KeSPA Announces Closure Of StarCraft Proleague

StarCraft 2

The Korea e-Sports Association, KeSPA, has announced it will be discontinuing the world’s longest-running esports league, the StarCraft ProLeague as of 18 October. Its closure comes after 14 seasons of competitive play across the Brood War and SC2 iterations of the franchise.

You can read the statement in full after the jump but I wanted to say that the golden years of competitive StarCraft were a bit before my time in PC Gaming and esports proper so what I know, I know from research and watching older VODs. With that in mind I’d really love to hear your experiences watching both ProLeague and with StarCraft in general – who you followed and why, standout moments, tiny heartbreaks – that sort of thing. Just leave a comment :)

Here’s the statement issued by KeSPA Chairman Jun ByungHun as per the ProLeague Facebook page. If you’re looking to skim-read it, the TL;DR is that waning interest from sponsors, declining numbers of ProLeague players and damaging match-fixing scandals contributed to a climate that no longer supported the league’s existence (plus you’ve got MOBAs like League of Legends chomping into the Korean esports scene).

Today, we are announcing the discontinuation of StarCraft ProLeague. StarCraft ProLeague started out in 2003 as the world’s first team-based eSports league and 2016 marked its 14th year, making it the world’s longest-running eSports league.

ProLeague paved the way for many top-tier StarCraft players and served as the bedrock behind Korean pro players becoming the world’s greatest. The league was loved not only by Korean StarCraft fans, but had fans that followed it from all over the world.

ProLeague won the hearts and support of fans through its exhilarating competition and immersive stories. However, behind the excitement, it also had its share of hurdles that we as its organizers had to overcome. We had faced challenges that hindered ProLeague’s operations including the acute drop in global eSports sponsorships in 2008 caused by the global financial crisis, the first case of eSports match-fixing, and declining number of teams. Despite those challenges, KeSPA made countless efforts to maintain ProLeague. Such efforts include the commissioned management of the eight professional teams to meet the minimum team requirement for ProLeague operations, participation in the EG-TL foreign alliance team, supporting ProLeague participation for teams not owned by companies, selling overseas broadcast rights, and strengthening partnerships with overseas eSports competitions.

As for me, after being appointed as the chairman in 2013, I did my best with the association and its partner companies to improve ProLeague and market conditions. We looked far and near for all possibilities including creating better broadcast conditions and increasing sales of broadcast rights, securing the JinAir Green Wings sponsorship, cooperating with foreign league organizers, and hosting the KeSPA Cup. Thanks to the support of everyone involved, ProLeague was able to continue on through 2016.

However, the drop in the number of ProLeague teams and players, difficulty securing league sponsors, and match fixing issues have made it challenging to maintain ProLeague.

As such, KeSPA has come to announce the discontinuation of ProLeague and its operations of the five out of total seven StarCraft professional teams that participated in ProLeague 2016.

The decision to put the past 14 years behind us and discontinue ProLeague was a difficult one and it deeply saddens me to have to also bring you the news that KeSPA will be stopping its operations of ProLeague teams. Although ProLeague has ended, StarCraft will continue to be a globally competitive eSport. StarCraft is one of the world’s best RTS games and is an immersive and exciting eSport to watch as well as play. With its partners, KeSPA will look for ways to support pro-gamers who will be competing in the WCS Global Finals this November as well as continue to seek competition opportunities for local pro-gamers through measures such as expanding the StarCraft KeSPA Cup.

In the wake of the announcement Team Liquid reports that a number of StarCraft 2 teams have announced they will be disbanding, including SKT, KT, Samsung, CJ and MVP. StarCraft feels like it’s been slipping away for a fair while now, so this isn’t a surprise, but it does feel like the end of an era.

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  1. ikehaiku says:

    Not a surprise at all for anyone following the scene, since rumors were abundant since a few months, but it being official is still saddening.
    Proleague was a staple of the Starcraft KR scene…of the scene.Period.
    Maybe more concerning for the future is the disbanding of the teams. Who knows what will happen of the individual leagues? My guess is only one (Prolly more the GSL than SSL) will run.

    We gonna to wait and see what next season WCS will be…But if we try to look at the bright side, maybe more players will be able (and willing) to enter non-Kespa tournaments.

