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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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China’s ChinaJoy 2009 event on July 23rd was among the lucky few to have been chosen by Blizzard to host a public presentation as well as to make openly available the currently playable version of StarCraft 2. Blizzard’s participation in this event was scheduled to predate the massively successful presentation on the following day in South Korea.

Unfortunately, StarCraft 2 was banned from public play due to a recent ruling by China’s State Bureau Of Culture, which declared that “Starcraft 2 is much too bloody, which will severely affect the mental as well as physical health of adolescents” (translation courtesy of TeamLiquid).  The decision draws from a regulatory note, released on July 1st, 2009, which stated that

Any activity related to foreign games, including their showing, demonstrating, trading and marketing promotion, shall also abide by the censorship laws aiming at imported online games and shall be subject to censorship and approval by the State Administration of News and Press. All promoters, sponsors, and companies related shall held their respective legal responsibilities.

The StarCraft 2 South Korean E-Stars Seoul 2009 event, however, was a great success, and some media has been released both officially and by fans. You can find the official extensive media gallery here.

E Stars Seoul Credit - SC Legacy

Two decent-quality gameplay videos have been released during the event, showing a short and intensive Protoss vs. Terran match:

The video is another example of just how fast paced and merciless StarCraft 2 multiplayer is designed to be, as mentioned repeatedly by the design team in various interviews. One on one games are not supposed to last more than 20 minutes (if that!), as the game provides players with sufficient tools to exploit the opponent’s mistakes and leverage them, along with the player’s own skills, into quick victories.

While fans and gamers around the world marvel at every released detail, battle report or gameplay video, the stock market is not as patient and forgiving towards Blizzard’s developmental practices, and analysts blame the recent stock dive on the realization that StarCraft 2 will not be coming out in 2009.

Activision_Blizzard_Stock

Now, there is a growing concern that an even bigger game — “StarCraft 2” — may be pushed out of this year, due to development delays.

“The beta testing for ‘StarCraft’ hasn’t started yet. If it starts in August and takes 5-6 months, then launching the game this year is next to impossible,” said Jess Lubert, video game analyst with Brean Murray.

While it doesn’t take a genius mutant ninja analyst to figure out that the StarCraft 2 beta is highly unlikely to be over by the end of 2009, it does take some history knowledge to understand that virtually all of Blizzard’s titles end up being played for many years, each serving as a benchmark and a poster child for their respective niche; that is to say, there is no doubt that when it is released, it will generate considerable revenue for Activision-Blizzard.

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A few gameplay videos have popped up over the net recently. These are all products of Korean exhibitions in which lucky observers had managed to film the computer monitor with their video cameras, resulting in horrible quality, short clips of gameplay.

First up, a video showing the Jackal and Nullifier in action.

Unlike the previous Vulture replacement, the Cobra, the Jackal is unable to attack while moving and has to stop before firing off its weapon. This allows the engaging Zealots to catch up with the Jackal and put in a few hits from time to time.

The Jackal, at first glance, operates exactly like a Vulture that’s been equipped with a Flame Thrower instead of Concussion Grenades. The Jackal in the video is eventually overwhelmed by the two Zealots, but a similar battle between a group of Zealots against a greater force of Jackals would obviously end differently. When taking the Jackals’ AoE attack and great speed advantage into account, a micro-capable player would scorch the Zealots and leave the battle relatively unharmed.

The next couple of videos are a longer cut of the Terran versus Terran match we’ve reviewed a short while ago. This video shows the surrounding gameplay, and also features some more action:

* A Medivac Dropship dropping two Jackals and a Siege Tank right on top of the enemy’s mineral line, followed by another dual Tank drop.

* Near the end of the game, a Terran force, composed of Battlecrusiers, Thors, Siege Tanks and Jackals completely decimates the enemy’s main base.


Next up is a short video of a Terran versus Zerg match. Notably, at minute two, the Zerg player futilely attempts to engage a large group of Marines with Mutalisks. A bit later, Swarm Guardians make an appearance when they come under attack of a Battlecruiser. (This is where the picture we discussed a while ago was taken from)

The most interesting thing happens at 2:54, where a group of Ultralisks get hit by a Nuke head on and survive.

