Sunday, 3 July 2016

StarCraft News & Notes

It's been forever since my last post, but we're in the midst of the down time between WCS seasons and other than HomeStory Cup not much has happened outside BTTV events.  With both a DreamHack, IEM, and WCS Summer Circuit coming up the summer is about to get very busy.

Speaking of HomeStory, it was a great iteration and for anyone who missed it catching up on the VODs is well worth while.  Among the great games there were some silly ones (Stephano/MaSa and Welmu/Serral (both game ones) in particular).  In the end Harstem defeated Scarlett for his second tournament win of the year and perhaps we've truly reached The Year of Harstem.

In terms of viewership days one-two were each were around 11k, with day three hitting 17k and the final breaching 20k.  This is well below December's Cup (24k-37k), but as that had the LOTV boost it's not really a fair comparison.  Looking back to June the decline isn't much less precipitous (17k-31k), and it's actually worse if you go back to 2014.  Whether it's a StarCraft issue or it's an HSC issue, there's simply no denying the popularity of the broadcast is roughly half of what it was.  Personally I found it as entertaining as usual, so I'd guess the fall is in part the aforementioned broader issues, along with perhaps the player pool (I doubt it), or the tournaments disconnect from the WCS system.

The rumours that TRUE will be joining the WCS circuit are...well, true, as it turns out.  While this should be immensely beneficial to the Korean financially I can't see what help it's going to be to the foreign scene.

Lilbow has retired and switched to playing Overwatch.  This would have been a big deal 9 months ago, but the Frenchman hasn't had significant results since November and I have to wonder just how long he's been planing this change.  The move has resulted in the end of  LeTwilightCouncil's streaming, which at this point was largely PtitDrogo anyway, so the change isn't going to have much impact.

At long last the promised ladder changes are about to be implemented.  In retrospect I think the SC2 team should have rolled these out at the beginning or LOTV, but better late than never.  Lowko talks about the old system (ends around 5:20) and what's changing.  The new transparency of the system (displayed MMR), in-season promotions/demotions, as well as adding tiers to the various leagues are all excellent changes--I think particularly for lower levels--having a meaningful target to shoot for that isn't a completely new level should encourage competition and offer a sense of achievement that didn't exist in the old system.  Of the things Lowko mentioned that he didn't like the one I agreed with is that new accounts should start their placement matches against low tier players.

Fuzic posted their monthly top streamer (link is for May, keeping in mind the caveats I mentioned last time).  Here are the top streamers following the criteria I've used all year (the period below covers weeks 22-25, those in red significantly declined, those in green significantly increased, those in blue weren't on my last list--I exclude known viewbotters; streamers need a minimum of 10 hours a week to appear (including a few judgement calls, particularly over this period as a lot of streamers missed a week):
1. Polt 1.3 (missed week 24)
2. Hui 929
3. Stephano 589 (missed week 25)
4. Rotterdam 442
5. MaximusBlack 400 (missed week 25)
6. Avilo 370 (missed week 22)
7. ViBE 329
8. McCanning 256
9. PiG 229
10. Beastyqt 221
11. Brat_OK 190
11. RuFF 190
13. puCK 177
14. Dragon 161
15. Deth 160
16. ProTech 150
17. Indy 131
18. Kerri 123 (missed week 25)
19. Iscander 122
20. Neuro 109

There's no Nathanias on this list for the first time in a long time--he simply didn't stream enough, although when he did his numbers continued a slow decline.  NaNiwa is also absent (for the same reason).  Ketroc, who has had very good numbers since returning to the scene, has been streaming irregularly on Youtube due to unknown issues with Twitch.  MaximusBlack has returned to streaming SC2 on a semi to regular basis--I'm not entirely sure the reason, but regardless it's nice to have him back.  I can't explain Stephano's spike in numbers (which have continued this week)--perhaps appearing at HomeStory Cup reminded fans he was around?  ViBE's consistent streaming efforts have paid off considerably, as he's tripled his audience since the start of the year.  In general all the truisms for LOTV streaming continue: pros need to stay relevant, non-pros need to be entertaining and stream consistently.

Four months ago Chanman aired the last Unfiltered episode with Richard Lewis, promising a search for a new co-host and resumption of the show to follow.  Since then he's produced nothing but Hearthstone and Overwatch content and at this stage I think we can consider the show dead.  I'm not sure if this is a loss for the SC2 community, since the coverage was minimal and Chanman himself didn't see its second iteration as being about StarCraft.  This does mean the only remaining SC2 talk show is Lycan's erratic The Late Game (which last aired in May despite a plethora of SC2 news since).

