Starcraft and Hypocrisy
Some people have football, some have soccer, some have rugby or hockey or for some sickos, golf. For me the sport is just the medium, I can get into anything that has a good story behind it. I don't watch baseball but I got super hyped about the Cubs in the World Series a couple of years back. Teams or individuals battling it out against adversity, against their opponents, sometimes against themselves, that's the fun of sports for me. I would wager that this is the case for most people. For the majority of us it's not a love of the game that compels us to watch but rather any number of external factors ranging from team loyalty to nostalgia. It's just whatever niche you fell into first. For me that niche was Starcraft 2.
Starcraft is a video game made by Blizzard Entertainment back in 1998. Real quick run down: Starcraft is a sci-fi strategy game where you build an economy, so you can build an army, which you can then use to kill your opponent. Matches are played 1v1 in a vacuum and can last anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. It’s a little bit like playing a game of chess and the piano at the same time. Starcraft didn’t really gain competitive legs until it’s sequel later that year in Starcraft: Brood War when it gained massive popularity, largely in Korea, where it saw large scale investment from major telecommunications, media, airline and electronic companies.
While international competition still existed, Starcraft remained fairly niche outside of Korea and thus the competitive scene was dominated by Koreans in terms of performance. I really can’t stress enough how capital “B” big it was in Korea. Starcraft gamers dated pop stars, sported big name sponsorships and filled arenas, beaches and airplane hangars. But just like any other sport, the ladder to the top is tough to climb. In order to "make it" players join team houses where they live together in monk-like solitude dedicating their lives to practice for 12-14 hours every day. It’s sweat, blood and tears, and competition is still stiff as Brood War remains popular to this day. When Starcraft 2 came out in 2010 there was a certain amount of hype that came with it. It’s like if the FIFA decided to make Soccer 2: This Time With Hands. People expected it to become the next big thing, and for a while it was.
I started playing Starcraft 2 my sophomore year of high school when it came out. I was never a huge sports guy growing up. Neither of my parents really watched sports and I didn’t really play team sports as a kid. What I did do is play video games, especially strategy games. Age of Empires 2, Civilization, Warcraft 3, those were my shit. I knew of Starcraft but it was a little before my time, even in the late 2000’s it felt clunky and dated. But when Starcraft 2 came out I knew I had to play it. Its release coincided with an explosion of content for the game which I lapped up voraciously as I dove headfirst into the competitive scene, watching every tournament obsessively the same as any NFL or NBA fan would. I was seriously into it, when Dongraegu lost to Rain in 2012 OSL finals I literally cried, I was devastated for a good 24 hours… that’s commitment. Meanwhile, I also got pretty good at playing the game, solidly in the top 5% of players, sometimes peeking my head into the to the 2%. But I was always more of a fan than a player since I just didn’t have the time to practice Starcraft all day.
I continued watching and playing well into my first year of college. But as my time was limited and playing both piano and Starcraft was taking a toll on my wrists, my excitement waned. I took a month off from Starcraft, came back to a diminished rank and a metagame that I didn’t care for, and despite still loving the game and the players, I decided to put it down.
Flash forward to December 2018. Starcraft World Championships are on TV. It’s a new game, having had effectively two expansion sets since I left. I kickup my feet, enjoy some nostalgia and watch a Finnish Zerg player make history by laying waste to the previously dominant Korean dynasty. Starcraft kicks back into my head, but I don’t really act on it beyond playing a couple of games for the novelty. It wasn’t until my timezones aligned with Korea that I started seriously watching again. The metagame is sick, the players are even better than they used to be and for the most part the community feels like it was put in stasis. The same faces, the same voices, just like it used to be. Like home. I’m loving it, I’m all caught up on my GSL, the World Championship is just around the corner, my game knowledge feels sharp, everything is exciting. Only one problem. China.
BAM! The blog is always about China. Just when you think it’s not about China, POW I hitcha with the China.
Blizzard, the company that makes Starcraft has a myriad of other games. For my older readers you probably know World of Warcraft. Ya know, the game that causes people to neglect their bodies/children. And that game has a collectible card game spinoff called Hearthstone, which also is played competitively. They just had a tournament that was won by a player by the name of Blizzchung who, in his winners interview, donned a gas mask and shouted in support of Hong Kong’s liberation. Blizzard responded to this by banning him from professional competition, forcing him to forfeit his $10,000 prize and firing the two interviewers who were bystanders to his political speech.
I’m floored by this move. Fuck that noise, and fuck you Blizzard. I find all these American companies eager to suckle at the teet of an authoritarian regime disgusting. Companies that preach free speech and individuality but can’t stop salivating for a second over the idea of access to the Chinese market. I'll even play devils advocate a little here and say that I think not wanting your platform to be used as a political tool is reasonable. But punishing not only the perpetrator but also the casters who didn't do anything besides witness the act, that to me is some Xi Jinping cock gargling garbage. Normally I try to come at these kinds of things from a more levelheaded standpoint but this kind of corporate kowtowing is horrifying… just horrifying. It's not just Blizzard, the NBA, Disney. Take your pick, they're all culpable.
It's a worrying failure of capitalism. It's not like these companies aren't being forced to do anything by the Chinese government. They're self-censoring. They just see the black ink at the end of the tunnel of Chinese investment, freedom of speech and human rights abuses be damned. It's as the free market intended, but it's difficult to police the fact that China has a monopoly on the title of biggest emerging middle class in the world. It's a scary slippery slope that I think we're sliding down as more and more American multi-national conglomerates take this kind of moral low road.
I can confidently say I will never buy another Blizzard game, I will encourage others not to as well. Our wallets need to say, “you can have your Chinese market, but we won’t let you have your cake and eat it too”.
I will actively seek to hurt their bottom line…
Except for Starcraft.
I’ve been battling with this hypocrisy recently. Hear me out though.
Starcraft isn’t the game it used to be. It’s no longer the pinata that dropped South Korean Won when you hit it. The money has migrated to other games. Starcraft players are no longer superstars, they’re largely just normal people. Celebrities in their own specific niche, but D list at best in the big picture. Tournaments are sometimes produced by Blizzard, but they’re mostly put on by nameless benefactors that love the game and love the community. If I stop watching Starcraft I worry that I’m not taking money out of Blizzard’s pockets but rather out of the pockets of people that have dedicated their lives to this very specific form of entertainment. As much as I love the idea of sticking it to our corporate overlords in the form of drastically reduced numbers across the board, I just don’t think it's worth the harm it would cause to the individual faces in the crowd. It’s troubling and I find it philosophically problematic, it’s posing a problem that I haven’t quite worked out yet in my head.
Fuck you Blizzard, for making me think about stuff.