The last video is a long one, at 22 minutes. It’s a fight between a human Zerg player and an AI Terran, with the Zerg player experimenting with the abilities of the race.

Not a lot of action in this one, but a few interesting highlights are:

  • Near the end of the 8th minute, an Overlord can be seen evolving to an Overseer.
  • A small group of Ultralisks walk over entire Terran forces at the end of the 10th minute, and then proceed to raise their base to the ground a bit later. It’s clear that the Ultralisks have a hard time navigating through the clumped base.
  • At 12:30, a group of Overlords extend the base’s Creep using their Excrete Creep ability. This takes a while for the Overlord, which remains in positions and drops purple goo to the ground for some time.
  • Infestors use their Infest ability on a Terran Command Center that’s under construction at 16:00. The Command Center becomes infested despite not being complete, and Infested Marines pop up immediately.
  • A short while later, the Infestor feasts on a nearby Ultralisk, consuming his hitpoints for energy until it’s eventually eaten up entirely.
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The Zerg are here.

Ending a long period of Rumors and leaks, Blizzard has once again chosen an event held in Korea to announce the latest major development in the StarCraft Universe. On March 10th, 2008, Blizzard has unleashed a true Zerg Rush of information dealing with the long awaited third race.

The large amount of screenshots, concept art pictures, videos and game data provide an in-depth view of the last playable race of StarCraft 2.

The Zerg Rush begins

The information rush includes:

  • 13 confirmed Zerg units.
  • 24 new action-packed Zerg screenshots
  • A 15-Question FAQ covering key Zerg aspects
  • A StarCraft2.com update, featuring Zerg lore, new Zerg unit pages and brand new concept art pictures
  • Three videos, featuring a cinematic introduction to the Zerg and a gameplay exhibition, along with footage of a pro-gamer playing as Zerg
  • Two interviews with Sam Didier, Blizzard’s art director, and Dustin Browder, lead game designer

The late arrival has only benefited the Zerg, both feature and graphics wise. Well thought-out abilities such as burrowed unit movement and the complex role of the Queen are clear indicators that the Zerg is a far more mature race than the Protoss and Terran were during their initial presentations.

Here’s all the information we have gathered since the announcement. First up, the new pictures:

84_hr.jpg85_hr.jpg86_hr.jpg87_hr.jpg88_hr.jpg89_hr.jpg90_hr.jpg91_hr.jpg92_hr.jpg93_hr.jpg94_hr.jpg95_hr.jpg97_hr.jpg98_hr.jpg99_hr.jpg100_hr.jpg101_hr1.jpg102_hr.jpg103_hr.jpg104_hr.jpg105_hr.jpg106_hr.jpg107_hr.jpg96_hr.jpg

 

Two official videos have been published. One is an introduction to the Zerg race, narrated by Kerrigan, and the other a long gameplay exhibition video. A third camera movie follows sAviOr, a Korean Pro-Gamer, playing StarCraft 2 as the Zerg.

 

Thirteen Zerg units have been announced so far:

* Drone: Unchanged from StarCraft 1.
drone.gif

These remain the Zerg’s peons – able to harvest minerals and mutate into structures.

* Zergling: Mostly unchanged from StarCraft 1.
zergling.gif

Fast and relatively weak, best used in large numbers. In StarCraft 2, Zerglings can morph into Banelings. For more details, check out our Zergling focus article. The Zerglings have changed since their last appearance, and now no longer have accented wings.

Cute, isn't he?

* Baneling: New unit.

baneling.gif

This previously revealed unit is new to StarCraft 2. The Baneling is not much more than a mobile suicide bomb, replacing the Infested Terran of StarCraft 1.

* Overlord: Somewhat changed from StarCraft 1.

overlord.gif

Overlords grant control points which allow the Zerg to field more units. The Overlords are no longer detectors and can no longer transport units. However, they receive two new abilities:

1) Slime: allows the Overlord to disable resource nodes and neutral observatories.