Jakatak is diversifying into Overwatch.  He's always been something of an acquired taste in the StarCraft scene, but his voice occasionally reached Blizzard and there are few that could delve into the mechanics of the game with the same zest.  Fortunately for the scene he isn't gone, he'll simply produce less content (oddly enough he hasn't put out a video on the ladder changes mentioned above, his last comments are from a couple of months ago).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Monday, 30 May 2016

StarCraft News & Notes

Frost and King Sejong have returned to the map pool (replacing Prion Terraces and Korhal Carnage).  On the one hand I'm not thrilled to see old maps returning that received heavy play in HOTS (also contradicting the stated goal to avoid too many "standard" maps), but on the other it will be interesting to see how LOTV plays out on them.  Sejong was ultimately ruined by the old swarm host (which is a unit I still want removed from the game), while Frost suffered from pre-nerf blink play (the former ran through WCS seasons 2-3 in 2014 while the latter from seasons 3/1-2 from 2013-14).

With Protoss winning championships the usual whining has ramped up a notch.  Undoubtedly until the impact of the immortal barrier nerf is felt this will continue for awhile and much of the fuel for the fire comes from Korea (where Stats won the SSL/GSL cross-final).  It seems futile having discussions about the issue, but for my own curiosity I looked for evidence of imbalance in the foreign scene (after the pylon/adept nerf near the end of January).  There have been four major tournaments since the patch, so we'll look at win-rates:
WCS Winter: TvZ 4-4, TvP 3-2, PvZ 1-5
GPL Shanghai: TvZ 0-2, TvP 0-3, PvZ 6-5
DH Austin: TvZ 2-4, TvP 2-0, PvZ 5-4
WCS Spring: TvZ 3-3, TvP 4-1, PvZ 5-4
Totals: TvZ 9-13, TvP 9-6, PvZ 17-18
The win-rates aren't hugely slanted one way or another, so the argument would shift to the numbers in Korea and overall win-rates.  Whining about Protoss is so ingrained in the scene it's really difficult to separate the noise from solid arguments.

Fuzic has started to post monthly streaming stats on TL, although he doesn't follow the same methodology that I do (it's monthly, he's not worried about viewbotters, and it's sorted by Viewers x Hours).  I'm glad it's up however, as it's a useful tool to add to the overall streaming picture.  I'll still be posting my stuff to look at trends under my own metric.  Speaking of which, here's the current update (the period below covers weeks 18-21, those in red significantly declined, those in green significantly increased, those in blue weren't on my last list--I exclude known viewbotters; streamers need a minimum of 10 hours a week to appear (including a few judgement calls)--just on raw numbers Polt leads whenever he streams, barring Destiny's return):

1. Hui 874
2. NaNiwa 754
3. Rotterdam 601
4. Nathanias 522
5. Avilo 484
6. Happy 401
7. MCanning 284
8. ViBE 258
9. Brat_OK 239
10. PiG 201
11. Ketroc 181
12. Protech 176
13. RuFF 171
14. Catz 167*
15. Beastqt 165
16. Anoss 148
17. Deth 144
18. Yogo 139
19. Neuro 133
20. Indy 129
21. CranK 128
22. TOP 127

*I excluded this weeks numbers since they include ROOTs tournament

The numbers for Happy and Brat_OK are for their Russian streams only; the freefall of Nathanias continues--he'd nearly overtaken Polt's numbers as the top SC2 streamer back in March and since then unending sodium chloride (as well as locking his past broadcasts with a failed promise to upload them to Youtube) has shrunk his audience in half; Dragon's fall has been even bigger, as the moment he landed a sponsor he's failed to both draw an audience or stream consistently; a number of pros could be on this list if they streamed more (MaNa, TLO, and HeRoMaRinE in particular); I have thoughts on Neuro's decline below; ViBE's consistent streaming has seen him nearly double his audience from earlier in the year.

I was thinking about the discussion of what would happen when LOTV launched and at least a couple of predictions can be examined.  There was an expectation that Archon mode would prove very popular and we saw a number of such tournaments in the game's beta, but despite repeated efforts (particularly from BaseTradetv) interest has been minimal--we can only speculate on why that is, but my guess is that it's simply not different enough an experience from 1v1.  On the other hand, Co-op mode, which was not heavily featured prior to launch, has become immensely popular--so much so it strikes me that Blizzard was slow at the start to put the appropriate effort into it.

Many fans thought various departed SC2 personalities might re-appear with the launch, but while MaximusBlack returned for a short time, he was essentially the only one (Husky, while he cast a few games at beta launch, didn't even play the campaign; DJ Wheat and JP McDaniel streamed some Archon at the launch and then disappeared; none of the old SC2 talk shows were rebooted, etc).

What about viewership?  There was a modest bump for streams at the start, but it seems largely as it was back in 2015 (with tournaments arguably slightly higher).

Along with personalities there was some thought that former pros might return and in the beta we briefly saw KiWiKaKi, TT1, CombatEx, and a few others, but none stayed for long.  What we have seen is the rejuvenation of some players (like Nerchio) as well as others achieving the best results of their careers (eg Harstem).

Speaking of streamers, I have a pet theory about why Neuro's stream is in decline: a lack of tournament performance.  Normally I don't think tournaments are integral to non-pro streamer performance, nor do I believe his viewership is going to shrink anymore than it has (c.125-150), but as a guy who learned the Core and then moved in with Polt and viOLet--whose whole shtick is improvement--his unchanging results in competitive play seem like a culprit behind the falloff.