  2. Steven Hutton says:

    This is sad but also inevitable.

    Starcraft 2 never really managed to innovate or modernise. Blizzard’s reluctance to alienate long time fans lead to a finicky, unintuitive, grognardy experience. I’d love to see RTS make a comeback but SC2 was never going to be the game to do that. It’s simply too old fashioned.

  3. Tony M says:

    We need to accept that eSports aren’t the same as regular sports, for good and ill. An eSport is always going to go out of fashion and be replaced by the next big thing. Starcraft had a great run.

    All my best Starcraft memories are Day9 related. Loved his breakdowns of maps and players.

    • mouton says:

      There is no such inevitability. Chess is a sport and it remains “in fashion”. It is just that some sports got established long, long ago, when there were less options and less distractions.

      • Blad the impaler says:

        Yes, chess. Since the bishop build time nerf in patch MLXVII.II, I’ve been feeling pretty good about my pawn rush.

        • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

          Chess has had tons of rules revisions over the years though, it’s a bit silly to pretend that it hasn’t. Especially when it was first created, the rules were not set in stone like they are now for, well, centuries. Even modern chess sees revisions via time control method changes, though the moves the pieces make have long since been balanced and standardized.

          • Blad the impaler says:

            That’s all very interesting, but the comparison is apples to Jolly Ranchers.

          • Corronchilejano says:

            Chess’s last revision was 150 years ago, when pawns stopped being dummies until capturing a piece it would become. And before that, it was half a millennia ago.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        That’s the point. Chess clawed its way to the top at a time when there was very little competition. That time is gone forever now. From now ’til the non-specific apocalypse, there will always been hundreds of new multiplayer games every year. Chess remains big on the strength of tradition alone, but no future games will be able to follow its path.

  4. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    Well, SC2VN just got a lot more tragic.

  5. Flangie says:

    I remember there used to be occasional pieces in magazines about how playing Starcraft was an actual spectator sport in Korea. And that players were superstars….. Sounded absolute shite.

    Fast forward a few years and it’s everwhere. And having watched a few matches now that they are in English, my initial assessment stands. Just don’t get it. But I’ve been playing games since 1982 so reckon I’m probably now too old for my opinion to count for much.

    Actually, it’s a comments thread, no one’s opinion counts for much….

    • mouton says:

      I don’t get obsessing about football, so there. A question of what gets to whom.

      • Premium User Badge

        keefybabe says:

        I don’t get either, but I don’t get competitive play in general which is why the constant cries for multiplayer in games set my teeth on edge.

        I’m glad it happens though, it’s just as valid as any other competitive sport and at least I can comprehend the skill of a player in esports

    • Nahadoth says:

      People watching other people compete is as old as culture. Why some people keep insisting on trying to make themselves sound interesting by stating how “they don’t get it” is something I don’t get.

      • Flangie says:

        As I said, is just an opinion. It’s no more or less interesting than your need to reply to it.

        • Arkayjiya says:

          It’s not just an opinion, it’s an opinion in the comment section, even more it was a conversation starter.

          Which makes the answer “it’s just an opinion” containing no actual follow-through on the line of reasoning you started and they pursued out of place because it clearly runs contrary to the basic point of the comment section.

  6. Hunchback says:

    “Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and click that “Like” button down bellow…”

  7. buenaventura says:

    What? What? Oh nooo poooo :( How terrible, I had no clue this was coming! And all the teams disbanding, that’s just awful, I’ve watched all these teams go up and down, all the names, how sad. Damn MOBAs, why must you BE SUCH GARBAGE CRAP? >:( *rant rant rant*

    • Hunchback says:

      What do MOBAs have to do with that?
      That’s like blaming TCGs for the fall of arena shooters…

      • Xocrates says:

        Well, part of the reasons stated are sponsors dropping out, and you can reasonably argue that several probably preferred to sponsor the currently more popular MOBAs than keep sponsoring the waning SC2, thus accelerating the process.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        It’s not difficult to see how Dota and LoL have largely replaced SC2 though. I mean look at Korean dominance in LoL. They are clearly taking to it in a big way and that is the main issue. Less new players coming in (15, 16, 17 year olds), because they are choosing to focus on LoL instead because it’s higher profile.
        The “old guard” so to speak, won’t keep playing forever.

