New Rules For Pro StarCraft Drive Legendary Player Off Team Liquid

New Rules for Pro StarCraft Drive Legendary Player Off Team Liquid

Song "HerO" Hyeon Deok and Team Liquid announced yesterday that HerO would not longer be a part of the Liquid organisation after almost five years together. Since late 2011, HerO was one of the most prominent members of a team that has been at the heart of StarCraft in the English-speaking world. What's important about this departure is that Liquid owner Victor Goossens indicated that his hand had been forced by the new rules for competitive StarCraft in 2016. It's a situation that illustrates the double-edged nature of region-locking for the sake of developing talent. In his statement about HerO's departure, Goossens said, "StarCraft is the game on which the legacy of our team is built. It's a game we all love and care about. I know that, and I'm very aware of it. However, the reality is that it is a difficult game to be involved with in this current climate. The recent WCS [World Championship Series] changes added complications that altered our ability to work things out with HerO."

Goossens is referring to the fact that Blizzard put forth a more restrictive form of region-locking this year. In the past, Korean players like HerO were able to compete in Europe and North America without having to be residents of those regions. But this past December, Blizzard announced a residency requirement for the 2016 season that disqualified a lot of Korean talent from international tournaments.

"In this new system, we would lose HerO's presence in DreamHacks and IEMs, and HerO would lose the ability to travel to big international events. It's what HerO has become known for the most, and it's one of the most important values of being on an international StarCraft team," Goossens explained. "Unfortunately, our two ends just could not meet in negotiations, and HerO decided that it was time to move on."

New Rules for Pro StarCraft Drive Legendary Player Off Team Liquid

HerO after winning IEM Cologne 2014, by ESL. Source

It's a sad development for fans of the team and arguably its most famous StarCraft player. Reading HerO's message to fans is especially heart-breaking: "Honestly, I'm a bit afraid. People loved, cheered for, and remembered 'Team Liquid's HerO.' I worry if I can be as loved and supported without the 'Liquid'."

HerO's departure from Team Liquid highlights the damned-if-you-do nature of trying to create a healthy international ecosystem. This problem is clearest in StarCraft, where even middling Korean players tend to dominate their rivals from abroad, but you can also see it cropping up in League of Legends and Counter-Strike, where pronounced regional disparities make for uneven international competition.

After years of trying to create competitive space for players across Europe and the Americas, only to watch Korean players arrive to harvest most of that prize money, Blizzard took drastic steps this year by imposing a stringent residency requirement. In this, they are following Riot's example; three years ago, that company created regional LCS leagues to help promote local interest and excitement around League of Legends. Given how badly the pro StarCraft community outside of Korea was struggling, this was probably a wise move.

But it was always a move that would hurt players like HerO, and teams like Liquid. Most of HerO's success came outside Korea, where his strong performances often put him and Liquid in the spotlight. Now, like many players in his position, he's forced to compete in far more demanding Korean leagues, and Liquid can no longer have him representing the team abroad.

The obvious criticism of a region-locked system is that it creates a lot of "hothouse flower" esports competitors while reducing opportunities for more deserving players. It's why North American teams take a beating every year at the League of Legends world championship. Suddenly exposed to stronger competition from outside North America, they're revealed to be the best of teams of a very weak region. The same thing happens when non-Korean StarCraft players make an appearance at the BlizzCon finals.

There's a lot of truth to that complaint, but the alternative is having a sport that is dominated entirely by a single region, where the achievements of lesser teams and players are meaningless because their ultimate failure is assured. That's not an exciting story to watch, and it's an unbelievably discouraging reality for players outside the dominant region.

Everyone admired and respected HerO, one of StarCraft's most passionate competitors. For the sake of StarCraft, however, his international career had to be cut short.

Top photo: HerO at DreamHack Summer 2014, by Helena Kristiansson. Source


    Obviously Blizzard is free to do what it wants, but protecting weak players is pretty pathetic in an age of global competition and recognition. Why have regions at all? Why not make it like the Olympic Games and just have a global tournament? A large reason that Korean players do so well, I understand, is because there is more scope to play StarCraft for a living in Korea, meaning that more time can be spent by players training and competing.

      Probably because most of the best players come from Korea and Koreans tend to be much better at certain esports mainly because it is entirely possible to make a living with just esports in Korea.

      Their famous e-athletes (is this even a word?) are as famous as their celebrities and they score CM and modelling deals.

      They really do play starcraft or a living lol. Which is hard for the weak players to complete against the them.

