when the global finals roll around.?
Any thoughts as to ways that this might be improved for the 2014 WCS? More Korean invites to the seasonal finals? Modifying the WCS point values of the Korean WCS tournaments? Other?
KJ: I think we all feel that there is more Blizzard can do to help encourage/support the grassroot growth of StarCraft globally. However, that is not the current focus of WCS. Our main goal this year has been to establish a premier global tournament for the highest level of StarCraft play that is both compelling to watch and accessible to players all over the world.
We can obviously improve on these goals, as well as work on new solutions to encourage grassroots growth of StarCraft.
AngelCorps: So the intention is just to pretend the reality of the last two years didn't happen and that the top of SC2 isnt GSL/OSL?
KJ: I've said this in other posts, but these tournaments by themselves were never easily accessible to players globally, nor easy to watch if you weren't in Korea.
We certainly aren't trying to undermine the importance these tournaments have had over the past two years.
Zigstyle: "a premier global tournament for the highest level of StarCraft II play that is both compelling to watch and accessible to players all over the world."
So if this is what you're trying to do, why do WCS America and WCS Europe get the same number of seeds to season finals as Korea, even though WCS Korea is obviously a stronger tournament with more players that would contribute to, as you said, "the highest level of SCII play" ?
Nothing about giving the regions equal seeds/points improves the global nature or accessibility of the tournament. If it were:
WCS Korea: 10 seeds to season finals WCS Europe: 4 WCS AM: 2
You'd still have a tournament that everyone could follow and in which all the best players from each tournament were represented. But you'd also eliminate the problems of having a bunch of fairly weak Koreans invading the WCS AM tournament and displacing really good WCS Korea players (Parting, Flash, Life) from the end-of-year finals by amassing a lot of points from an easier tournament.
It doesn't really make any sense that, if the final tournament is supposed to be the global tournament showcasing the highest level of play, someone who wins WCS America has the same number of points as someone who wins WCS Korea. It becomes even more silly when you think that coming ro8 in WCS Korea (losing to Soulkey, say) is, points-wise, equivalent to losing to Alive. From the point of view of WCS Korea Premier players, why should they even bother? Even if you're a contender for the title, you can still be displaced by someone who is significantly worse than you who chooses to play in an easier tournament.
That's really unfair, IMO, and unfairly penalizes the Korean scene for being good while simultaneously providing an avenue for weak Korean players to exploit the system to gain undue entry to a high-skilled tournament.
KJ: If there are players in Korea that think they can win in America and want to commit their WCS play to that region for the entire calendar year (and can be present to play in all offline matches), then the current "play-to-win" approach would be for them to make that decision.
ChoboFace: Are you concerned that the WCS AM challenger league qualifiers continue to be dominated by Koreans?
KJ: We're watching this closely for sure. Posted more about this here.
sexually__oblivious: Do you have any major plans for WCS in 2014, or is it too long till that?
And are you planning on doing something about region locking or similar to that?
KJ: We're working with partners on the best solutions for 2014. We want to improve the format, make storylines easier to follow, and make it in general feel more linear as we move towards global finals at the end of the year.
LiquidShethSC2: Why did you choose to change the WCS format so that it was different then the previous format? Basically what thinking led you to remove region lock?
KJ: Hey Sheth. :)
Kind of put some of those answers here.
In short, we weren't impressed with the viewership (outside of the EU finals) for 2012, and felt that the grand finals were nto as compelling as we hoped. We also wanted to create a structure that made it both easier for pros to play in, as well as easier for fans to follow. By creating regional entry points into a single global tournament, we allow players to stay close to home (if they desire) and provide a prime-time viewing experience to watch premium StarCraft in each region.
LiquidShethSC2: What is the best way for a large community to get Blizzard™ to change something they see is wrong about the way Blizzard™ is handling either the game or E-sports?
KJ: Keep voicing your opinion. :) We're always paying attention whether you realize it or not
Malamutee: Why does battle.net not have a tournament system to allow for low level players/tournys to have a consistent way to compete?
KJ: We've gotten a few of these questions here, but are refraining from answering due to not having dev team members on this AMA. We do love this idea though and talk about this stuff for the future of SCII all the time.
SniXSniPe: Are there any upcoming plans to update Channel/Clan UI? Right now it feels relatively lackluster when clicking between tabs of channels.
KJ: We've had a lot of questions like this about game dev and are passing on them for now (not having a dev member on this AMA with us).
KiFirE: But what about the maps that are in WCS that arent on the ladder, many players dont have the ability to get quality practice on those maps... Are their plans to include them into ladder play for fairness?
