This discussion comes up all the time on forums, between fans of the original Starcraft and fans of Starcraft II, in particular, the professional scenes that evolved around those games.
I watched a ton of both, so I figure I have some idea about which game was "better".
But the answer, like many things in life, is much more complicated than just "this game is better than that game."
Pro Starcraft Brood War at its height, from 2006-2008, was a very unique thing, unlikely to ever be repeated. The scene essentially was 100% Korean, and 100% KeSPA. There were foreigner tournaments, but the level of play was ridiculously low. The players were essentially amateurs. Day was a high school kid and Artosis would quit his job every year a few months before WCG regionals to practice. These were the top-level non-Korean players at the time. Whenever they played Koreans, (which was only once a year) they would get utterly and completely destroyed, like playing against the computer on "Easy" level destroyed.
Meanwhile, in Korea, KeSPA ruled with an iron fist. To stay on a team you HAD to practice well, like 10 hours a day MINIMUM, and you had to work with the coach and do whatever he said and take no breaks ever and you had no negotiating power for your salary AT ALL, and if you didn’t like it? Too bad, there are 50 Koreans begging to replace you. Deal with it.
This pressure cooker environment weeded out the weak and left only the super-strong. Players like Flash and Jaedong would practice until their eyes bled (in Jaedong’s case, this was literally true). The level of competition was so close at the top that any player could take down any player, so everyone had to be on top of their game. This made for exciting matches, with daring cheese and "economic" cheese plays thrown in with series where the multitasking and macro levels went through the roof. It was exciting.
With Starcraft II, everything changed. KeSPA players weren’t playing originally, so the Korean scene was made up of B-teamers, formerly retired players, and a smattering of foreigners, a few of whom managed to do quite well and even won tournaments. The Koreans were overall better, but it wasn’t a complete roflstomp like it was in the Brood War days. This was exciting, but for a different reason. The games weren’t as high-level. They just weren’t. But the situation was different. It wasn’t just KeSPA. There was a thriving international scene. Players could win tournaments without being slaves working in the salt mines 12 hours a day. They could actually compete for teams to get the best salary possible (this was never possible in KeSPA-- the "free agency" they offered was in fact the exact opposite)
The game itself also had some problems. One of the biggest was Broodlord-Infestor. This was actually something that happened almost every game in PvZ, and Protoss had only the "casual fun unit" of the Mothership to try and get a lucky Vortex, and if it missed, or the Zerg split the Brood Lords, or Neural Parasited the Mothership, too bad, it was over. This wasn’t so much fun to watch.
Now, with Heart of the Swarm released and the KeSPA players switching over, things are different yet again. HoTS fixed a lot of problems with the original Starcraft II. Protoss got a counter to Brood Lords (the Tempest) so PvZ wasn’t quite as dumb as it used to be. Terrans got Widow Mines which made things more random and yet skilled players could also bait the shots out with single units. Zerg got Swarm Hosts, which aren’t as good as Lurkers but at least they made for some different strategies and let them "siege up" and do different things, and Vipers allow high-APM players to do amazing abducts. Even Oracles reward the super-skilled, high-multitasking player. It’s better than Wings of Liberty. MUCH better.
Is it as good as Brood War? That really depends on how you look at it. The KeSPA players are certainly taking it to the next level-- look at recent GSLs or Proleague-- these guys are just hammering through different ideas and builds and they are starting to dominate again. But KeSPA doesn’t allow them to travel to international events (with the one exception of MLG) and so they are still isolated from the international scene in some ways.
But is the GAME ITSELF as good as Brood War? That’s really hard to say. I think a lot of what made Brood War great was the players. They suffered for our entertainment, but they raised the game to an art form doing so.
There was something that happened at the end of Brood War when players had to do a "hybrid Proleague", where they alternated Brood War and Starcraft II (at the time, Wings of Liberty). I don’t know if you watched any of the games, but I did. They were terrible. The KeSPA players didn’t care about the game any more because they were all practicing Starcraft II. So when they played Brood War, they just did whatever, and hoped their mechanics would save them. It worked, but dear God the games were boring. THEY WERE BORING.
I thought about this, and I figured that a lot of what made Brood War special, the amazing "metagame", wasn’t so much a factor of the game itself, but it was something the players brought to the game.
The other thing is that back in the day, the KeSPA players were it. There were only so many teams, and each team had only so many players on their playing roster. Sometimes a B-teamer would make it up to the big leagues, and sometimes players retired, but at any given time you had maybe 10 teams and maybe 8 players on the bench. 80 players. There are easily three to four times the number of pro players in Starcraft II.
Having fewer players makes it easier to build storylines, to build rivalries, and to build hype. There were also fewer tournaments, so each one was more special. In Starcraft II, there is a tournament every week and every weekend, and sometimes two at a time.