        SC2 hasn’t really done much to update itself so it’s natural that kids aren’t going to take to it in the same way. You aren’t going to get people who grew up playing Brood War suddenly become some new pro on the scene, they are too old. The kids are playing LoL instead and they are the new influx of professional players, so gradually the SC2 scene reduces in size, sponsors no longer see it profitable, viewership drops and people no longer see it as a viable career.

  8. Shinan says:

    It’s kinda funny. I started following esports last year and especially Starcraft. And it was incredibly fun and interesting despite me never having played the game itself.

    But it lasted for about a year. This year I’ve barely watched any Starcraft (and there seems to be less of it generally) and I knew it was going downhill last year too but I felt like there was also some optimism there. But since Legacy of the Void I just haven’t felt it.

    Still it’s sad. SC has such history behind it.

  9. Zankman says:

    Huh, so it actually *IS* ded gaem now.

    Sad to see such an old and celebrated league go.

    With that said, I don’t really see why they forced a “Team” competition in the first place; Starcraft is a 1v1 competition, they should have never even pushed this Team competition aspect and instead focused on SC/SC2 solely as a tennis-like sport.

    They probably wouldn’t be closing shop now if their resources were spent on hosting multiple 1-on-1 Tournaments instead of not only running a 8-team league, but also basically running *those 8 teams*.

  10. Reefpirate says:

    RIP Proleague. It was never my favourite Starcraft competition to watch (unless Flash was playing), but I have many great memories about it.

    The hardest part for me was always watching the games live. In EST in Canada you’d have to start watching around 4am, and then sit through countless Korean commercials between matches. Watching the VODs the next day was OK for big matches, but nothing like feeling the hype in real-time watching it live.

    There’s still plenty of pro SC2 to be played this year at Blizzcon, and in WCS next year. I look forward to watching it all play out as long as there’s still high-level matches.

  11. Kaitiaki says:

    Seeing what Boxer could do in BW is what made me believe that watching other people play games was worthwhile.

  12. Korakys says:

    The foreign scene will carry on, but it has only ever been a shadow of the Korean scene in the past. SC2 is much reduced.

  13. jrodman says:

    Part of the story here is that Blizzard chose to retain much tighter control over Starcraft 2 than both other games getting attention, and Starcraft-the-first. KeSPA was never fully on board, because their ability to monitize the game was much reduced, and the whole situation may have contributed to Starcraft 2’s less-than-fully realized dreams.

    But I’m no expert. I found as a player that Starcraft 2 was much less inviting than the first time around (and my expectations had moved). Meanwhile, as a spectator, I found that my interest in high level play got exhausted around the time that games lost their dynamic element of surprise. Probably around 2 years into the game, it just felt pretty static, and I stopped watching (after around 10 months of following the pros).

  14. PHPH says:

    This is very sad for me.

    I was a die hard Brood War fan. I got into the scene back in late 2006 early 2007 (it’s kind of fuzzy). This was before Twitch and Own3d and before progaming was really a thing. Progamers outside of Korea were pretty much unheard of (Grubby was the only real example, everyone else had no real longevity). God, I remember staying up until 5am in my college dorm to watch utterly shit restreams on, or watching VODs on youtube back when 480p was considered good quality.

    It was so much fun, and I think it was definitely mostly due to the quality of Brood War as a game. It has such a high skill ceiling and its balance was so close that it could be changed entirely with map design. It was also fun and had very accessible and easy-to-read graphics. Even the mirror match-ups were interesting and fun. The single most important KeSPA did for BW, though, was keep the map pool fresh. It was too fast for us fans (people were still playing Python, and later Destination, and Fighting Spirit on ladder for years after they were phased out of competition), but it kept the broadcasts interesting as we saw the dynamics between the races shift from season to season and tournament to tournament.

