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Some things are bound to happen. Considering the cataclysmic events that have recently hit the Korean StarCraft scene, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Blizzard has officially decided to cease their negotiations and relations with KeSPA – the Korean eSports Players Association.

Taking things public, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime discussed the issues with Yonhap News during their visit to Blizzard’s HQ, and a kind soul over at the TL forums translated a significant portion of the articles for the community. It all boils down to the following statements – and coming from Blizzard’s #1, it likely means that this is the company’s final stance on the issue.

“We’ve been negotiating with the association about intellectual property rights for the last three years, and we’ve made no progress at all”

“….We’re going to stop negotiating with them and look for a new partner”

“…Blizzard obviously has the IP rights to the Starcraft series, but those rights aren’t being respected, and we can’t keep having these fruitless negotiations with the release of Starcraft II at hand”

Over the course of StarCraft 2’s development, a big portion of which happened in the public eye since its unveiling during the World Wide Invitational in May 2007, Blizzard has made multiple statements about its eSports ambitions. Notice how this time span overlaps exactly with the three-year negotiation period Mike Morhaime mentioned above.

1) In early 2008, Blizzard RTS Community Managers released a Q&A that included an answer specifically stating the sort of role Blizzard’s eSports team is gearing up to play in their upcoming flagship RTS title:

the planning and operation of Blizzard tournaments around the world in places such as Asia, Europe and the United States. They also provide third-party support for the eSports leagues that host both online and live events using Blizzard titles.

Additionally, they help provide balance feedback to our development teams based on interaction with professional gamers and response from the eSports community. They will have an integral role in promoting StarCraft II as an eSports as they have done for the previous Blizzard titles.

To sum it up, Blizzard’s eSport’s team expects to handle the following aspects of competitive StarCraft 2 gaming:

  • The planning and operation of StarCraft 2 tournaments around the globe.
  • Support for league managing – both online and live competitive events.
  • The active promotion of StarCraft 2 as an eSport.

2) While the first statement hadn’t mentioned Korea, during BlizzCon 2008, Blizzard representatives specifically expressed their commitment to the highly-developed Korean StarCraft gaming scene.

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.

…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.

A Massive Televised StarCraft Event

3) Early 2009, in Q&A #50, the Chat with the Devs section emphasizes StarCraft 2’s inherent eSports oriented design and replay features:

StarCraft II from its conception has been designed to be an eSport and one of the backbone features to helping players learn more about their own gameplay as well as their opponents is through replays. In our chat with Dustin this week, he highlighted various features that will be available to players while viewing replays. These features are designed both to help players improve in StarCraft II as well as serve as a platform of statistics for eSports commentary.

4) April 2009, Blizzard re-iterates the unchanged goals of the eSports team:

The role of our eSports Team is to operate tournaments and competitive events for Blizzard games.  We will release more information on our plans for StarCraft II tournaments, both official and third-party, as we get closer to the launch of the game.

5) July 2009, Dustin Browder talks about Blizzard’s intentions to push for the mainstream adoption of eSports and their plans to promote public broadcasts – televised StarCraft 2 matches.

6) Towards the end of 2009, the message grows even clearer, as Bob Colayco, Blizzard’s PR Manager for StarCraft 2, provides the following answer during an interview:

You know, we have an E-Sports team for a reason and I think you’re going to see some 3rd party stuff as well, but we definitely like to get hands on with our own things. If you look at what we’ve done with WoW Arena, we do have the tournament realms and we do regional finals that we run and we sponsor.

By this time, just a few months before the beta, Mr. Colayco is almost certainly aware of the situation with KeSPA, the failing negotiations and the inevitability of the clash that is due to occur when the StarCraft 2 beta goes live and public in Korea.

The aforementioned six public statements are, undoubtedly, just the the tip of the iceberg; a drop in a pool of statements and actions Blizzard took to make sure the message is clear: Blizzard made StarCraft 2. The future of StarCraft 2 belongs to Blizzard.

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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