The question we're now faced with is not whether StarCraft is actually dying--that debate is over. What we have to ask ourselves is what we can do to save StarCraft as it lies on its death bed in bitter agony, breathing oxygen through a tube, vomiting blood and suffering violent seizures. So, what can we do?
The answer is simple: we must turn to games with more players for the solution to StarCraft's woes, model how StarCraft works after them, and then players from those games, noticing how StarCraft is almost exactly the same as the game they already play, will flock to StarCraft in droves, fueling its popularity as an e-sport for generations.
The games StarCraft needs to model itself after are three-fold: Call of Duty, League of Legends, and World of WarCraft.
I'll start with Call of Duty: what can it teach us?
1. Players should receive immediate, in-game awards for doing well.
If you kill several units or workers in a row, or if a single unit reaches a high number of kills, players should receive special bonuses that further their advantage. For example, a ghost that kills more than 20 workers with a nuke should be able to call in another nuke that will destroy everything, end the game, and leave the Terran victorious. If the ghost only scores 10 kills, it should be able to call in an air strike that kills 10 more.
2. Starting over is fun.
When someone reaches the master league (or even the grandmaster league), there's simply not much more for them to do. These players should be able to reset their MMR to low bronze, lose all of their wins and achievements, and work their way back up. They'll be compensated with a symbol on their portrait, of course, to keep track of their past success; they just won't benefit directly from it. This will keep the game fresh and exciting for our most skilled players as they'll always have something to work for.
3. We want to pay for a "new" game every year.
StarCraft 2 was released in the summer of 2010, so why is it that its first expansion won't be released until early 2013 (and will only cost $40?)? In order for StarCraft to succeed, we have to pay for a new game every year that resets our achievements, changes the game's graphics slightly, and provides the illusion of a fresh, new experience.
Implenting these three things will draw the Call of Duty crowd in, but what of the others? Onto League of Legends:
1. Controlling multiple units is difficult and overly complicated.
Players new to StarCraft are constantly overwhelmed with having to keep track of more than one unit at a time, but the human brain is only able to conentrate on one thing at a time. Why can't the computer control most of our units for us, so that we mere humans can actually keep up? Furthermore, controlling units complicates the game with meaningless mechanical tasks and takes away from actual strategy.
2. Free to play; pay to win.
Making StarCraft free-to-play would greatly increase the size of the community as it would attract millions of casual players (and we all know that casual players are poor, dirty beggars who can afford gaming computers and high speed internet but can't afford actual computer games). This can be balanced, of course, with a fee to build certain powerful units (such as marines, sentries, and infestors) so that Blizzard's revenue won't suffer.
3. Introduce a new unit every week.
We've had to use the same units for the past two and half years! Does that not seem outrageous to anyone else? How is a game supposed to grow when it does nothing but remain stagnant and identical from its release to its (imminent) death? The metagame's slow evolution and creative play be damned, release a new unit every week to keep things fresh.
And now, with those two games out of the way, we move onto World of WarCraft. It's survived for a decade (more or less), but it's just as much the property of Blizzard as StarCraft. Why, then, is its design philosophy not in StarCraft, as well? Does Blizzard not want the StarCraft franchise to experience the same success of its WarCraft cousin?
1. Killing major characters is good for the game's lore.
I absolutely love Illidan (in fact, I like him so much that it's probably unhealthy), but I can't think of anything more enjoyable than charging into the Black Temple and destroying him. Arthas, although I liked him less, is no different. Blizzard's writers worked hard to build these characters, and I, along with many others, quickly fell in love with them, and what better thing is there to do to the lore you love than to destroy every interesting character in it?
Blizzard done the same for StarCraft as far as the building of characters such as Jim Raynor, Zeratul, and Kerrigan is concerned, but we aren't allowed to kill them. Where's the fun in that? Blizzard, your lore is filled with other characters who could take their place after their deaths (only to be killed themselves); why not let us kill hem?
2. Subscription fees make players loyal.
In addition to making StarCraft free-to-play (and releasing paid expansions every year), it should come with a subscription cost. You probably wondered how StarCraft would be free-to-play and have paid expansions, so now that I've presented the final piece of the marking puzzle, I'll explain.
First, multiplayer should be free to play, period. Each yearly expansion should be limited to a campaign only. However, players who play the ladder for free should be limited to certain low-tech units so that they get a taste of StarCraft but still feel compelled to purchase the full version. Once they purchase it, a monthly subscription fee will be required, as well.
Now, you might be thinking "that business model doesn't make any sense" or "what is this? I don't even," but hear me out. Call of Duty, League of Legends, and World of WarCraft are absolutely killing StarCraft and, in order to save it, it has to become more like its competitors. All of these games have huge player bases, and if making StarCraft more like one of them will attract more of that game's players, making StarCraft more like all three of them will attract players from all three of those games. This logic is infallible and indisputable--it may not make sense from a business perspective, but I think this will work so you'll just have to take my word for it.
3. Team games should be the primary focus of StarCraft as an e-sport.
WoW didn't become as massive as it is today through single player quests and duels. It, along with League of Legends and Call of Duty, demands strong teamwork and coordination. The strongest guilds are able to complete the hardest raids and win the most powerful gear. People love this aspect of the game and it provides a sense of community and belonging, so why are StarCraft players made to be anti-social and play by themselves? Name one major sport (other than chess, track, or anything that would hurt my argument) that requires people to play alone and I'll retract this statement.
4. Shiny, paid in-game items make the game varied and exciting.
I collected over 90 mounts on my level 70 troll hunter and it was great. I could use any of them that I wanted to and it seemed that, although I had favorites, there was always a new mount to choose from. I could ride my red drake into Orgrimmar and I'd see dozens of additional mounts that I didn't have, hundreds of pets, and it felt like everyone was unique based on their different mounts, pets, and gear. With StarCraft, every Terran, Zerg, and Protoss player is the same as every other player of their race. Why can't we spend our money on pets or different armor for our units?
5. Grinding teaches everyone the value of hard work and they're thankful for that.
As an ex-WoW player, there's nothing that I loved more than grinding (i.e. having 93 or so mounts). I once spent two weeks killing basilisks to collect their eyes and use them to reverse my exalted reputation with one Shattrath faction to an exalted reputation with the other, therefore equipping my 25th tabard and being made to feel special. There's no other way I'd like to have spent those two weeks. I could have spent it with friends, done something fun, or even left my house, but no; I persevered and I was rewarded for that.
If StarCraft players are made to grind in order to advance, they may not like it at first, but as they learn the value of grinding they'll thank StarCraft for it and become attached to it on an intimate level that ordinary games aren't capable of. Portraits that require thousands of wins are a good start, but this should be expanded to in-game units that are only earned after thousands of hours of intensive grinding.
That's all I have for you now. Blizzard, if you're listening, please implement these things immediately. The future of StarCraft depends on it.
1. Make StarCraft free-to-play.
2. Release a new expansion every year.
3. Implement a monthly subscription fee.
4. Other stuff.