Thursday, February 03, 2011
As I've written about before on this blog I starting playing and following Starcraft because of my brother who is pretty darn good at Starcraft 2 and even ranked #108 in North America last week. But the more that I played and followed the game, the more certain aspects began to intrigue me, such as the ethnic and national dynamics of how the game is unfolding.
For Starcraft there was never any real challenge from the rest of the world to South Korean dominance, and as the game is more than a decade old now with its sequel out for half a year already, that dominance is unlikely to ever really be contested. But there seems to be a concerted effort to try and make sure that the center of Starcraft 2's world is not South Korea.
In GSL Open Season 3, which was a massive tournament of professional SC2 players, it was historic because five "foreign" players made it into the initial round of 64, the largest yet. Haypro was taken out very quickly, Sen, Ret and Idra made it to the next round of 32, but only Jinro from Team Liquid made it any further, although he did make it to the round of 4, the further ever by any foreign player. He would later duplicate his feat in the next GSL tourney, the Code A and Code S matches by again making it to the round of 4. Jinro was clearly a great player, but it was interesting how the conduct of other foreign players contrasted with the commentary of the "foreign" commentators of Tasteless and Artosis for GOMTV. Both of them are huge advocates of expanding the global influence of Starcraft 2 and getting more people playing and watching the game, but it was interesting how sometimes there would appear to be a huge gap between their judgement or assessment of a foreign player's skills and then his weak or less than stellar performance in the GSL. Tasteless and Artosis are part of a group of foreign players who are working on not only playing Starcraft 2 at the global level, but helping advertise and building that globality and so sometimes their casting reflects more about their hero-making in the name of foreign players (who are usually their friends) as opposed to sober commentary. So many times as I was watching certain matches or hear them discussing certain players, Tasteless and Artosis seemed to be clearly carrying the banner of foreign players in Korea and so they would often speak the hyperbolic glories of a player right before and in the middle of him being flayed alive by some Korean player with far less of their talent or potential. It is hard to tell whether or not they are good since the commentary comes from either a place of horizontal fraternity or of wishing for vicarious victories.
This drama makes it more attractive to non-Korean players who watch the tournaments with an unconscious nationalist bent, who see themselves as involved in some mental battle for world supremacy. Even if people don't articulate themselves in such way, they draw from imagined cultures, countries, civilizations and so it becomes an epic war where countries that are used to be at the top, are now the new underdogs. You cheer for people who in another situation you might see little connection to except for a love of SC or SC2, but in this moment you become the eager coalition of non-Koreans, a gosu group of rebels seeking to topple the gosu Galactic Empire. For those who don't like sports, which is the usual way (other than war) that nations compete and challenge each other for illusions of supremacy and superiority, professional gaming such as Starcraft 2 is a new arena for nerds who want to play around with nationalism and national rivalries.
If you're interested in following how foreigners are doing in SC2, someone who is following it very carefully is Artosis and has uploaded over the past week several videos of interviews with foreign players who have been coming into Korea from Europe, the US and Australia to try their hand in the GSL.