It did not take long for MC to return to competitive play.  Presumably if streaming had worked out he wouldn't be making this return, but for the Boss Toss there was really nowhere else to go in the scene.

Speaking of returning players, the IEM Shanghai qualifiers brought up the ghost of Sarovati (out of competitive play for a year, and hasn't competed regularly in two)--the career highlight for the Canadian Protoss was hitting Challenger in season one back in 2014.  Speaking of those qualifiers, Snute and PtitDrogo made it via Europe, Neeb and PiLiPiLi via NA, Has via Taiwan/etc, EnDerr from SEA, with the Latin American and server qualifiers still to be played.  Oddly enough, even though DreamHack Valencia occurs before this, the qualifiers for it have yet to be run.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

WCS Spring Circuit Championship: Looking Back

The second big WCS tournament of the year is in the books and despite a lousy start time for NA/SA viewers (along with technical problems the first two days--especially day two), it was an excellent event.  It was a great idea to split Artosis and Tasteless up during most of the event--the casting was excellent.  For the third time this year the all-foreigner final was a PvZ (albeit with entirely different participants each time--all six were Europeans); just like the first two occasions the Protoss won (although it took seven games this time).  This is the first tournament where all three eligible Koreans participated but none made the final (Polt came the closest losing in the semi-finals to Nerchio; Hydra was knocked out early by Neeb and viOLet later by ShoWTimE).

While watching I tried to note particularly exciting/weird/interesting games, so here they are (all the VODs are on DreamHack's Youtube channel): Cham vs Bly game 2; Strange vs Polt game 5 (the draw); Has vs Happy games 3/4; HuK vs iaguz game 3; Harstem vs Jim game 1; JimRising vs viOLet game 2; Scarlett vs FireCake games 2/4; Guru vs Snute games 1/3; Nerchio vs VortiX games 2/3; Scarlett vs Nerchio games 2/3; Cham vs Jim game 1; Neeb vs Hydra games 1-3; Neeb vs Nerchio games 4/5; MaSa vs ShoWTimE games 1/2; Nerchio vs Polt games 1/3; and Nerchio vs ShoWTimE games 2-3/6

There were a lot of notable performances for varying reasons--Has playing macro games, Cham making a surprise run, MaSa making his second straight semi-final, both PtitDrogo and Harstem knocked out in the first round (the former admitting confidence problems), Nerchio ploughing through the tough side of the bracket to just miss out on his first championship since DreamHack Bucharest back in 2012, Strange beating Polt but not understanding draw conditions, etc.  Several players landed their biggest winnings to date: the aforementioned ShoWTimE, Nerchio, MaSa, and Cham along with Guru and Strange.

In terms of predictions Aligulac was one better than I was (finishing 23-10, or 69%, neither of us getting the winner right), which is roughly the average for the site throughout 2015 (suggesting some of the randomness of early LOTV has disappeared).  As for viewership (I wish Fuzic would add the numbers from rebroadcasts that occur the same day): Day One 24.5k, Day Two 26.5k, and Day Three 28.5k.  Here's a look at all the WCS majors so far:

The Shanghai numbers don't include the massive Chinese audience.  Assuming the event occurs at decent times for Europeans it looks as though tournaments are settling in at the 25k-30k range.  These numbers are lower than WCS last year (although slightly better to on par with 2014), but the way the system is arranged it's not a very good comparison--it makes more sense to compare DreamHacks to DreamHacks, so here are the 2015-2016 numbers (because of the limitations of the graph program I use I had cut out one so picked the lowest, DH Valencia--you can see it here):

The final day numbers from Tours are the same as 2015, although the days before are higher; the tournament also (as expected) had better numbers than Austin because of it's Euro-friendly schedule; on the whole about the same performance as Leipzig--with the buzz from LOTVs release gone, the fanbase is holding strong (the simplest way to affirm that: highest day one numbers are from WCS Spring, highest day two from Leipzig, and highest final from ROCCAT--it's a wide spread).

In other news since my last post, TotalBiscuit has announced more SC2 content after a six month absence.  It's going to be monthly tournament, although the specifics have not yet been announced (if there are invites I'd assume some of his old Axiom players would be included, or perhaps CranK would be part of the casting team).  He also intends to stream SC2 from time-to-time (whether he'll go back to Terran or continue with Protoss remains to be seen).  An interesting comment he made is that he believes SC2 is in the best state that it's ever been in (in terms of balance and entertainment).

Jakatak posted a video talking about the ladder awhile ago--all the problems he discusses have been talked about before, but it's worth checking out--his idea of daily quests/rewards is a good one (as are the much discussed tiers within leagues).

Both Tefel and Sen retired recently--the latter having no significant results in LOTV, while the Polish Zerg hasn't gone far in a tournament in two years.

