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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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…the future. But not just any arbitrary future. There is an actual date, as well as plans for releasing additional StarCraft 2 Beta Keys to accommodate Blizzard’s hunger for crowdsourced QA.

Stefanie GwinnerFew, if any, had doubts about the upcoming beta, and considering the fact that many of us already got our hands on a StarCraft 2 Beta Key, its eventual arrival  is almost inevitable. However, this is the first time that a reliable source has received a confirmation about an existing timetable directly from Xordiah –  Blizzard’s European RTS Community Manager.

The original source is the massive German 4Players.de website, and the report’s key points were accurately translated by IncGamer’s SCWire.

  • Blizzard has a fixed date for the beta. However, it’s still a secret.
  • The multiplayer part of the game is basically done except for a few details.
  • There will be several more opportunities to participate in the beta to come (including competitions, perhaps a kind of story competition or similar).
  • In the current build (internally at Blizzard), there is a Dark Pylon with a cool ability, which enables Probes to harvest faster within the reach of the Pylon.
  • The Command Center now has a new, cool ability that creates a “bigger” SCV, which is better at harvesting.
  • Supply Depots can be upgraded to give +2 Supply.
  • Xordiah, who is a “Protoss Fetishist”, is very happy.
  • This build’s Immortals are extremely strong.

The above list is full of good news. Blizzard has already handed out thousands of beta keys, and as it seems, will hand out many more via various competitions which will be run on official fansites and on Battle.net. The SC2Blog will likely have a chance to hand out more beta keys via competitions, similar to the one we held in September, which sent 4 of our readers to BlizzCon.

We're gonna need a bigger SCV, sir.

It’s interesting to see that Blizzard’s recent balance tinkering touched upon resource gathering, with both Protoss and Terran receiving perks – the Protoss Dark Pylon and the super-SCV are mentioned strictly as economy buffs. This is clearly an attempt to elaborate the “Macro” portion of the game, which, as many of those who’ve had a chance to play say, is lacking. Blizzard’s previous attempt, involving the new gas mechanics, has accumulated an impressive amount of negative feedback. Will these changes bring about the extra complexity demanded by the StarCraft pros?

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Blizzard’s co-founder, Frank Pearce, has come out with a statement sure to excite StarCraft fans in an interview given to VideoGaming247.

When asked about the possibility of a 4th race in StarCraft 2, Frank deals the usual response:

We talked about the possibility of a fourth race early on, but we felt like we had a finite amount of great ideas and wanted to make sure we focused all the cool, best ideas on the existing three races rather than diluting those ideas across four races.

However, for the first time, Frank gives hope when it comes to the inevitable StarCraft 2 expansion:

We don’t have the resources or time to add a fourth race to the launch of StarCraft II, but I’m sure in the event that we decide to do an expansion set it’s a feature that’ll come up for discussion.

This is the first time a Blizzard representative has not completely denied the possibility of adding a new playable race to StarCraft 2. Blizzard have been very adamant in their choice of sticking with the three original StarCraft races, which they decided to further explore and differentiate between. It will be interesting to see how they tackle the challenge of introducing a completely new race to the delicate balance currently evolving amongst the three existing races in StarCraft 2.

4th race in the oven

Next up, we have a few bits of information about StarCraft 2’s most recent gameplay tactics, straight from the mouth of Blizzard – Karune, Blizzard’s community manager. First up, Karune discusses a sneaky tactic employed by the Terran.

Thought I’d share with you guys that in internal gameplay, we’ve had some poor souls find out the hard way that apparently if you are playing Terran and you immediately lift off your command center to a close by high yield mineral field, you will easily make up the difference of the time lost from collecting minerals during that period, and essentially be able to out produce any other race very quickly. Thus far, it seems like it is easy to defend this new fast expansion strategy. Nonetheless, I’m sure it will be balanced in the coming weeks, but thought it was funny so I thought I’d share.

The yellow, high yield minerals currently provide 50% more resources than the normal, blue variants. Since the Terran Command Center, like all Terran buildings, has a natural ability to lift off, maps with a closeby yellow mineral patch make this almost a crime not to abuse.

No yellow minerals around?

Karune has received a few suggestions to “fix” this issue on the forums and responded to them:

Making lift off a researched ability and hard coating the minerals both seem like interesting ideas – I’ll be sure to forward that along to the devs. Like I said before though, this has only worked on ‘certain’ maps. If anything, those maps could be modified slightly and it would probably fix it.

Knowing Blizzard, this strategy will likely still be viable on certain maps, but in a balanced way that allows the other races to respond to it without being at an obvious disadvantage.

Karune’s next post discusses the Mutalisks’ ability to bunch up tightly and function like a single unit, attacking targets for very high damage, as well as utilizing their attack cool-down time to move. This tactic requires some micromanaging skill to accomplish, and has become a favorite discussion point in Q&As. This is what the situation is like, currently:

There has not been extensive testing of this yet, but in terms of Mutalisks, players will be able to stack, but it will be much harder to keep them clumped up. As more info surfaces about this, I will keep you informed.


Also, Mutalisks at first in StarCraft II while slowed down a bit before they attacked, but the code has been fixed to allow it to attack on the move like the original StarCraft.

It seems like Mutalisks will still be able to attack and move if used by skilled, agile players, but creating a Korean Mutalisk super-unit will be significantly more difficult.

Clumpalisks

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An official denial from Blizzard has put an end to the recent rumors surrounding the supposed system requirements for StarCraft 2. Despite the fact the requirements were published in a respectable, well circulated Spanish magazine, they were nothing but fictional.

So the following:

 

Is nothing but a guess, probably based on the the configuration of the PCs that were used to run StarCraft 2 for the magazine’s reporters.

Healthy logic and some of our readers have suggested that the requirements simply can not be real. While the engine is ready, unit and multiplayer feature configurations can swing the requirements in both directions, and Blizzard has absolutely no reason to commit to any setup at this point.
 

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