So, a lot of it is nostalgia, but justified nostalgia in some ways.
A tiny amount of it might be the game itself. It might be. I’m not willing to rule that out.
But things change. Sometimes you fall in love with a game and sometimes you fall out of love with it.
There are pro Brood War tournaments starting to happen in Korea these days. People love the game that much that they will play it even without KeSPA support and salaries. I’ve watched a few of these games. They’re pretty terrible. These are former pros, but they aren’t doing the amazing things that I remember from Brood War. They’re doing dumb things and winning for dumb reasons. I can’t watch them, even though they are playing the ostensibly "better" game. Not even for the nostalgia value. I tried. The excitement just isn’t there.
And it is there for Starcraft II. So I’ll continue to watch.
This was a photoshop I made after an Inside the Game episode when djWHEAT joked that if Starcraft II added a fourth race it should be the Cat race. I took some of the most famous Internet cats and combined them into a devastating new race!
Watch out for the Longcat Nydus drop!
There’s an interesting clash of cultures going on this weekend. Blizzard has contracted out the production of their first season’s final Starcraft tournament to OGN.
OGN is a Korean television network that has been broadcasting Starcraft matches since forever. Unlike GOMTV, they don’t have much experience with broadcasting to a western market. So you get these interesting fashion and furniture choices that look like they came out of Austin Powers, or at the very least a PSY video.
It’s all in good fun. 13 out of the 16 finalists in the tournament were Korean, and the three non-Koreans all got knocked out in the first few hours, so I guess you win this one, Korea. You win everything. Keep on winning on.
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In this episode I go over the European World Championship Series finals between Stephano and MVP, and we examine how widow mines are a great unit... for Stephano. It’s worth crushing your head (or the letter S) just to see!
Links from the show:
WCS EU Finals Stephano vs MVP full series
Super friendly widow mine hits
In this episode we go over some great games from Dreamhack and update the status of WCS Korea, Europe, and America, including WCS Points standings!
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I’ve always wanted to do a news show, and I love professional Starcraft, so I’ve combined my passions into a weekly show called... wait for it... This Week in Starcraft.
You can watch Episode 1 here:
And you can watch it live every Friday at 3PM PST here:
It’s basically a recap of what’s been happening in the professional Starcraft scene over the last week. I try to keep it down to 30 minutes because who has that much time in life?
Hope to see you there!
There are a couple of things I always wanted to do but never did.
One of them was to have the courage to play Starcraft, 1v1, on the ladder.
Another one was to have a TV show.
So I've combined the two into a show I call "Overcoming Ladder Anxiety", a show on Twitch.tv:
It's basically my journey through playing ladder for the first time ever, talking about my anxiety and dealing with how reality doesn't quite match up to your expectations. It's about how Starcraft can teach you lessons about life.
The show runs Monday to Friday at 2:00 pm Pacific. Please join in live, or watch the videos! Thanks!
Oh, not much.
Just commanded the Starship Enterprise.
This was taken at the PNE. My wife is handling Riker’s duties (she didn’t want to be Counsellor Troi-- who does?) and my brother-in-law is ably manning the science station. Or maybe it’s the weapons station. Or the security station. Well, it’s whatever the script needs it to be, okay?
This was part of the awesome Star Trek exhibit. It’s a full-size replica of the original bridge set, which was destroyed in the disappointing Generations movie. I also got to sit in Kirk’s original chair, which was pretty awesome.
EDIT: Okay here’s a pic of me in Kirk’s chair.
EDIT AGAIN: And here's the NCC-1701D's transporter room:
The Barcraft was a huge success! We nerds took over both sides of the bar and every single TV screen was showing Starcraft II.
Plenty of drinks and fun were had while we cheered Park "DongRaeGu" Soo Ho as he won his first MLG Championship title on a live stage.
It was completely awesome and I will definitely be back for the next one!
I was re-reading my article on the history of professional Starcraft and I came across this comment:
Kraicat - about a year ago
I don’t like traditional sports. I’ve never gotten into or really enjoyed any typical game of Football, Basketball, Baseball, etc... When I go into a bar, I would rather watch Simpsons instead of some random college teams playing each other in some sport.
I dream of the day when I can go to my local bar, look up at the big screen and see a StarCraft competition going on. I will scream and holler at the screen, chat with other guys about their strategy and finally be able to enjoy competitive games in public.
But I’ll bet that day is still pretty far off.
Well, this Sunday, I’m heading down to the MLG, live from Anaheim.
About a year after the article was published and the comment made, it has actually happened. I am going to go to a sports bar in my home city and watch live Starcraft on the big screen.
I can’t wait.
I'm a writer and occasional programmer. I write science fiction stories and novels.
I also write technology articles for Ars Technica.
I'm the creator of newLISP on Rockets, a web development framework and blog application.