A final note: Fuzic is back up to its usual working order.  I wish the search function on the site was intelligent, but c'est la vie.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Friday, 13 May 2016

WCS Spring Circuit Championship Predictions

We've reached the second big WCS tournament of 2016, Polt having won the first (IEM Katowice) over Snute just two months ago.  Last time around three players pulled out of the tournament for varying reasons, whereas this time there was real drama as MarineLorD, DnS, and MajOr were all disqualified for win-trading and Clem for being underage.  Their replacements are marked with an (r); eight other players earned their slots via WCS points (including all three Koreans); they are marked with an (i).  So without further ado, here are predictions (relying as always on Aligulac's numbers and match history):

Polt (i) vs Strange - Captain America is the unsurprising favourite (81%); the two have no match-history, but the Russian has no notable wins over either Koreans or Korean Terrans specifically; Strange hasn't played a competitive match in the last three weeks, so it's difficult to imagine what form he'll be in; if there's any hope for the Russian it's that Polt has struggled against foreign Protosses (he's 0-3 vs Neeb and 2-2 vs puCK), but to me that's not enough to see an upset here

uThermal vs iAsonu - the Dutch player is heavily favoured (77%), although the two have never faced one another; the Terran has been a monster in TvZ lately (16-3, losing only to Snute and Nerchio); the Chinese player also has a good record in the matchup, but it's not against the same caliber of players (he hasn't played a European Terran since HOTS--basically he's beaten Kelazhur a couple of times); while an upset is always possible, I don't see it here

Has vs Happy (r) - the Taiwanese player is a wildcard who often catches opponents off-guard and while he's a significant underdog (23%) his Russian opponent had best take him seriously; the two have never faced one another before and Has only has one serious PvT under his belt in LOTV (beating Bunny at WCS Winter); Happy has been very good in TvP (16-3), but he's known as a stubborn player who sticks to one particular style, something a creative opponent could take advantage of; I could see an upset here, but there's nothing in Has' recent history to suggest it (his crazy strats tend to work best in the other matchups), so I'll stick with the odds

Elazer (i) vs XY - the Polish player is a huge favourite (84%), although the two have no past history and ZvT is not his best match-up (against top players he's 2-8 since February); he also suffers from nerves in tournaments (he should have beat Hydra at DreamHack Austin, but threw the series away with some ill-advised all-ins); the Chinese Terran hasn't played a European Zerg since October and in his own scene trades wins with the top Zergs; while I'm less than enthusiastic about Elazer's recent results in the matchup, his opponent doesn't strike me as being able to take advantage of that, so I'll stick with Aligulac

Nerchio vs VortiX - Neither player can be very happy with this opening match; given that the Spaniard didn't attend the previous WCS tourney (despite qualifying), it'll be interesting to see how he does against someone as dominant as Nerchio (favoured 67%); VortiX has been good in ZvZ (14-5), but not dominant, granted he beat his Polish opponent the one time they faced each other in LOTV (during the DreamHack Austin qualifier); from the beginning of the LOTV beta until about a month ago Nerchio was almost unbeatable in ZvZ, but he's 9-5 of late; to me this is a coin-toss, but I'll take the more experienced player

FireCake (r) vs Scarlett - the Canadian Zerg is favoured (57%), as the French player has had an atrocious ZvZ record of late (losing to Nedl, Denver, SolO, and TomikuS among others)--his last meaningful win was over a lackluster Serral in March; Scarlett hasn't exactly set the world on fire in ZvZ, but she only loses to good players and maybe at long last we'll finally see her move forward in a significant tournament

Neeb vs Lilbow - the American hope arrives as the favourite (63%) coming off his loss in the finals of DreamHack Austin; the two have not faced each other in LOTV; the French player's PvP has been mediocre at best while Neeb hasn't lost a PvP since PtitDrogo beat him in January--take the odds

Hydra (i) vs Bails - the Korean should probably be favoured even more than he is (79%), given both his 5-0 record against his opponent and the fact that Bails doesn't have a track record of beating Koreans--take the odds (Hydra's vulnerability is ZvZ, so there's nothing really for the American to draw from)

Snute (i) vs Guru (r) - the Polish Zerg is a fun player to watch and strangely enough he's beaten the Norwegian the last 3 times they've played; despite that he's a massive underdog (26%) and that's largely because his ZvZ has been unremarkable (57%); of late he's been better (17-7), but Snute is 6-2 in recent BO5's and I think he's had time to figure the Polish player out

Sortof vs ShoWTimE - the Swedish Zerg has seen his career rebound after largely disappearing in HOTS, but he's still the underdog (26%) against his German opponent; the Swede has a good record in ZvP, but most of that comes from pummeling lesser players; ShoWTimE has won all 3 matches the two have played in LOTV and his overall track record in PvZ is more impressive, so I like him here