      Last edited 17/02/16 4:44 pm

        Its that competition with these elite players that drives the overall skill level up though

      Really? Think about that for a moment. Tournaments like the Olympics and the World Cup are region locked by definition. Only people who are residents of that country are allowed to compete for that country. In the case of the Olympics, each country holds their own internal qualifiers to determine who gets to go to represent them.

      And let's be real here, if you're going to make a global tournament for Starcraft, South Korea is going to win it with no competition. It's not exactly going to be all that interesting to watch from that perspective.

      These new changes they are implementing this season though will bring the best of South Korea against the best of the rest of the world at the end of the year. A Korean will still win the whole thing, yes, but at least we'll see more variety in competition.

      Europe actually has a very strong scene in Starcraft II, especially in France. Players from that region regularly go toe-to-toe with Koreans and sometimes beat them. It's really the Americas region (which includes Oceania for the purposes of WCS) that's dropping the ball in skill level.

        I like to compare Esports to stuff like the UEFA Champions League in football and the Indian Premier League in cricket. Nothing stops them from having international players come and play in the megaclubs and teams of what is notionally a regional league. The players go to where the money is and sometimes that does crowd out local players that are more connected to the local teams. Esports does the same thing as Korean players are generally better than most other regions and tend to perform better and get paid better in competitions.

        Needlessly imposing residency restrictions on the SC2 tournaments merely locks out international players and teams in what were previously international tournaments. It's going backwards in terms of promoting the global appeal of Esports.

          While it would be nice to one day compare E-Sports to UEFA Champions League, etc. the fact is those are examples that have large well-established fan bases that love both the sport and the various teams. That is to say sports are considerably better established and can afford a free market environment in order to foster competition.

          Esports is still relatively grass roots in comparison (especially in terms of how much money would be in the industry when compared to most high level sports). With this being the case some sheltering/restriction can serve to allow for even development down the line; following which lifting those restrictions actually serves to better competition. Too much competition early on in a cycle can potentially cripple a system as opposed to nurturing it further.

      You do realize that protectionism is an economic theory that Australia has used extensively? It works when utilized properly where a sheltered environment allows for growth and then easing towards a free market philosophy where various entities are on near equal footing. This creates competition which is essential for long term growth and actually adds to the health of a system on a global level.

      The fact of the matter is when compared to the rest of world Korea has a much more developed E-sports scene; with such a distinctive advantage game devs have no choice but to even the playing field if they want to maintain global interest in their tournaments. After all fans will have waning interest if it's the same batch of teams from the same country ending up in the finals repeatedly.

        Australian Esports tends to be dominated by a select few teams consistently because they've established themselves as the big fish in the small pond. Sectioning off the competitive scenes between different regions merely protects the smaller scenes from the bigger, developed scenes as you said.

        The pitfall of protectionism is that, in both economic and Esports terms, unhealthy entities are protected and sustained by reduced competition that would be destroyed in a completely open environment. We see that when we get to world Esports competitions where the Koreans tend to wipe the floor with everyone. Sheltering the Americans, Europeans, Australians, and whoever else from the dominating Koreans doesn't help anyone. Heck, from what I've heard and seen it's generally the lower to middle tier of Korean players that compete in the US and Europe because there is such intense competition in Korea. Even their merely average players still destroy the best of the other regions. As the article said, I can't imagine keeping out Korean and other Asian challengers from the seasonal leagues helps the development of other regions when they end up getting smashed in the world championships anyway.

        Edit: A better approach, in my opinion, would be to use something like the marquee system and/or team salary caps to restrict the dominance of certain teams. That way they would be restricted to only a certain number of high profile talented players and their overall team can't be objectively better than the other teams because they could afford to pay a lot of skilled and in-demand players.

        Last edited 17/02/16 5:56 pm

          I think the difference in views can be stemmed back to one point; yes protectionism can foster unhealthy entities if they are left protected too long however if entities aren't allowed to establish before facing a competitive free market environment established global monopolies will steamroll them which is counter intuitive for global competition.

          With regards to esports this isn't a means of fostering a higher skill level; protectionism here serves to keep more people interested in competing on a global level. If one country isn't consistently taking away all the prizes then more competitive local players will potentially be attracted to the scene. Or alternatively keeping a steady stream of revenue going to local players long enough for them to stay dedicated to the scene to improve until a free market system can be established.

        After all fans will have waning interest if it's the same batch of teams from the same country ending up in the finals repeatedly.

        So state of origin support must be dying out. I mean queensland won 8 years in a row. There have been many, many cases of a team being dominant in a competition for a long stretches regardless of the sport. Sure in the short term Korea will be dominant but as other teams get more exposure they will improve. Given time they'd eventually be able to compete.

