Unlike most video games out there, StarCraft actually has professional players who compete in competitions and tournaments. The professional circuit is mainly in South Korea, but does have a presence around the world. The two major gaming channels in South Korea (yes that is really a thing) are the Ongamene and MBCGame, who each run Starleagues. Millions of fans around the world tune in to view these tournaments.
While there were professional gamers before the big tournaments were organized, the teams formed somewhere around 2002 the pro games organized themselves into teams that were sponsored by major South Korean companies, including Samsung, KT, and SK Telecom. StarCraft is also the featured game at the World Cyber Games, mostly because of its popularity among Koreans.
Tournaments actually bring in a substantial amount of money. Somewhere around $4 million has been awarded in prize money has been awarded since the competitions began, most of which has come from tournaments in South Korea. Additionally pro gamers are usually sponsored to play in smaller competitions by companies, being kept on retainer or as employees.
South Korea and Everyone Else
While StarCraft is practically the national sport of South Korea, there have been attempts to get the tournaments to be popular elsewhere in the world. Nick “Tasteless” Plott is an American who has made his rounds at the international tournaments and was asked by GOM TV to provide the English commentary for the 2008 GOM TV Star Invitational as well as the 2008 Averatec-Intel Classic. And providing and English commentary actually worked, bringing an additional million viewers tuning in to watch the matches.
StarCraft fans also download videos to watch the games on their computer, but there is also a huge presence on YouTube, with fans posting and sharing videos with their own English commentaries. The result of all of this was the creation of a little community of StarCraft fans who can post their own commentaries on tournaments. Some of the most famous commentators include NukeTheStars, DiggitymMoletrap, Day9, and Rise.
There are also intercollegiate leagues that follow the same models as the Korea’s leagues. The Collegiate Starleague was founded by a group of Princeton students in 2009, but there are many other colleges who participate such as Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Rutgers, and MIT.
Nothing with internet is without scandal, even video games. There was cheating set-up that was discovered in 2010 in South Korea. They found out that some of the professional gamers had been throwing games to set a winner before the game started, putting any people with the knowledge at an advantage for bets. The consequences of this were very harsh; South Korea takes StarCraft very seriously. There were eleven plays banned from all professional StarCraft for their entire life in addition to facing legal recourse. The eleven players’ previous winnings and prizes were also revoked, which included Monthly MVP Rewards, Proleague Player Rewards, and even Player of the Year Rewards.
The government was not kidding around when they handed out the sentences either. Professional gamer Justin received the worst of the sentences, serving 18 months of jail time, a $3 million fine, 120 hours of community service, and 40 hours in a gambling treatment program. sAvior received a 1-year sentence and community service.
Other players involved received lesser sentences and community service time, but no one walked away from the scandal unscathed. It definitely set an example for anyone who would ever attempt to rig a tournament in the future. It ends careers, ruins lives, wrecks any financial viability people had, and is just a terrible idea.