HuK (i) vs iaguz - this is a great match for the Canadian who is favoured (58%) against the Aussie; amazingly the two have never faced each other; the Gimli-Terran has had good TvP numbers since the adept/overcharge nerf, but most of those matches are against SEA Protoss players (his most significant win being over Bails a month ago); HuK's PvT against good NA Terrans is decent but not dominant (he consistently loses to MaSa (3-7), for instance), with his best results pre-patch; I could easily see this match going either way, but I think the odds will hold true

viOLet (i) vs JimRising - the least impressive Korean has been gifted an easy start to the tournament--as much as I like the Mexican Zerg as a player and streamer, he's a long way from his opponent's level and the odds (81%) are kind to him; the only hope here is that viOLet struggles mightily against foreign Zergs, but I don't think JimRising is at a point where he can take advantage of that

PtitDrogo (i) vs Bunny - the DreamHack Leipzig champ seems to be rounding back into form at last, but so is his opponent who is heavily favoured (71%); the Dane has never dropped a game against the Frenchman, although all of those matches were in HOTS; PtitDrogo is awful in PvT (1-5 since the patch, his only win against Coffee), and while Bunny is nowhere near his dominant shape of a couple of years ago and his TvP isn't great (how do you lose to Funk ?); I do think the Dane has enough going for him to win

puCK vs MaSa - the Canadian Terran is favoured (64%) and is a funny player--he can wreck FireCake and then get completely embarrassed by Hydra; I never think of MaSa as a particularly strategic player, but rather someone who overwhelms opponents with his macro-fueled aggression; puCK, conversely, is a player whose performance is greatly influenced by his frame of mind, but surely his recent results will help in that regard; the American has won both series the two have played in LOTV and historically are very close in map score (22-18 for the Canadian); MaSa is 10-0 in TvP of late, whereas puCK has been struggling (5-5)--if trends mean something the odds are right here

Bly (r) vs Cham - this is the first time for the Mexican to participate in an event like this and oddly enough he's favoured (64%), his numbers boosted by the relatively weak Latin American scene; Bly had fallen off since making it to the finals in Leipzig, but he's been on fire in ZvZ lately (18-0!); Cham is 13-0 in the match-up himself, but the differing caliber of players has me taking the "upset" here

Harstem (i) vs Jim - the Dutch Protoss is favoured (76%); the Chinese player has come out of the doldrums of late in PvP and rattled off 8 straight wins, but by and large his opponents aren't that impressive; Harstem's PvP remains strong and I see no reason for him not to pull through here

I largely agree with Aligulac's predictions here, although with some trepidation as there are matches which could really go either way.  The on major disagreement I have is with Bly (who I have going forward), otherwise it's Polt, uThermal, Happy, Elazer, Nerchio, Scarlett, Neeb, Hydra, Snute, ShowTimE, HuK, viOLet, Bunny, MaSa, and Harstem.  In terms of potential upsets from the above, here's where I (and the odds) could be wrong: VortiXHas, FireCake, Guru, iaguz, PtitDrogo, and puCK are all quite capable of pushing through to the R16, meaning I think only half the matches are absolute slamdunks for who will move on.  That said, let's continuing the predictions assuming everything above is accurate:

Polt vs uThermal - an unfortunate match-up for the Dutch player, who is understandably the underdog (37%); they played twice before in HOTS, but this is their first meeting in LOTV; not surprisingly Captain America doesn't lose a lot of TvT's to foreigners, but he did lose to Kelazhur twice and Jason (!) back in February--only one of those was a BO5 and however much I like the Dutch player I don't see the upset happening here

Elazer vs Happy - the Russian gets a slight edge (51%), being 3-0 against his Polish opponent in LOTV; Elazer has been struggling somewhat in ZvT of late (4-3 in the HomeStory Cup qualifiers); given their history I like the odds here; if this is Has instead then the Polish player is heavily favoured (79%) although the usual caveats about the Taiwanese player remain

Nerchio vs Scarlett - the Polish player is a massive favourite (85%) and there's nothing in the Canadian's results to suggest a different result; if this is FireCake the odds actually increase (88%) and I see no reason to argue

Hydra vs Neeb - here we get to answer the question of whether the American has learned enough about his opponent to beat him (the Korean gets slight odds, 51%)--I think the upset is possible (they are 3-2 in series in LOTV), but at least at this point I have to favour the ROOT player

Snute vs ShoWTimE - the German is favoured (61%), although they've split series post-patch (1-1) and he's just 4-3 in the match-up recently; the Norwegian is 6-2 in ZvP lately, although that includes a loss to his opponent; for me the deciding factor is that Snute has been the one who has come through in major tournaments in LOTV, so I'll take the upset; if this is Guru he remains an underdog (32%) and I see no hope for him

viOLet vs HuK - the Korean once again has an easy path forward--he hasn't lost to the Canadian in almost two years and is understandably favoured (64%)--HuK is 0-9 vs Koreans in LOTV, so this will be his final stop; if this is iaguz his odds are slightly worse (34%) so we'd get the same result