        There is a myriad of ways that they could have fostered growth. Restrictions will only mean that Korea will just get stronger vs the rest of the world. Watch upcomers from NA\EU\OC move there so they can play the best... it will happen just the same as they do in other sports (aussie basketballers or soccer players for example). This will just lead to korea being the only comp of note.

          See reply to sports comparison above.

          Edit: Also I wasn't aware that E-Sports teams were compensated handsomely just for competing? Isn't that the case in sports? If all teams are paid relatively well to allow them to keep at the sport even if they lose repeatedly then yes a free market environment is viable. However if the teams don't have a base salary and they count on winnings to maintain time and effort towards the sport wouldn't make sense that you could foster a larger competitive base by restricting regions so that all teams were guaranteed a chance at a base income?

          Last edited 18/02/16 9:10 am

            I read your post but i disagree. There are two forms here - individual and teams. For the individual (sc2) restriction by locale is asinine. These tournaments are all over the world with many locales. Interest in golf,tennis from different regions wasn't stifled just because an american was dominant for 10 years. By restricting registration to locale Korea will become the defacto big boy leagues and any local talent will just pack their bags and go play in that leaving local comps to be used as stepping stones (This occurs in soccer and nbl here, we have no such issue with individual sports as they have no regional restrictions, golf tennis etc have competitions all over the world). Ohh and don't confuse SC2 teams with something like nba,nfl teams. These are essentially practice buddies that get sponsored (ie yes they get money without winning comps).

            For team games like dota, lol they need to redo the whole way it's done imo. Atm it's some hybrid clusterfuck. They need to be very specific about what constitutes a team and how many are allowed. Personally i think something like the IPL where each team just bids for players at an auction and prize money goes to both players and owner. They could have different leagues for that too but again where ever the koreans are is where everyone will want to be as they are the best players and if you're playing at that level generally people want to compete with the best.

    and this news breaks just 4hrs from the start of Code S as well. I wonder what he will called now seeing as theres both him and Hero in Code S this season

      Not to nitpick but CJ Entus herO spells it with a lowercase h and (former) Liquid HerO spells it with an uppercase H. Both use an uppercase O.

      Would be even more confusing if HerO ends up joining CJ Entus then...

      Last edited 17/02/16 11:03 pm

    They really do play starcraft or a living lol. Which is hard for the weak players to complete against the them.

    So? I'd love to see some stats that backup that comment. I'd argue that a high percentage of any region in the top tier are probably are unemployed or do minimal amount of work and spend a ridiculous amount of time on the game. The difference being that they don't really earn a huge amount of money doing it.

    The article already makes mention of this with the "hothouse flower" - pampering doesn't do the competitors any good in a global scale. Korea will simply get stronger and stonger. There is a reason elite athletes train with each other, so they can push their boundaries.

    EDIT Shit i fail at replys - comment was made in reply to @letrico

    Last edited 17/02/16 4:59 pm

      I explained that in the first part of my comment. Korea treats their esports like a real sports and famous players are just like a celebrity. They have commercial deals, modelling deals, tv show deals etc for famous esports players. We do not get that kind of treatment anywhere else.

      It is certainly true that separating the weak players and the strong players will have the opposite effect of what they are trying to achieve but I believe at the same time the weak players are just fed up with the situation. Would you go to a competition knowing that you will 100% lose? I certainly won't.

      I mean why would the rule be implemented if there were not enough complaints raised about it? There is certainly enough feedback for the new rule to be added.

        I explained that in the first part of my comment. Korea treats their esports like a real sports and famous players are just like a celebrity. They have commercial deals, modelling deals, tv show deals etc for famous esports players. We do not get that kind of treatment anywhere else.

        My point was "So what". It's arguable that the only difference in the people playing are the size of their bank account. A lot of people at that level money is just a bonus not the primary drive for playing (goes with any sports). It's more about passion than paycheck (especially early on).

        Would you go to a competition knowing that you will 100% lose? I certainly won't. Yes. I think that is just a mindset - a competitive one. If i am attempting to be the best the only way i can is by playing the best. I understand that if you were just to sit down and play a pickup game of sc2 that you wouldn't want to loose every time - this isn't that. This is the peak. The 0.005%.

        In other sports they restrict by ability and have multiple divisions eg: nrl vs reserve grade vs local comps in qrl, nswrl vs pub teams ... (keeps diluting down); likeness to this can be drawn across many sporting bodies. Instead of restricting by region they should have different tiered comps and open registration to all restriction much like Pro golf - get a "tour card" and have to perform to a certain level to retain it. Sure Korea will be dominant for a few years but as time goes on others will get better and better.

        Last edited 17/02/16 6:26 pm

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