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South Korea’s eSports arena is undergoing serious turbulence these days. A professional eSports match fixing and illegal gambling scandal has rocked the South Korean StarCraft scene, with A-list StarCraft celebrity-progamers possibly facing serious criminal charges.

In case you were only introduced to Blizzard’s StarCraft Universe with the recent addition to it, you might be unaware of the size of the phenomenon in Korea. The following will likely constitute a fascinating read – a story that revolves around a 12 year old RTS game and includes big money, government officials, police investigations, corporate cover-ups and illegal gambling – the likes of which have never before been associated with video gaming.

Professional Televised StarCraft Match

The Executive Summary

Since 2006, illegal gambling syndicates have been busy contacting professional StarCraft gamers with offers to “adjust” their match results in order to comply with certain bets. The highest level of StarCraft competition was in fact infiltrated by people fixing matches for money.

The Good Guys

According to The Korea Times, the Korean eSports Players Association (KeSPA), a body responsible for governing South Korean eSports as well as tracking and publishing player rankings, has filed charges along with the prosecution against the various pro-gaming teams involved. KeSPA is greatly responsible for the current state of StarCraft as an eSport in Korea and has a large stake in the “well-being” of the scene, especially with the release of StarCraft 2 in the near future. However, this might not be a “pure-hearted” move, as KeSPA could be facing a power struggle with Blizzard over the control of the South Korean StarCraft 2 scene. Both parties want the scandal off the table by the time StarCraft 2 hits mainstream professional gaming.

Jeon Byung-Hyun, a Korean congressman, has published an elaborate article about the scandal, mentioning that the Korean Ministry of Culture as well as the press have been aware of the match fixing but had decided to wait for the investigation to come to fruition before exposing it to the public.

The Bad Guys and Their Methods

According to Fomos.kr, which released a massive coverage barrage as soon as it was legally possible, illegal StarCraft betting started around 2006, with bets being placed on matches in both small and major professional StarCraft leagues. After the initial crackdown initiated by KeSPA, they were forced to move to different servers. Unfortunately, this is when retired pro-gamers, coaches and StarCraft reporters jumped in and started using their contacts to lure professional gamers into rigging matches. Entire crews of mediators were busy leaking crucial replays, fixing match-up entries and transferring money to players willing to throw their games.

When eSports organizers caught on, the reaction was not what you might expect from organizations that like their competition clean. Suggestions were made to accept some sort of mode of co-existence with the illegal gambling sites, striving for an acceptable status-quo with their shady schemes.

What’s Happening Now?

The Korean eSports Players Association, along with officials from the government and the police, decided to blow the lid off the story, going public with the details as well as going after the numerous people involved in the match rigging scheme. For the prosecution, the illegal betting sites and their accomplices seem to be the targets, but for most of the public, the interest lies in the pro-gamers that are being accused of selling out and rigging their matches for a quick buck.

sAviOr, A true winner in 2006...

The house-cleaning couldn’t be timed better, as the StarCraft 2 beta is at its peak and professional level competition is already taking place in various leagues. According to multiple sources, the players that may be implicated in the scandal are:

Myung Soo (Yarnc), Chan Soo (Luxury), Sang Ho (SangHo), Jung Woo (EffOrt), Yong Hwa (Movie), Jae Yoon (sAviOr), Taek Yong (Bisu), Byong Goo (Stork), Jae Wook (BeSt), il Jang (hero), Myung Hoon (fantasy), Heui Seung (UpMaGiC), Jae Dong (Jaedong), Sang Moon (Leta), Jong Seo (Justin), Chang Hee (go.go)

StarCraft 2 Received Mature 18+ Rating in Korea

The scandal broke out just a few days before Korean StarCraft fans were hit with an even more disheartening letdown: Korea’s Games Rating Board, a unit of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has officially made StarCraft 2 illegal to play for anyone younger than 18. While officially the reason for the restriction is StarCraft 2′s “level of violence, foul language and depiction of drug use”, rumor has it that it’s actually caused by KeSPA pressuring the South Korean Government to assist against Blizzard’s alleged plans to take over the Korean eSports scene.