2) Create Creep: allows the overlord to generate a temporary patch of creep on the ground. This will allow the Zerg to easily expand their influence on the battlefield without expanding and creating additional Hatcheries.

The Overlords can also morph into Overseers.

* Overseer: New unit.

Overseers lose the Overlord’s new abilities. They gain the ability to detect cloaked and burrowed units and also receive a larger sight radius.

No word has been given regarding the missing transportation ability for the Zerg.

* Queen: Completely changed from StarCraft 1.

queen.gif

The Queen of StarCraft 2 shares nothing more than the name with its previous incarnation. The StarCraft 2 Queen is a unique unit – only one can used at a time, similar to the way the Protoss Mothership used to be. The Queen is built directly from the Hatchery, and can no longer leave the ground and fly. The Queen can be built relatively early in the game, and evolves as the Zerg progress in the game. Only the Queen can construct Zerg base defenses. The Queen has many abilities, including:

* Create structures that expand creep and act as stationary defense turrets

* Deep Tunnel: allows the queen to instantly move to any Zerg building

* Toxic Creep: makes a small area of creep harmful to enemy units

* Swarm Infestation: the Queen transforms any Zerg building into a defensive turret

* Regeneration: allows the Queen to quickly heal damaged Zerg buildings

Some of these abilities will likely cost little to no energy, allowing the Queen to use them frequently. However, aside from all these abilities, the Queen is also a formidable attacker in itself. Its attack is powerful enough to kill a Marine in one strike.

Momma Zerg

* Hydralisk: Unchanged from StarCraft 1.

hydralisk.gif

The Hydralisk of StarCraft 2 is still the highly versatile foot soldier of the Zerg. It can shoot its deadly spines at both ground and air targets. Like in the Brood War expansion, Hydralisks can morph into Lurkers.

Hydralisk mass

* Lurker: Unchanged from StarCraft 1.

lurker.gif

The Lurker can only attack while burrowed. These relatively armored Zerg units, morphed from Hydralisks, have a devastating area of effect line attack which is extremely deadly to infantry.

* Roach: New unit.

roach.gif

The Roach is a melee ground unit. The Roach’s specialty lies in its ability to regenerate health extremely quickly. Few units will have enough fire power to actually kill a Roach single-handedly; to be effectively countered, these new Zerg menaces will have to come under concentrated fire.

Roaches in battle

This is an interesting new mechanic for StarCraft, one that creates an incredible tactical advantage for a skilled player who can “dance” with his Roaches, constantly keeping those that come under fire out of harm’s way.

* Mutalisk: Unchanged from StarCraft 1.

mutalisk.gif

The Zerg’s Primary flying attacker, the dreaded Mutalisk, is back. This flying monstrosity can hit both ground and air targets. It is fast moving, fast hitting, and easy to use in large groups. Its only downside is relatively low health – the Mutalisk is too fragile to be able to face anything more than light resistance and come out on top. The Mutalisk can morph into a Swarm Guardian.

Mutalisk gang

* Swarm Guardian: Mostly unchanged from StarCraft 1.

Like in StarCraft 1, the Swarm Guardian is an aerial siege weapon. In StarCraft 2, its long range, highly damaging projectile attack also spawns small broodlings that can attack the enemy for a short period of time.

* Nydus Worm: New Unit.

nydus_worm.gif

Another previously revealed unit, the Nydus worm is an evolution of the StarCraft 1 Nydus Canal. The Nydus Worm can tunnel to any point on the map, allowing Zerg units to funnel through. In the video, several Nydus Worms are used together to deliver units, implying that every worm can only deliver a limited amount of units (unlike the Nydus Canal).

Shaihuludata Gigantica canal

* Infestor: New Unit.

infestor.gif

The Infestor is the primary support unit for the Zerg, taking on the role of the Defiler. It has no attack of its own and relies on powerful abilities to bring harm to the enemies of the Zerg:

* Can move while burrowed. As we have suggested long ago in our “Suggestions for StarCraft 2” article, the Zerg race now features one unit that can move while hidden underground.

