It’s been a whole 20 years since the original Starcraft was released. The impact this game has had can’t be understated. Not just in its genre, not just in esports, but even as far as entire nations.
Starcraft pushed forward everything from small design improvements to high-level strategic thinking. It pushed forward business models, online matchmaking, and balancing for high-level play. Later on, it did the impossible — improving on a classic with a sequel.
We thought we’d take a moment to remember some of the most notable Starcraft milestone moments over the years. A few of them are milestones for everyone, and a few of them are our personal favourites.
1998 – ‘Starcraft’ is Released
The original incarnation of Starcraft was a re-skinned Warcraft 2. But after a negative response when showing an early version of the game at E3, Blizzard knew it needed to up its graphical game.
The change was made to isometric, which brought all kinds of new challenges. Limited CGI was implemented in-game, coupled with voice acting, to give the game’s portraits a new feeling of life.
The #SC20 Anniversary Stream is now [🔴 LIVE]!
Tune in for special guests, epic matches, and hilarious commentary
— StarCraft (@StarCraft) March 31, 2018
Players responded extremely well to Starcraft‘s asymmetrical factions, and Blizzard had to invest heavily into Battle.net to handle the unexpected load.
Having only anticipated a limited launch in other regions, Starcraft becomes a surprise hit in South Korea, and plays a large part in the rise of “PC bang” culture (socialising in LAN cafes).
1998 – Brood War is Released
Just eight months after the release of the base game, Blizzard brings out the Brood War expansion.
Story-wise, this gave us three new campaigns which ultimately resulted in Kerrigan being in control of the Zerg. Gameplay-wise, it gave us new technologies and new units, such as the Lurker and Valkyrie.
It was also around this time that people starting talking about Starcraft as a game balanced down to a science. While it was impossible for Blizzard’s developers and QA testers to anticipate the evolving metagame pioneered by high-level players, after a few patches it had the balance tight even at a pro level.
A true achievement, considering the wildly asymmetrical factions.
2000 – World Cyber Games
Starcraft: Brood War is included in the first iteration of the World Cyber Games, which for many years served as gaming’s equivalent of the olympics.
The first event was hosted in South Korea, with the other games being FIFA 2000, Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 Arena, and Age of Empires 2. Starcraft would outlast all of them.
2000 – Korean Esports Association
Also known as KeSPA, this organisation would play a large part in shaping the competitive Starcraft landscape over the years.
It was destined to have its fair share of controversy, as people became more and more serious about Starcraft. At the height of televised matches and prize money, players would practice long hours in crowded gaming houses for very little money.
KeSPA was seen as not protecting these traditionally young competitors, as it was generally up to the winning members of each team house to buy food for their teammates.
Later on, KeSPA would lose influence as Blizzard sought royalties for KeSPA broadcasting its intellectual property. The talks went poorly, and rights to broadcast Starcraft 2 would go exclusively to GOMTV.
2001 – Rise of the Kings
One of the most famous gamers of all time enters the Starcraft competitive scene. SlayerS_BoxeR, the “Terran Emperor,” became a dominant force at a time when the Terran race was considered unsuitable for pro play. He innovated dropship micromanagement and won the World Cyber Games tournament in both 2001 and 2002.
It gave rise to some amazing moments, including this one which became the first Starcraft meme:
Much later on, in the days of Starcraft 2, a player would call themselves SlayersBoxer out of respect for the original legend. The two would eventually meet in a top ranked, televised match, with the same name.
Over the course of the next decade, other personalities would come onto the competitive scene and shape it in their own way, adding to the list of viable strategies and remixing the various timings that pros would have to be aware of.
Players such as Flash, Jaedong, and JulyZerg would amaze audiences with their strengths, and all have their periods of dominance over the scene.
2010 – ‘Starcraft 2’ is Released
After a decade of Starcraft rivalling Counter-Strike (through its various iterations) as the most popular and enduring esport in the world, Blizzard brought out a sequel.
Pre-release, in March of 2010, Blizzard showed it wasn’t without its own competitive side. As competing RTS games Command & Conquer 4 and Supreme Commander 2 geared up for their releases, Blizzard dropped the open beta for Starcraft 2. It was a move designed to completely steal the thunder of the rival franchises, and it worked — though the other two games had issues of their own.