Bunny vs MaSa - the Dane gets a slight edge (55%); both players have ridiculous TvT records (21-3 for the Dane, 20-1 for the Canadian), but MaSa hasn't played a European Terran in LOTV so his numbers are inflated by inferior competition--I like the odds here; if this is puCK the Dane remains favoured (65%) and the prediction seems sound; if this is PtitDrogo vs MaSa it favours the Canadian (70%!) which fits the French players struggles, and if it's PtitDrogo vs puCK it favours the American slightly (52%)--essentially a toss-up

Harstem vs Bly - the Ukrainian is given a slight edge (53%) and they are 2-2 in LOTV series; Bly is much better in ZvP than his opponent (although he did lose to Primelot recently), so I'd stick with the odds

I disagree with Aligulac in one instance again, as I have Snute moving forward.  The biggest potential upset I think is Neeb.  Assuming the above results, here is the R8:

Polt vs Happy - the Russian doesn't like playing Koreans and he certainly doesn't beat them, so take the odds (64%); if this is Elazer the odds are almost even, but nerves (if not ability) will see the Polish player fall if he gets here

Nerchio vs Hydra - the ROOT Korean certainly has the hardest road among his countrymen, as despite the Polish players penchant for choking in tournaments, this is exactly the match-up that Hydra has struggled with most against foreigners (getting bounced by Snute in WCS Winter and Bly at DreamHack Leipzig--he's also somehow lost twice to Reynor); Nerchio is 3-4 in recent series with Hydra, and 9-3 against Korean Zergs since late November--he's actually slightly favoured (51%), but I will take the "upset" here; if this is Neeb then the American is slightly favoured (50%) and I believe the match would truly be a toss-up

Snute vs viOLet - the easy road for the Korean stops here; the Norweigan is favoured (66%) and he's 3-1 vs his opponent in LOTV series; ZvZ is the biggest weakness for the Korean and he'll be the first to fall; if this is ShowTimE the German is favoured (68%)

Bunny vs Bly - the Dane is heavily favoured (73%) and is 11-2 in TvZ of late; Bly has been slipping a bit of late in the match-up (losing to Optimus of all people)--he's just 8-6; so while Bunny hasn't had any meaningful results in LOTV it appears his time is now; if this is MaSa he's favoured (64%), although I'd like the upset, and if it's puCK the Zerg is favoured (54%)

I disagree with Aligulac once again (taking Hydra).  The quarterfinals:

Polt vs Hydra - the ROOT player is given a substantial edge (69%), having won their only LOTV series; other than viOLet Captain America doesn't beat Korean Zergs, so take the odds; if this is Neeb he's an underdog (43%); if it's Nerchio he's favoured (66%), although the Polish player's tendency to choke is a factor

Snute vs Bunny - what an epic match this would have been a year ago, but while the Norwegian continues to compete at the highest level his Danish opponent has completely fallen off the map despite being given the odds (56%); Bunny does have a 2-1 series record against Snute in LOTV, but outside rare stumbles the Norwegian has been extremely good in the matchup (34-9), so I like the upset here; there are a lot of other permutations here, but ShoWTimE wins if he makes it through against any of the possibilities

Once again I disagree with Aligulac by having Snute move forward.  The finals:

Hydra vs Snute - the ROOT player is heavily favoured (71%) despite having lost his last 3 series against the Norwegian (he's only beaten him once in LOTV); there's something going on with Hydra and ZvZ and Snute has been extremely good in the match-up--I'll take the upset

Aligulac crowns Hydra, while I crown Snute.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Monday, 9 May 2016

DreamHack Austin

DreamHack Austin has wrapped up and despite a disappointing final (virtually a replica of WCS Winter) it was a fun event with a lot of exciting games.  For the first time in two years there was a bonafide open bracket tournament in NA and a number of semi-retired players (like Nony) came out of the woodwork to compete.  It was funny to see sWs try to play LOTV with HOTS strategies (he stopped playing regularly in late 2014).  There were a lot of games of note, but here are just a few: Zan vs Rayreign game one; final game between FoxeR/blast; RuFF/Kelazhur game one; Snute/Namshar game three; Neeb/puCK game five; MaSa/FireCake game three; and Snute/Neeb games one and three. It was interesting to see both viOLet and Polt struggle with European Zergs (losing to Snute and FireCake respectively)--something Hydra has had issues with as well (barely edging out Elazer here).  How weird was it to see avilo community casting in a suit and tie?

How was viewership?  It aired late for Europeans (especially day one; the final day was shown at the most European friendly time), and featured a European-light roster of players, but despite that it was a decent showing for the first major NA tournament like it since MLG Anaheim in 2014 (for which, unfortunately, we have no viewership numbers):

It beats out the 2015 DH's with the exception of the Tours finale.  The last NA event of similar scale was IEM San Jose (also in 2014--no open bracket however), which posted similar numbers (18/19/30)--the seven game battle between herO and Rain drawing slightly better than six games of Hydra vs Neeb (the dramatic tension understandably different, as in the latter case the American fell behind 1-3).  If I were Blizzard I'd be happy with this--it wasn't a homerun, but for a scene that's been ignored for such a long time it's a solid result.  Another thing we can take away from the event is that TB's involvement has no impact on viewership--he did not draw in any additional casual viewers (his disapproval of the current WCS system hasn't been forgotten, incidentally).

