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Blizzard Entertainment, the creator of real-time strategy games like Warcraft and Starcraft, sacrificed a lot of potential improvements to Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty — including content and graphics — in order to make it viable as a “sport” for online gamers in the U.S. and globally, said Dustin Browder, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty’s lead designer. Browder made the comments at the Blizzcon 2010 convention in Anaheim, Calif. today.
Promoting e-sports, essentially playing video games like Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty professionally for prize money and sponsorships, is one of Blizzard’s main goals when they make some of their games. Blizzard cut out a lot of content and stripped the graphics to make sure the game would run as fast as possible to make it viable for professional gaming, he said.
“The game could have looked three times better, could have had a lot more content,” he said. “We cut all that to make sure it wouldn’t lag and it wouldn’t interrupt the growth of e-sports.”
Professional gaming is incredibly popular in many foreign countries — especially South Korea, where leagues of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty players compete for tens of thousands of dollars in prize money every year. There is a push to bring e-sports, like professional Starcraft and Warcraft gaming, to the United States, Browder said. Blizzard is appealing to the demand by providing gamers with a tournament at Blizzcon 2010. The champion of the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and Warcraft III tournaments won $25,000 each.
“We’re taking more of a philanthropic role,” he said. “We aren’t going to sponsor a team, just make sure that we protect our intellectual property and provide them with an avenue for their e-sport.”
It’s unknown just how much the e-sport industry is worth right now — but some professional gamers can make upwards of $300,000 to $400,000 every year in sponsorships outside of tournament prizes. With the emergence of leagues like Major League Gaming, the U.S. is starting to catch up to its foreign counterparts in terms of media coverage for e-sports. In South Korea, for example, a channel called MBC Game broadcasts e-sports games to televisions.
Browder said he expects the biggest push for e-sports will occur on the Internet, as interest for professional gaming continues to grow. The goal for Blizzard is to provide viewers with a way to easily access interactive e-sport content and proliferate it.
But games like World of Warcraft and Diablo III, another soon-to-be-released game by Blizzard, probably wouldn’t work as an e-sport, Browder said. World of Warcraft, however, already has a strong following in the professional gaming community for player-versus-player (PVP) content — as Blizzcon also featured an arena tournament with cash prizes. Diablo III designers made a conscious decision to avoid making PVP a centerpiece of Diablo III to discourage it as an e-sport, Browder said.
“With Diablo III, if we made it viable for an e-sport, it would destroy the game,” he said. “We would have to slice it up to the point that you wouldn’t recognize it any more.”