The potential for disaster in a Starcraft sequel was huge, and a big topic of conversation was how anyone could improve on something so perfect. We needn’t have been worried, because Blizzard was up to the task.
Blizzard’s strategy here was focusing on little improvements to great effect. Aspects like the Terran supply depots folding into the ground were a minor feature, but had enormous implications on competitive matches.
It helped that the game looked great, but what mattered was the asymmetrical factions were just as balanced as they were before, despite all the improvements and changes. It was a classic right out of the gate.
2010 – GOMTV – From Pros to Prose
With GOMTV securing the broadcasting rights to the Global Starcraft 2 League, this was the first example of a highly successful, global subscription model for esports. GOMTV let players broadcast in standard definition for free, but a small fee (around $5 per month) would allow high definition streaming and access to video on demand.
It would pave the way for other payment systems like MLG, though arguably none would be as successful, even to this day, as GOMTV.
While this was mainly down to the popularity of Starcraft 2 and how entertaining high level play was to watch, part of this success was down to its broadcast team.
Former professional Starcraft players in the West such as Artosis, Tasteless, Day9, and InControl would become commentators in the days of Starcraft 2. The former two headed up GOMTV’s broadcasts, becoming fan favourites as they filled the lulls with humour and meta analysis, while going appropriately bonkers at the biggest moments.
2011 – MC Vs JulyZerg
A personal favourite moment of ours was this epic match-up between two titans of the Starcraft 2 scene. JulyZerg was the veteran with legendary speed in micromanagement. MC was the upstart with crazy new strategies, and a penchant for theatrics such as looking at his opponent and making the sign of a cut throat.
We zero in on this one because for us, it was the high point of the Global Starcraft League. MC was the first Protoss to win a GSL, and did so on the strength of prepared pocket strategies. In this case, he had saved some just for the final against JulyZerg.
One memorable match in the best of seven involved MC expanding and being scouted by JulyZerg. As soon as JulyZerg’s drone left, MC cancelled his expansion buildings and swung into full unit production. By the time JulyZerg scouted again, it was too late to build an effective defence.
MC became known for his excellent use of probe force fields, splitting up JulyZerg’s roaches to tackle them in smaller numbers. MC often taunted while doing so, such as dancing with zealots or building a nexus inside JulyZerg’s base.
It wasn’t the closest final. MC ended up convincingly beating JulyZerg 4-1. But the matches were close, and the level of theatrics were high as JulyZerg scrambled with his notorious speed of actions and thought, to respond to MC’s cunning strategies. It was the most memorable of Code S grand finals.
2013 – Heart of the Swarm
Blizzard began bringing out expansion packs to Starcraft 2 at an awkward time for RTS games, though there wasn’t much it could do about it. MOBA games such as League of Legends were taking the world by storm, so much so that Tasteless and Artosis could already be seen in the MOBA commentary booths.
Blizzard was already acknowledging this with its own MOBA game, Heroes of the Storm — which awkwardly shared the same ‘HOTS’ acronym as Heart of the Swarm. Blizzard would attempt to get people to use the shorthand Heroes for its MOBA, but HOTS was what stuck.
2015 – Legacy of the Void
With its final expansion, Blizzard made large pacing and core design changes. It was the perfect opportunity to tackle the problem if Starcraft 2‘s macro mechanics.
A design imperfection since launch, the race-specific economy systems such as Zerg queens spitting on their hive, creep tumours, and upgrading supply depots were arbitrary busywork designed purely to take up player attention. With enough now added to the game to take up player attention anyway, these systems could be discarded.
Legacy of the Void is still chugging along to this day. Starcraft 2 is a tournament favourite, and an example of what esports can be.
While many of its other games dabble in RNG systems and masquerade as esports, Starcraft and Starcraft 2 were completely skill-based and showed what Blizzard can do when it deliberately sets out to create an esport. These games took on lives of their own, and would have been wild, global successes whether Blizzard put up prize money for competitions or not.
It’s been 20 years, and we’ve heard from Blizzard developers that we’ll definitely be visiting the universe of Starcraft again. Something tells me they weren’t just talking about Starcraft characters in Heroes of the Storm — so let’s bring on the next 20 years.