    KeSPA intentionally pushed the proleague team format into prominence over the individual leagues. I remember reading rumors somewhere that this was due to cheaper operating costs overall and because this made it easier to support a larger ecosystem. I don’t know for sure, though. KeSPA also sanctioned two major individual tournaments: the MSL and OSL. OSL was considered the true height of individual play, and high-placing competitors in the OSL was considered true BW royalty. The MSL had less immediate prestige, but many (including myself) considered it to be a better indicator of consistency, as there were fewer one-hit wonders and more back-to-back winners. Proleague was fun because you saw a wider variety of players more frequently, and people fell into team tribalism with as much fervor as you see in any sport. I was a diehard Samsung fan (Stork and Jangbi!), but I also supported ESTRO when they were still around (Sea.Really!). I hated SKT T1 with a passion, and grew to hate KT Rolster (previously KTF Magicns, and briefly KT Fingerbang! before literally being literally laughed at until they changed the name) with the rise of Flash (as much as I liked Flash, I hated the team for being complete trash outside of Flash).

    I wasn’t around for Boxer’s height, only his decline, and I was there at the tail end of Savior’s career (and probably the height of his match throwing). I remember the scene exploding when GOMTV held a tournament with Tasteless casting in English, and it exploding again when Blizzard announced SC2.

    I seriously miss the old BW pro scene — I’ve never been so passionate about a sport or esport as I was with BW, though. It was seriously the best. I cried actual tears (man-tears, I promise) when July got his Golden Mouse trophy (a really tacky looking award for winning three career OSL gold medals), and cried even harder when Stork finally got his first OSL gold medal win. I was on my feet for most of 2008’s Proleague grand finals, and was constantly jumping up and down watching my Samsung team play.

    God, it was so much fun. I was active on the TeamLiquid forums, and even got to meet up and get drunk with Tasteless, Apollo, Lilsusie, and Artosis in Korea when I traveled there to visit relatives several years ago. The foreign (non-Korean) community was small and tight-knit.

    SC2 changed everything. BW was already on the decline, but SC2’s release was just a death blow not just for BW, but that whole scene that BW had cultivated. This discussion is non constructive and has been overdone to death, but I do think SC2 is not even half the game BW was. The graphics are shiny and 3d, but it lacked the clarity and easy presentation of BW. The controls were streamlined and modernized in many ways, but it fundamentally shifted the game away from the roughly 50/50 macro/micro focus of BW into a much more micro-oriented game. The races kept getting balance changes, and the mirror matchups are still completely fucking awful in SC2. Most of the matches in BW were drawn out battles of attrition with lots of action and swings in advantage (except most ZvZ). Most matches in SC2 ended in one big deathball battle until the most recent LotV expansion. Seeing blanket storms, marine v. lurker micro, drops in three different places at once…all that was impressive every time you saw it with how limited the UI was in BW. In SC2, it’s a lot less impressive.

    Free’s nickname in Korea was “goon-brain” because of how he could make clumsy dragoons bend to his will. July was one of the first players to use muta-stacking harass to great effect, which completely and utterly changed the ZvT matchup. Best, Action, and Really were players known for their incredible macro styles, in stark contrast to players like July or Iris, who were both incredibly aggressive midgame players. These kinds of characteristics were just never as strong throughout SC2.

    And the storylines…good god, the storylines. Savior’s rise and fall to Firebathero and his antics polarized the community in the best way. Jaedong and Flash’s friendly rivalry was the stuff of dreams. They were by far the two best players around at the time, but had such different styles of play. Flash was one of the most innovative players BW ever saw, while Jaedong was known primarily for being one of the best mechanical players (~400+APM every game!). Then there was Fantasy, iloveoov’s evil minion, who Oov bred and trained to execute his strategies. Stork’s history as the forever-silver medalist in individual leagues was tragic and made him the perpetual underdog to cheer for every tournament.

    I’ve been rambling on and on, and an entire class I should have been paying attention in has just slipped me by so I’ll end here. I loved the BW scene. It was exciting like nothing has been since (Dota has kinda been my new thing, but even that just never has reached the same levels of hype for me). The scene died for me when SC2 came out and Proleague changed their format from Bo5 with ace match to the Bo7 format much before BW was actually phased out. SC2 and KeSPA just never clicked for me, and League of Legends had already taken over the Korean scene anyway. But yeah. I still tune into the Classic BW Vods channel on Twitch every now and then and reminisce. Ugh I’m so sad now.

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