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New threads rumoring about a monthly fee for StarCraft 2, posted on the official Battle.net forums, would normally be ignored by regulars and Blizzard posters. This one, announcing a new payment scheme to be deployed in Russia, was not:

To play on Russian servers after some time, included in the cost of the set, Blizzard Entertainment introduces a system of subscription for 1 and 4 months with full access to single and multiplayer StarCraft II on Battle.net.

For once, this piece of information turned out to be correct! Xordiah, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, posted the following clarification in response:

To clarify, this is the Russian pricing model you are talking about. This is a very special case for Russia only. All other European versions will be without a monthly fee.

For the Russian version the monthly fee also only applies after the free months that come with the box are over and are only for the online version of the game. They can then purchase online game time or upgrade to a full EU access, that will grant them the same access as all other European players have without further monthly fees.

What our readers think of a monthly fee

Almost two years ago, the SC2Blog ran a poll to see how our readers would react to Blizzard charging a monthly fee for StarCraft 2. The reaction was not positive, to say the least.

This is the first and only official confirmation of the existence of a monthly fee-based StarCraft 2 pricing. Further posts explain the reasoning behind the need for a subscription-based service in Russia:

Of course that is also an option that Russian players have. The subscription model is mainly for those players that would not be able to afford the European version. This will also give them the option of buying the less expensive game and then afterwards deciding that the game is worth upgrading to the European version and as such they will have access to European as well as the Russian servers.

It should be noted that Russian Internet users are more accustomed to making micro-payments for services received online. Despite the rampant software piracy practiced in Russia, online social and gaming networks often receive payments for what most Internet services provide for free.

Blizzard’s decision actually provides Russian gamers with more optionsthe game will be priced at 499 (jewel) and 999 (DVD) Rubles ($17 and $34, respectively), and include 120 days or a year of gameplay, depending on the version purchased. According to the article, the game will be fully localized and playable only on Russian Battle.net servers, and players will be required to pay an additional fee to play on international European servers. However, the option to purchase the European version immediately, for the same price available in Europe, will be given to Russians as well. Still, it’s not clear whether or not they’ll be “locked” to European servers only, not being able to play on servers in Mother Russia.

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Samsung LCD 1080p HDTV, Alienware Monitor OptX 3D LCD with NVIDIA 3D Vision Kit, Razer Mamba gaming mouse, and Razer Sphex gaming-grade desktop skin

Awesome StarCraft 2 Video Contest Prizes are Awesome

Blizzard is giving the creative portion of the StarCraft 2 community a shot at this sexy set of peripherals via a brand new StarCraft 2 Video Contest!

The rules are simple: Create a video, in any genre, with StarCraft II as the central theme. Whether it’s machinima, your own Battle Report-style highlights video, a live-action music or skit, or something else entirely. What could be easier? For full rules and disclosures on how to submit your work, take a look at the legal page.

Just make sure you follow these 4 important steps to win:

  1. Your video cannot exceed 5 minutes in length and 150mb in size.
  2. The video must be encoded as AVI, Quicktime, DivX, Xvid or Windows Media Video (WMV)
  3. The resolution must be 1280 x 720.
  4. A 120 word summary of your submission must be provided.

In another announcement today, Blizzard have advertised their plans to sell a limited-release Collector’s Edition of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, a package priced at $99.99 that will include the following:

  • The Art of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, a 176-page book featuring artwork from the game
  • An exclusive 2GB USB flash drive replica of Jim Raynor’s dog tag, which comes preloaded with the original StarCraft and the StarCraft: Brood War® expansion set
  • A behind-the-scenes DVD containing over an hour of developer interviews, cinematics with director’s commentary, and more.
  • The official StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty soundtrack CD, containing 14 epic tracks from the game along with exclusive bonus tracks
  • StarCraft comic book issue #0, a prequel to the comic series
  • A World of Warcraft® mini Thor in-game pet that can be applied to all World of Warcraft characters on a single Battle.net account
  • Exclusive Battle.net downloadable content, including special portraits for your Battle.net profile, decals to customize your units in-game, and a visually unique version of the terran Thor unit.