* Dark Swarm: Unchanged from StarCraft 1. This ability creates a cloud made out of small insects, making ranged attackers unable to hit units inside its cover.

* Disease: The Zerg’s Irradiate-equivalent, this ability targets a single enemy, giving it a damaging aura that slowly hurts it and other surrounding units.

* Infestation: An evolution of the old Queen ability, the Infestor no longer requires its target structure to be critically damaged. At the moment, it is unclear which buildings the Infestor can infest: Some rumors claim it can affect ALL buildings, including Protoss ones, while others only include specific Terran structures.

Infested!

Infested buildings only stay infested temporarily. During that time, they automatically create Infested Marines.

* Infested Marine: Changed from StarCraft 1.

infested_terran.gif

The StarCraft 2 Infested Marine is no longer a walking bomb. This time, it wields a normal marine rifle, and generally fights like a normal marine, with the only difference being a decreased movement speed.

* Corruptor: New Unit.

corrupter.gif

The Corruptor is the Zerg’s answer to the other races’ air superiority. The Corruptor is not a heavy unit like the Protoss Carrier or Terran Battlecruiser, but it is more than a match for them. Instead of destroying its target, the Corruptor transforms the enemy into an ally – after attacking a target long enough, it becomes corrupted and functions as a stationary turret in the service of the Zerg.

Corruptors on the attack

* Ultralisk: Somewhat changed from StarCraft 1.

ultralisk.gif

The Zerg’s heaviest hitter and most durable unit, the Ultralisk returns improved in StarCraft 2: it now has an area of effect attack, inflicting damage to any unit standing in front of its huge blades, and can also burrow.

The Ultralisk gently gathers up a group of marine to make a sandwitch with

In addition to the revealed units, many familiar buildings are also making a comeback in 3D form:

* Hatchery               * Lair                        * Spawning Pool

hatchery.giflair.gifspawning_pool.gif

* Hydralisk Den        * Spire                      * Ultralisk Cavern

hydralisk_den.gifspire.gifultralisk_cavern.gif

So far, it looks like the StarCraft 2 Zerg buildings are not much more than 3D versions of the originals, similar to the Protoss and Terran races.

It's an ugly planet! A BUG planet!

This long Q&A sheds some more light on the Zerg race and the state StarCraft 2 is in now:

Q: How far in development is SC2? And how much of it will be included in the final version?

A: Nothing’s for certain. It took us such a long time because we were developing other games. Because of our perfectionism we can’t say for sure when SC2 will be released.

Q: I heard there were immense changes to Battle.net. What are these changes?

A: Unfortunately we can’t give away too much on this right now. I can only tell you it’s going along well. Expect great changes!

Q: There’s no Kerrigan in the video. Is the Queen Kerrigan? If not, how is Kerrigan represented? Also the Roach looks like a… roach. People called Paladins from WoW Roaches so is that the reason?

A: The Roach has nothing to do with the Paladin. Kerrigan is a unique unit and will only be playable in the single-player campaign.

Q: How many Starcraft 1 developers are involved in SC2 right now? I heard some developers of C&C were brought over and therefore was not a real sequel to SC1.

A: There are about 12 original developers. It also sticks to the original and is therefore a sequel! We’ve worked hard to make this a fun game and tried to satisfy picky players on multiplayer.

Q: How is the balancing process going?

A: The balancing process is very complicated! That’s why us devs are always playing and balancing the game. Fortunately we have great talents here. We’re planning on getting feedback from this demonstration. We will also balance through patches. Map developers from WC2 are participating in SC2. We can’t tell you much now but you will be able to experience it soon.

Q: I heard SC2 uses a new graphics engine. Can you tell us the specifics?

A: I’m not a graphics expert, but I can tell you we have several advanced graphics techniques being used.

Q: The Zerg scenario ended with the Protoss attacking, but the Terran were conquered for the Protoss assault. Is the sequel loyal to the original storyline? The Queen seems to be used like a hero. Do we have to tech to use it?

A: The storyline is still under development. We can’t give you any details on it yet. The Queen is usable from the beginning and is specialized towards defense. More to come later.