As for individual performances, this was Neeb's best ever result (in terms of money and placement); it was MaSa's best placement at an event of this scale as well (granted he had the easiest bracket of all the semi-finalists); it was also the biggest payday in Namshar and RuFF's careers, and the most money NightEnD has made in two years (since coming 3rd at IeSF).  On a personal level I enjoyed seeing NA players test their mettle in a tournament where they had a chance not just at making money, but going on a run--players like JonSnow, JimRising, PandaBearMe, etc were all in the R32 with a chance to make some noise.

Speaking of TotalBiscuit, I'm not sure how he (or those around him) failed to notice the obvious: G2A is a DreamHack sponsor.  It wasn't until May 5th that he realised it and complained on social media, but not only had the information been posted on DreamHack Austin's website the entire time, but the arrangement goes back to at least to last summer (2015; there's even a Reddit debate about it at the time).  I know TB only watches Korean SC2 (when he watches at all), but the information wasn't exactly hard to find.  Regardless, much ado about nothing.

Fuzic fixed part of their site since my last post (you can actually view their rankings for the week-of), although there are key things that still don't work (the search function has problems and they didn't re-enable the calendar to see previous weeks viewership numbers).

Redfish made an amusing post about the never ending whining about Protoss.  The post goes through all the standard complaints that are made and deconstructs them.  I doubt it will have the desired impact, as the sentiment is so ingrained in the community, but hopefully it jars the more thoughtful complainers into less toxic positions (it's amusing that some of the people who complain the most about negativity in SC2 are the ones who are most negative about Protoss--consistency gentlemen!).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

StarCraft News & Notes

We'll open with the fact that Fuzic is currently broken--it clearly works internally, but repeated attempts to contact them to report the problem have failed making streaming stats difficult to compile (we will have to cross our fingers that it gets fixed--there are other, less fundamental broken links (the search function), that have been broken for months).  I was able to cobble together numbers for most of the streamers, but the list below includes notable absences--now added [May 16th].  The period below covers weeks 13-17, those in red significantly declined, those in green significantly increased, those in blue weren't on my last list (I exclude known viewbotters; streamers need a minimum of 10 hours a week with a few judgement calls [I've also inserted a couple of streamers I missed when I originally posted this]):

1. NaNiwa 722
2. Nathanias 597
3. Happy 555*
4. Rotterdam 555
5. Lowko 437
6. iNcontroL 428
7. Avilo 381
8. ForGG 272
9. Catz 241
10. Dragon 230
11. MCanning 226
12. ViBE 185
13. PiG 183
14. ProTech 176
15. TOP 166
16. TRUE 164
17. Neuro 160
18. Indy 151
19. Yogo 147
20. RuFF 145
21. JimRising 131
22. mOOnGLaDe 111
23. deth 107

* Happy has separate Russian language and English language streams, the former has higher viewership (along with the necessary hours) so I'm just including it

A lot of highly viewed streamers missed a week (or two) over this period (from Polt, who would be #1 otherwise, to TLO and more).  A number of notes: Nathanias (see below) has been in viewership freefall since he began his seemingly unending complaints about negativity; HTOMario has been streaming other games without a noticeable change in his viewership; StarDust hasn't streamed since week 13 for whatever reason; CranK's falling numbers have him barely streaming; MorroW's stream has disappeared (something that's happened before); MC is almost back to regular streaming and has decent numbers; German streamer dirty ela (who was approaching the top-20) has disappeared (not streaming at all from what I can tell); desRow is back streaming regularly, but did not start soon enough to qualify for this list; Neuro has been in viewer freefall for the last couple of months, although it's been very gradual; Kaitlyn hasn't streamed SC2 since February, playing a variety of other games.

There's been the usual buzz that a new game (in this case Overwatch) is coming out and that all the SC2 streamers are going to jump to it--the sky is falling etc etc.  We've heard it before and people need to just calm down.  Will one or two streamers make the jump permanently?  Sure, assuming the game has long-lasting success, but the fact some streamers are having fun playing it now doesn't mean anything--gamers like to play games and there's no need to be frightened by that.

After a long lull in major tournament activity DreamHack Austin is almost here (it's been a month and a half since the GPL in Shanghai).  A megaton of players will be showing up for the open bracket (including all the Koreans still in the WCS system) and it's bound to be a lot of fun.  There are a few foreign players attending who have the ability to beat Polt or Hydra, although the odds are one or the other will walk away with the championship.

The Nova Coop mission was the third highest-grossing PC DLC in March (behind The Division and CS:GO).  Presumably the result is something Blizzard is happy about and is a nice shot across the bow to the eternal "ded game" memers that circle around the scene.

The French government has announced plans to legalize and regulate eSports, but as the move isn't finalized it's impossible to know what impact it will have on SC2 (and the other scenes).

