One of the most honest looks at competitive gaming, the literally-named StarCraft visual novel SC2VN, is getting a Brood War-themed sequel: Don't Forget Our eSports Dream.
It might seem odd that a visual novel ends up being one of the best pieces of media about esports and pro gaming. But one reason why Team Eleven's SC2VN stood-out is because writer TJ Huckabee is fascinated by the grinding heartbreak that most aspiring pro gamers will experience throughout their careers.
"People just assume life as a progamer is glamorous. And, yeah, if you're a West Coast League of Legends player getting paid by Riot, it kind of is. At least as long as you're doing well. But for everyone else, unless you're winning these tournaments? Life is so hard," Huckabee said.
"Most of the time, you are just losing and failing. When you set out to do something, and you don't do it, it's hard to walk away with a net positive experience if you failed. And because of that, in my view, StarCraft 2 is so tough and so demoralising. Everyone who has played ladder at a high level knows the stress of constantly losing. Imagine basing your livelihood on something, and then never being able to succeed at it. It's so brutal."
Another member of Team Eleven sent Huckabee a quote last week that he fell in love with: "You make your career based on destroying other people's dreams when you play StarCraft professionally." It encapsulates another of his favourite themes: the zero-sum nature of pro-gaming.
"Every time you win a game, there's some other guy who also aspires to be the best and you just destroyed his dream," Huckabee said. "If there's 32 people in a tournament, 31 of them are going home upset."
SC2VN focused on the experience of a middling, non-Korean StarCraft player struggling to stay afloat in Korea in the early days of StarCraft 2. Don't Forget Our eSports Dream shifts its focus to the height of Brood War by looking at the backstories of two major SC2VN characters: Bolt and Jett.
Jett was the demanding-but-kind leader of your character's team of super-friends in SC2VN, one of the best players in the world and a star in her own right. Bolt, meanwhile, was the mustache-twirling villain of the story. Don't Forget Our eSports Dream finds them at an earlier point in their lives, when they are still trying to make something of themselves following major setbacks to their Brood War careers.
The game is ultimately about the diverging experiences and views of the two characters, who are childhood friends. But the story is told from Bolt's point-of-view, in part because Huckabee felt they owed a debt to the character after SC2VN.
"I felt like we did him a huge injustice in SC2VN," Huckabee said. "He came off as super one-dimensional, a total jerk. But he wasn't supposed to be like that. He had a lot of history. But this is what I learned on SC2VN: it doesn't matter how much backstory and how much depth your write. It only matters what you show. And what I showed was a character who was borderline racist and an arsehole. And I saw this and I was like, oh my God, I totally messed up. This character is totally messed up."
Bolt is meant to be more illustrative of the long-term toll of chasing a dream, and the ways it can become toxic. His character is driven by a need to find meaning in the fact he barely makes any money and trains for over 12 hours a day just so he can be a practice partner for his more successful teammates. It's a crucial bit of backstory for a character who seemed needlessly cruel and arrogant.
Not that he needs to become that way. Huckabee says that Don't Forget Our eSports Dream is not as linear as SC2VN, and it's not set in stone that the Bolt who emerges from that story will be the haughty jerk who drove the action in SC2VN.
One of the interesting things about SC2VN, for Huckabee, was that it resonated with a lot of people who have never touched StarCraft. It was a way of bringing to life a subculture that remains fairly impenetrable to a lot of people. Huckabee and his team want to do the same thing with Brood War in Don't Forget Our eSports Dream.
"When we were watching Brood War back in 2008, it's this thing we marveled at," Huckabee said. "You could follow it on Team Liquid, and sometimes watch a grainy livestream, but we weren't really part of Brood War. ...We were just sort of seeing it as this crazy thing, and wondering if we were ever going to be a part of it. Trying to get past that, and show Brood War as it was to Koreans, is something only a few people in the western world have been able to experience. Hopefully we can do it with Don't Forget Our eSports Dream."
Don't Forget Our eSports Dream is currently on Kickstarter. Huckabee aims to deliver the final game next May.