Q: In WWI the Mothership was a super unit and was changed to a normal unit in Blizzcon. Queen has become a superunit so what’s become of the Mothership? Do terrans have a superunit as well? The graphics look great and the system requirements look pretty steep.

A: We can’t tell you anything for certain in the game right now. The Queen’s not really a superunit but really a specialized unit. It’s weak when not defended! It’s not a hero. The sys reqs are low enough so many more users can play. A graphics card with Pixel Shader 2.0 is required.

Q: How will the testing take place? Pro gamers say SC2 feels similar to SC1 and was that a main focus? Or was the focus more on new content?

A: We’re still discussing the best approach to testing. Because SC1 was so loved we’re trying to capture the feel of SC1. However we are adding new content.

Q: Zerg’s Infestor. In SC1 Infestation wasn’t used much. How much will this be used in SC1? Do the infested units count toward population?

A: Infestation is still being tested. We’ve only shown our work in progress. We’re trying to make Infestation a valid tactic in SC2. Supply depots can be infested as well. This will be a useful ability this time around. Currently you can only produce infested marines but that’s subject to change.

Q: SC1’s AI was a bit weak. How’s pathfinding and singleplayer? The Protoss have a cliff walker unit but the Zerg don’t seem to have one. Is there a unit made with this ability? Recently user-made maps are popular but there are some restrictions with licensing. For example making a map unusable is downloaded then changed. Is there a way to secure maps?

A: The devs are working to resolve this issue (AI and pathfinding). But this is still under construction! We can’t tell you anything about what the final build will look like. The Zerg do not have a cliff walker but use Nydus Worms. We’re aware of the problem with securing user-made maps and are considering options to resolve this issue.

Q: You said the development process takes a long time but Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bruce Hack (spelling?) said it’ll be out soon. About when will SC2 be released? And what will happen to SC1’s sales and marketing once SC2 is released?

A: We can’t say when we’ll release. We’ll be going for perfection. Also we have differences with Bruce Hack. However we both want to release this game ASAP. And because we have SC2 it doesn’t mean we’ll forget about SC1. If there’s one user that loves SC1 we’ll keep it going.

Q: As of today, all 3 races have been announced. Each race has strengths and weaknesses. What do you think, as a developer, are the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three races?

A: Us developers don’t focus too much upon strengths and weaknesses. That’s why we don’t add so many unnecessary features. The player is left to decide what the strengths and weaknesses are.

Q: SC1 is more popular in Korea than anywhere else. Will there be any plans to be made with Korea in mind?

A: We know about the popularity in Korea. Because Koreans love competitive gaming we’re trying to make this an e-Sport game. Just revealing the game in Seoul should tell you how much we love the Korean market.

Q: Will there be an event where people can play SC2 in Korea? Also the Observer mode in SC1 was rather lacking. Will SC2 have new features? For other RTS’es the game’s site hosts tournaments and leagues. Will this be done for SC2?

A: It was very important for us to announce the game through WWI and Blizzcon. Therefore we’re planning on having more such conventions. The e-Sports department is doing all that they can to create the best multiplayer experience. This can change depending on the players’ opinions, however. On a side note we’re preparing a WC3 tournament and are expecting to host similar leagues for SC2. However this doesn’t seem like the right time to talk about leagues or tournaments just yet.

 

Where's Ender when you need him

Other notable bits of information from the rush:

* Two new hidden Raynors. In the first picture, Raynor is sitting with his good friends, Zeratul, and both are watching the ensuing Zerg versus Terran battle. In the other, Raynor is watching another battle behind the safety of a giant cactus. Click on the pictures for the full screenshot.

raynorzeratul.JPGraynor.JPG

* A new attack for the Colossus, which has recently been revealed, is shown for the first time:

 

Colossus multi-laser

The StarCraft 2 universe has expanded greatly with the introduction of the third race. New unit and building pages will appear regularly, and Q&As will be full of Zerg goodness. Now that all races look great and are almost fully playable, how far away can the beta be?

 

Zerg. Are. Here.

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