That’s quite a serious pack of awesome – an actual in-game, visually unique version of the Thor, the StarCraft 2 soundtrack CD, and a 2GB USB dog tag flash drive.

Video contests often result in healthy dosages of awesome creative content, so if you’d like to show off your submissions, don’t shy away from posting them on our Facebook page.

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On April 7th, Blizzard has gone after the two most problematic and controversial StarCraft 2 units in the game: the Terran Marauder and Zerg Roach. A lot has been said about their sure-fire massing, the generated imbalances, the forced hard counters created in response and general simplification these units have brought to the battlefield. Now, Blizzard has taken action:

TERRAN

Marauder


Concussive Shells now require an upgrade.


Barracks Tech Lab


Concussive Shells upgrade added.
Concussive Shells upgrade costs 100/100 and takes 80 seconds to complete.

Early Marauder rushes will no longer require Protoss players to jump through hoops just to stay alive, making Zealots useful even without the Charge upgrade now that the Marauder’s slow effect isn’t inherent in the unit. Still, Concussive Shell wielding Marauders have only been delayed rather than altered in any way, meaning mid-late game Marauder use will not be greatly affected. We’re yet to see if the Terran Mech buff coupled with this nerf alters the common Terran builds, which rely heavily on these tier 1.5 beasts.

For an interesting and insightful discussion about the Marauder’s and roach’s tactical impact across the board (the introduction of uber-hard counters such as the Immortal, for instance), check out this TeamLiquid thread on the subject.

Thor


Build time decreased from 75 seconds to 60 seconds.


Siege Tank


Build time decreased from 50 seconds to 45 seconds.

With the skill of Terran players continuing to improve in StarCraft 2, both the Siege Tank and the Thor have found their roles and niches on the battlefield (especially after getting an AA buff). Continuing with the recent trend of the last two patches, Blizzard is providing players with more incentives to go for Terran Mech builds without actually altering the units’ abilities or attributes.

Could quick Thors really become a viable Terran opening strategy?

PROTOSS
Void Ray


Changed to only have 2 damage levels instead of 3. Still takes the same amount of time to fully charge.
Base damage changed from 2 (+4 armored) to 5.
Powered-up damage changed from 8 (+16 armored) to 10 (+15 armored).
Armor value decreased from 1 to 0.
Cost increased from 200/150 to 250/150.

A peculiar adjustment – neither outright nerfing or improving this unit. Base damage has been normalized, bonus damage to armor removed (in line with Blizzard’s recent damage normalization spree), while the crushing bonus damage against armor, when the Void Ray is fully charged, remains.

Void Ray charging up

  • Significantly worse against armored. The now-eliminated Second stage gave a large DPS boost against armored units, which is now gone.
  • 150% more damage against unarmored targets during the first stage, which is also more powerful than the previous second stage.

Void Ray charged

  • Moderately better against unarmored targets: 25% increase in DPS.
  • Slightly better against armored.

Without the second charge stage, Protoss Void Rays will be spending more time in their low damage mode. Keeping these costly units charged up will become a greater concern for Protoss players, who will have to to be smart about how they charge up their Void Rays – and how they keep them so.

ZERG


Roach


Burrowed move speed decreased from 2 to 1.4.
Armor value decreased from 2 to 1.


Hydralisk


Life decreased from 90 to 80.

Zerg ranged ground has received a major nerf. Roaches will now be dealt significantly more damage by Zerglings, Zealots and Marines. Generally, soft counters will be used more successfully; Roaches will no longer absolutely require the hard counter to be in play. Hydralisks, the other mainstay Zerg units, are back to being two-shot by the Protoss Colossus, as well as one-shot by Psionic Storms!

All in all, some interesting changes in this patch, which, overall, neither hurts nor strengthens the Terran and Protoss races, but hits the Zerg quite hard.

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