Blizzard announced their esports plans for StarCraft II, from which we have found that there will be no more WCS. Instead, the new esports environment will be called ESL Pro Tour, operated by ESL. The announcement made fans excited because it stated that there would be at least three more years of StarCraft II esports with even more prize money and tournaments.

In this article, we are going to explain what the new SC2 system will be without empty hype and marketing tricks.

WCS to ESL Pro Tour

World Championship Series does not exist anymore. Instead, there will be ESL Pro Tour. The system of the tournament will remain nearly the same:

  • Region Lock is still a thing. That means that Korean and non-Korean players will have separate qualifiers to the World Championship.
  • The events of the ESL Pro Tour will be called Masters.
  • In the first season, there will be two events to feature both parts of the scene: one of them is IEM Katowice in February 2020, another we don’t know yet.
  • Three out of the seven tournaments of the first season will be DreamHacks. Two more are IEM Katowice Masters in 2019 and IEM Katowice Finals in 2020. Two more events are not revealed yet. Apparently, one of them will be DreamHack Leipzig because they usually hold it in January.

Here is the official graphics:

Regional Qualifiers to the Masters

The qualification system for the Masters will remain nearly the same as previously. They have slightly reworked the number of slots, though — now Europe will have more:

The winners of those qualifiers will have travel and accommodation covered. Others can sign up for the open qualifiers on-site.

The qualifiers will be similar to the WCS Challenger events, even though ESL employees said in the Liquipedia chat that they will be tuned a bit, at least for Europe. That means that there should be the qualifiers for the qualifiers. It’s currently unclear what the system of those will be. Most likely, they will pick the best ladder players and host the open qualifiers for all the players of the Master League and above, as it used to be during the WCS times.

The Masters’ Format

That will be the DreamHack’s system we have already used, with a little addition of the Knockout Brackets brought in 2019 by the StarLadder’s employee Alex007.

The winners of the Masters’ Qualifiers will start in the Group Stage 3, joining the winners of the two previous group stages. Players to take 2nd places in the Group Stage 3 will face the winners of the knockout brackets head-to-head.

ESL Open Cups

The winners of Masters will be granted the prize money, as well as the ranking points. And the brand new level of getting those points ESL added is weekly Open Cups. The winners of those cups will get a hundred dollars and 10 points.

So that you could evaluate that, top-32 at Masters is worth 40 points. I’d say that in general, it feels fair.

The Global Finals at Katowice

The first event in Katowice, which will take place in February 2020, will be the normal Masters. However, it will be using the usual IEM system, not the Dreamhack system, so 76 participants and the round-robin group stage. But the next one will replace BlizzCon, which used to have the Global Finals.

Finally, Global Finals won’t be the online matches in the group stage and a one-day competition with Maru falling asleep at the end of the day, like in 2019. Instead, there will be a big offline tournament in Spodek Arena.

36 players will take part in it:

  • 4 Masters’ winners
  • 3 Korean leagues winners (GSL or whatever will replace it — not revealed yet)
  • 2 Masters Global winners (either non-Koreans or Koreans)
  • Top-5 of the Masters’ ranking
  • Top-6 of the Korean Ranking
  • Next 8 ranks for both regions, 16 in total

More Tournaments Comparing to WCS?

Let’s count. Graphics say that there will be 4 Masters and 2 Masters Global in 2020, followed by the Global Finals (with Koreans have the same 3 seasons as previously). In 2019, we had 4 seasons, one of them being the online-held WCS Winter. So, 2020 is leading by 2 events, right?

Not really. Because IEM Katowice was also part of the 2019 season, but not in the WCS Circuit system. Still, it had WCS points in the prize pool. And don’t forget that there was a BlizzCon. So there were 6 tournaments in 2019 against 7 in 2020, but mind that in 2020, they included two events at Katowice — a little marketing trick.

Thus, we don’t move forward in terms of a tournaments number. We don’t step back either, though.

More Money Comparing to WCS?

Let’s count again. What we know:

  • Blizzard said that they would invest $1.9M in 2020. ESL said that Blizzard would invest $1.8M in the ESL Pro Tour. That means that there will be one more $100K event.
  • ESL said that Blizzard would invest $4.6M during the three years for both WarCraft: Reforged and StarCraft II.
  • We know that WarCraft tournaments are $200K per year, $600K in total. $4M left for StarCraft II.
  • That means that 2021 and 2022 will have ($4M – $1.8M) / 2 = $1.1M per year. Blizzard called $1.2M per year for 2011 and 2022, so they plan that $100K even for two more years as well. That may be GSL vs. The World, some show at BlizzCon or whatever.

And how much did StarCraft II have in 2019?

  • $1.1M in the WCS Circuit events
  • $400K at IEM Katowice
  • $600K in the GSL

We don’t have to count for too long to see that in 2019, there were $1.1M in sheer WCS, while in 2021 and 2022, there will be the same amount with IEM Katowice.

In 2020, there will be $1.8M, but it includes two IEM events. If you count out one of them, well, it’s a slightly higher prize pool, but just because Blizzard decided to give more in the anniversary year of StarCraft II, which turns ten.

And mind that it features more events, which is, in my opinion, much better than adding more money. Because, you know, another Serral doesn’t sign up out of blue when you add $100k in a prize.

So, yet again, marketers tried to trick us a little bit once again, spelling it in the right light. In fact, the prize money remains nearly the same for the anniversary year and will decrease in the following two years. Again, in my opinion, it’s not a problem. I just wanted to make things clear.

Good and Bad

What’s good:

  • There will be at least three more years of the competitive StarCraft II. It’s awesome.
  • Blizzard made ESL the organizer, so the tournament is not limited to the Blizzard’s infrastructure anymore. Trust me that it takes quite a while for them to review even a small announcement sometimes, not mentioning the bigger things.
  • There will be online tournaments by ESL, in addition to those the community already holds.

What’s bad:

  • ESL isn’t Blizzard, so they don’t care certain things Blizzard used to care. For example, non-English broadcasting. They are the tournament operator, and yet they can sell the rights, they will sell it. While previously, Blizzard used to consider many factors, such as reputation and quality, during the distribution process.
  • StarCraft II esports is not growing. All we see is only stagnation and support. It’s better than nothing, but still, it may be the beginning of the end. Yet, the end is not too near.
  • Such tournaments as Amateur and Ultimate Series, which Blizzard tried to run in 2017 and 2018, are not coming back. They gathered over 2000 players from all over the world, which is insane if you think about it. I’m proud to be part of that tournaments as a head referee.
  • They didn’t do much to cure the Korean scene apart from the two Masters Global. With more players going to the military and the absence of the new names, the scene may decay very soon, which will be very frustrating to see.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter if you like it or not, but ESL will rule StarCraft II in the following few years. At least, their head of esports, Mr. Apollo, is the former StarCraft II player and arguably a person to care.

The players are rather happy because they have three years guaranteed, the casters, well, will have to learn the new rules. The spectators will have content to watch. What can we ask for, more than that? Thirty million dollars prize pool?

Get real and be happy, guys. First Masters is around the corner.