Speaking of memers, TLG was back on track in the latest episode; both Destiny and iNcontroL had interesting things to say about win-trading in Korea (with Geoff emphasizing just how much money was involved and both sharing an anecdote of Life gambling a lot of money).

Sometimes it's difficult to figure out what exactly Team Liquid is doing with it's SC2 material.  Recently they put up a post about Kenzi where they said this:
The Chinese and Korean communities, for example, still lie behind a language barrier that few have crossed. More and more though, some figures are making an effort to overcome this. They want to connect the different scenes and give them the ability to communicate and learn with each other.
The first part (the Chinese scene) is completely true, but the article is actually about the Korean scene--yes Korea, the SC2 scene that receives the most coverage (there's no way to follow SC2 and avoid it).  I don't understand the preamble--did they think they needed an invented "hook" for Kenzi?  Bizarre.

Speaking of things I don't understand, apparently for Nathanias if something doesn't work keep doing it until it does.  Why the guy keeps feeding the trolls expecting them to stop boggles the mind.  He can't afford to leave SC2 and he's been bleeding viewers complaining about this, so why not just make the experience as positive as you can and ignore it?  He's not avilo so raging isn't going to get him anywhere.  There are very few SC2 streamers who can easily go elsehwere (ala MaximusBlack--playing poker of all things).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Thursday, 21 April 2016

StarCraft News & Notes

It has been a quiet couple of weeks both in terms of events and community news (Unfiltered still hasn't rebooted with a new host and The Late Game has been absent as well--it's last episode comically bad).  There's not even much drama to discuss, although I will bring up Nathanias--for a guy as sensitive as he is you'd think he'd be less abrasive with his viewers.  I like his stream, but while you can want your audience to like anything you do, viewers are allowed to enjoy whatever content they want--badgering them about their preferences can only have negative results.

This leads into the question of what makes for a successful SC2 stream these days.  Destiny (in responding to Nathanias above) suggests fans only want to watch hardcore ladder grind, but this isn't the case.  If you look at the top streamers (ignoring the top pros, none of whom stream consistently), it's a mix of playstyle and personality, not necessarily about the grind.  The recently returned Ketroc has never been a high level player, nor is he particularly talkative, but people come to his stream for his distinctive style.  "Style" applies to RuFF and avilo as well--although the former continues to strive to be a pro.  Personality is why avilo draws better than the other two, while someone like Destiny (when he streams SC2) can both play at a high level and be entertaining.  What the game perhaps lacks is distinctive styles of play for Protoss and Zerg (although Fenner has attempted the latter with nydus and MCanning does to a lesser extent as well with 9 DTs), which would support niche streamers, but really being entertaining in and of itself is more than enough to support a stream (even shtick works, ala Neuro).

Avilo made a lengthy post about how he thinks SC2 can be improved.  One of the problems with him is that he considers anything he personally struggles with as broken--this can be entertaining or annoying, depending on who you are, but it also means it's difficult to separate out which are actual balance complaints and which are simply his own issues.  That said, at least he's invested and he cares, so it's a voice I'm glad to have whether I agree with it or not.

Blizzard dropped the hammer on MarineLorD, DnS, and MajOr in wake of the win-trading in the latest qualifier.  Undoubtedly this is meant as a strong message to other pros and they indicated there was other shady activity.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the wake of this.

We finally learned what StarDust's plans are, although making sense of them in the current state of SC2 is difficult.  Here's the pertinent quote:
Mmm, if I had to make a decision right now then I would say yes. I’m still practicing SC2 even as of right now but I have been taking breaks here and there. Mainly because the maps being used on ladder and the maps being used in Proleague are different so a lot of pro-gamers are not really laddering right now. So I’m just kind of waiting around and hoping for a map pool change. I plan on continuing my activities in America, so I’m planning out my timing for that. I probably won’t do it though until we arrive at a time where there are tons of tournaments available.
So he's not planning to attempt the grind in Korea, but I don't know how he imagines participating in a meaningful way in America.  Perhaps the visa he had from last year is still valid?  If not it's difficult to imagine him participating until 2017 (assuming, of course, there isn't a passport lock for WCS by then).

David Kim's most recent community post included what I find as a rather odd sentiment:
While we haven’t seen this discussed, we want to share one of the main goals we are striving for with StarCraft II—the joy of mastery. Because unit changes only happen when they’re absolutely needed, players can chase the fun of really digging deep into how each specific unit is mastered. We believe this is one of the core fun elements of StarCraft II, and one that is unique to this game. If units were changing drastically all the time, it could feel far less rewarding to invest time and effort to master them. This is a large reason why we believe so strongly in the importance of making as few changes as possible and targeting specific problem areas only when absolutely necessary.
I'm not sure where they've drawn this impression from--it's not one I've seen expressed--unit mastery?  It's quite bizarre.  Maybe they have data I haven't seen, but it seems off the mark for what people enjoy about SC2.  His post regarding buffing photo cannons against Mutalisks seems good, while I'm very worried about them tweaking the swarm host (a unit I've disliked since HOTS beta).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)