KJ: We are looking at this for sure. There were some complexities this season with getting both ladder and all WCS maps aligned; we understand your concerns.
For the time being, all maps are loaded to Custom Games and you can find/practice on them there.
Azerua: Will we see more from the Blizzard guys other than WCS today?
KJ: They are going to be helping with the start of WCS America for Season 2. So keep an eye out! We're also continuing to work on new show concepts/ideas.
funkdamental: Hi Kim and Kevin,
How does Blizzard see WCS evolving over the years? What is the vision for maintaining or growing SC2 as an eSport? And, in the interest of the best possible competitive scene (seeing the strongest players rise to the top, but also leaving opportunities for breakout players to shine), are there any early thoughts as to format changes for the 2014 (and onwards) WCS tournaments?
Thanks for doing this AMA!
KJ: Our current focus is establishing the premier pro league for SCII, globally. We all think there is more we can do to foster the grassroots growth of players around the world. I'd like to think that we'll soon be able to turn our focus in that direction.
As far as 2014 goes - we're working with our partners to sort out best improvements. We obviously want to improve on what we've built this year.
B0ab: Recently there was a popular non WCS tournament that was conspicuously not promoted on the in game splash. Was that intentional or an over site and will there be more support for non WCS events/tournaments?
KJ: Definitely not an oversight. We are cautious about the frequency we use the current in-game promotion tool as it completely takes over the homescreen experience. As such, we are targeting the promotion of regional finals, season finals, global finals and all Tier 1 events.
DHK007: For WCS AM, the entirety of the tournament was played at MLG studios resulting in a lack of a crowd for the semi-finalist/finalists of a prestigous tournament. Same goes with WCS EU but they were held with a mini crowd in place with the limited seatings given. Are there plans for WCS AM/WCS EU offline plays to be held in bigger venues in locations that would draw a large crowd as evident seen in the likes of MLG anaheim/Dreamhack or will WCS KR be the only tournament where there is easy accessibility and seating for the offline plays of the tournament?
KJ: We are talking with our partners about how we can best move in this direction.
Marton91: About a year ago the staff from Dreamhack talked with the people of MLG and NASL and probably Blizzard aswell, about the issue of having to many big turnaments. They talked about how the "feeling" disappeared from the big events because they happened to often. This is a huge problem in E-Sports in my opinion, the events are just everywhere and it is hard to keep up with all the things happening.
What do you guys do to solve this problem? Is WCS a direct repsonse to the discussion about lowering the amount of big events?
KJ: This is exactly one of the goals we set out to achieve with WCS -- providing a unifying framework to tie major StarCraft competitions together so they have greater meaning within a global context. We think we are succeeding to a degree by having competitions like DreamHack and MLG awarding tier points, and we're also seeing less overlap of major events.
Imbris: The solution that most fans desire is so incredibly simple! Expand the 3 regions to cover the entirety of the world. WCS Korea remains solely Korea. WCS America covers all of North and South America (and maybe NZ/Australia). WCS Europe also covers Africa (hey, why not) and the remainder of Asia. Or whatever is most balanced, once Korea is taken out of the mix.
This way no one is excluded from the tournaments, and if Koreans want to play in WCS America they can...but they have to move to one of the regions locked into that division.
Why is this not implemented?
KJ: Currently there is nothing excluding the countries you mention from participating in the given structure. They just need to decide what region they would like to participate in and hop into a qualifier.
It is possible we will add additional "regions" to the WCS structure as time goes on, but we have made the system open (no legal residency requirements) to players with the skill (can play at Masters/GM level) and desire to compete, no matter where they live.
DragonM_sc2: should the kr wcs prize money be higher then everywhere else to help give the koreans a reason to stay in kr?
KJ: We treat all regions as equal and don't believe changing the prize pool is the appropriate solution to issues we face in WCS at the moment.
Even if we did, how much of a prize pool difference would be enough? Who officially gets to decide this and what is the measurement of skill that you would use as your judgement call? What if, in the future, other regions level up their play to become more competitive, who then decides when it is time to readjust these allocations? Obviously there isn't a simple answer here.
CableSC: Where does Blizzard see WCS in 5 years?
KJ: Five years ago SCII still had crazy things like Merc Havens to build Reapers and Black Holes that destroyed units. So, it's hard to say exactly where we'll be in 5 years- but I know it'll be awesome. My guess is WCS will continue to grow into a polished, premium eSports experience and who knows what other Blizzard games will be included at that point...
Thank you all very much for joining us and making this AMA awesome! We had a blast, and we look forward to seeing the 2013 World Championship Series play out over the course of the year. Be sure to tune in at www.StarCraft2.com/wcs to catch all the StarCraft II WCS Season 2 action.