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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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This week, the StarCraft 2 community has been provided with a few minor announcements and some cool StarCraft fan art creations.

The coolest update comes in the form of the recently revealed Brutalisk, a towering Zerg abomination slated to appear in Wings of Liberty, the Terran single player campaign. This unit has “custom map boss” written all over it!

Terrified Marines face the Awesome StarCraft 2 Brutalisk

(Released via Tweeter. Click for Big)

If you have been following the Blizzard rumor mill, you might have stumbled upon the short-lived newsflash that BlizzCon 2010 is scheduled for the 30th of July, 2010, in the Las Vegas Convetion Center. Good thing you haven’t paid anyone for a ticket yet, though – Bashiok, Blizzard’s official Diablo forum poster, switfly debunked the aforementioned rumor.

StarCraft fan art came in several different flavors this week, from cute miniature plush toys to an uber-detailed, 3D models of a Protoss.

Check out the full 3D model collection in this Korean Blog post.

StarCraft 2 3D Protoss

And here’s the stripped down body of this magnificent creature.

3D Naked StarCraft 2 protoss

(via StarCraft2.net.pl. You can download the full image collection here)

On the other hand, if you favor Zerg and/or plushies, here’s a dose of cuteness by mz-kitty:

Chibi Hydralisk by mz_kitty

What art form will StarCraft manifest itself in next? Only time will tell.

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With Blizzard’s official StarCraft comic strip program, Vespene Laughs, coming to an end, we’re proud to re-introduce our own replacement – Sc2Comic.com. Here’s the first strip, another take on the original StarCraft 2 introduction video:

We’ll aim at releasing a fresh comic on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, with occasional guest artists and multi-strip adventures. Make sure you subscribe to the Comic RSS and to SC2Blog or follow the TerranoZergus Twitter feed to keep yourself up to date on SC2 Comic happenings.

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Since its unveiling in May 2007, StarCraft 2 has been constantly either criticized or praised for the similarity to its masterpiece predecessor. Unlike the WarCraft and Diablo game series sequels, Blizzard’s StarCraft sequel is not radically different from StarCraft. At first glance, the Terran, Protoss and Zerg clash again, with only slightly modified arsenals and greatly enhanced graphics.

StarCraft vs StarCraft 2

But that’s not all. Every RTS game has key concepts that stretch beyond unit armor/damage statistics and eye candy – concepts like the Terran flying buildings, the neutral heroes of WarCraft 3 or the superweapons of Command & Conquer. Concepts that define battlefield priorities, the amount of base management required, and very often compromise the mechanics that drastically change the flow of multiplayer battles.

StarCraft 2 includes many such concepts, which significantly differentiate it from its predecessor:

1) Selection and Automation: Unlimited Selection and Multiple building selection

One of StarCraft’s key troop management considerations was the 12 unit per group limit. Just like any other Blizzard RTS game, and unlike almost any Westwood RTS game, players had to divide units into controllable groups not just based on priority and comfort, but the ease of unified control. Having 15 marines and 7 Vultures usually meant that the player will have to control 3 groups(12+3+7), an artificially imposed handicap which had no real meaning.

Unlimited Selection

StarCraft 2 changes all that. Players will be able to group units by control comfort, map location and unit roles – a drastic change which will affect the diversity and amount of engaged units.

Multiple building selection is a somewhat controversial concept which greatly streamlines production management across multiple buildings. This common control method, which already exists in WarCraft 3, has been criticized for easing production control beyond measure, thus eliminating a facet of skill superiority in matches. MBS liberates more time with which players can focus on controlling the battle, and removes another artificial hassle from the gameplay. Confirmed early on and not changed since, this feature will make it to the Gold version.
StarCraft 2 includes many new automation features, such as smart casting and auto-mining – we have covered them extensively several months ago.

2) Defenses: Terran Supply Depots, Protoss mobile Phase Cannons and the creeping Zerg base defenses

Every race in StarCraft 2 has received significant and original improvements to their defensive structures. The Terran have effectively acquired the first and only StarCraft equivalent of a gate. Despite always having the ability to block and unblock vital ground by lifting buildings off the ground and repositioning them, the size and nature of the new Supply Depots provide an unparalleled static defense flexibility for the Terran players.

Terran Supply Depot

The Protoss mobile Phase Cannons are a great way to ensure that every part of one’s base is covered by defenses – if they’re not there at present, they’ll be moved where they’re needed within a few seconds – but perhaps more importantly, they create a great economic advantage for the Protoss. While every other race possesses its own advantages in terms of “offensive towering”, the Protoss have become the only race to be able to recycle its defenses. Static defenses often become obsolete, especially when placed in expansions or offensive outposts, and this feature allows them to be used and reused throughout the game.

Protoss no longer see the Cannons as a waste of resources (even though current build information suggests otherwise) – they can be redeployed to new expansions, be used in a new offensive, or be sent to aid an ally in need.

Similarly, the newly introduced mobile Zerg defenses are a somewhat less aggressive implementation of this idea. While the mobile Protoss Cannons are able to move around even outside pylon range, Zerg defenses, like almost all other Zerg structures, require creep to be built or to move around on. Of course, as noted earlier by Karune – in Zerg Vs Zerg match-ups, offensive towering is extremely effective due to the Queen’s support.

3) Terrain: High-yield minerals, Terrain destructibility, High-Low Ground

One of the first things to be noticed during StarCraft 2’s initial unveiling were the Yellow Crystals. These were later confirmed to be high-yield minerals – a strategy changing concept, which has served Westwood well in its C&C RTS series of games.

Yellow ?

The tactical implications of having super-valuable expansions in a macro-oriented RTS game, such as StarCraft, are vast. In 2vs2 battles, an economic advantage is very often all players need to gain a significant advantage over the other team.

Destructible terrain, despite adding an additional tactical twist to any battlefield, will likely become little more than an early game consideration. Blocked choke-points, well isolated expansions and unreachable cliffs will alter players’ priorties, often benefiting the player who correctly times the destruction of these obstacles.

Not unlike StarCraft, StarCraft 2 also has multiple levels of terrain height, but this time the Protoss and Terran are equipped with units specifically designed to hop between the different height levels. Colossi, Reapers and Stalkers have all been designed to take advantage of higher ground in battle. The ability to move between heights provides these units with a significant advantage over melee units, and greatly increases the survival chances they have in multi-tiered maps.

Hi-Low Ground

4) StarCraft 2 Production twists – Reactor Add-on and the Warp Gate

One of the most overlooked features at this point is the Terran’s Reactor add-on. As described in a recent Q&A, the Reactor allows a building to build two units at once, effectively doubling its production rate. This is a radical change in production, a crushing advantage for a race that has quite an arsenal of specialized units – as long as the player forfeits the Terran heavy-hitters.

Heavy Hitting Terrans

The Reactor add-on can be attached to the production buildings that needs the doubled rate, and detached from production facilities which need to produce Tech-Lab dependant units.

The Protoss Warp Gate, on the other hand, grants the player the ability to summon units directly into expansions and allied bases. A team of Protoss players can provide each other with reinforcements in real time, an especially significant advantage on Island maps and siege situations.

Bear in mind that we have ignored the major implications of introducing such gameplay-changing units as the Zerg Queen and the new Terran Ghost on purpose, to put on emphasis on global aspects that affect production, control, base layout and economy. These concepts are far more likely to survive the many StarCraft 2 builds which have radically altered unit abilities time after time.

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