BW’s fall began with the match-fixing/betting scandal that would-be bonjwa Savior got caught up in. Viewership and attendance figures steadily dropped from there and other games started to come in. SC2 didn’t fare very well in KR (your call out about its relatively shallow strategic depth when compared to BW is spot-on–lots of Korean pros and fans have been saying the same thing since the beta launched in 2010) and never really made an impact in the PC bangs–net cafes. In fact, it’s only rarely been in the top ten most-played games for any of the months since launch.
The fact that the scene was split for about two years with most of the biggest names sticking to BW (while MBCGame switched over to being a music channel, killing the famous MSL tournament) and a lot of the B-team nobodies going to SC2 (with a few exceptions; JulyZerg, Nada, and Boxer were all extremely famous, but also getting old and losing their edge), so the viewers in KR never really knew what to do with either game, further hurting viewership figures.
When the old KeSPA teams transitioned over to SC2 late last year, Proleague figures got a brief bump, but it wasn’t enough–they hybrid season (half SC2 games, half BW) seriously hurt players’ ability to practice and was a weird format, costing even more viewers in the long run. By the time that KeSPA’s Proleague and OSL tournaments had joined GomTV’s TeamLeague and GSL tournaments in SC2 fully, figures were at rock-bottom.
Throw in lingering fallout from the financial crisis and some bad decisions on the parts of major Korean firms in their non-gaming investments, and suddenly a ton of once major sponsors of both BW and SC2 teams were crippled. We’ve lost Hwaesong (OZ), IEG (eSTRO), MBCGAME (HERO), WeMade (FOX), and now STX (SouL). On the ESF (new, SC2-based teams) side, we’ve recently lost New Star HoSeo (sponsored by a university), while AZUBU Korea is no more and the team is hemorrhaging players as the German side of the business may or may not be paying the remainder, PRIME is in dire straits financially, IM’s revealed that their so-called sponsor LG actually didn’t pay them for months before finally saying that they weren’t going to renew the contract anyway, and MVP is trying to sell their teams to Samsung KHAN over on the KeSPA side of things.
Tons of players have resigned in NA and KR in the last 3 months or so, including stalwarts like Bisu, Stork, and Kawaiirice (famed from early days as one of the few decent NA players). Stephano’s left the scene to pursue a medical degree, Sheth’s revealed he probably won’t come back, and Illusion plays more LoL than he does SC2 these days–and he’s hardly the only one.
WCS has, of course, made it all much worse. Now, instead of getting 2 OSLs and 4 GSLs, plus side-tournaments, each year, Korea’s getting 3 WCS events, split between OSL and GSL (so neither company gets full ownership, instead just alternating). ProLeague and GSTL are crippled by the team losses, sponsors are vanishing into the mist, and viewership and PC Bang figures continue to tank. The players are fleeing KR en masse, either opting for the safe route with military service or moving over to the EU or AM WCS tournaments because the competition’s easier there. . . thus driving out the NA players in particular, further reducing their own incentives to play.
In the US, IGN is gone, NASL has been coopted by WCS, MLG has dropped Starcraft from the remainder of their season, LoneStarClash has been silent for months, and the online cups have almost completely dried up.
In fact, the only real scene with any success at all is Europe, where Dreamhack, Assembly, WCS, IEM, ESL, and ASUS ROG are all posting huge figures, gaining tons of fans, followers, and viewers, and picking up sponsors left and right. Smaller teams like Mouse, My Insanity, NaVi, Millenium, and Empire are mostly doing well and picking up great new players, and TeamLiquid’s even decided to move their HQ over there (even though they’re shifting more and more of their focus over to DOTA2).
Of course, if Blizzard keeps doing things like scheduling their three regional finals on the same weekend as The International 3 and starving the KR scene of desperately needed money and exposure, I’m not sure that EU can hold up the rest of the world :-/
Sorry, that’s an enormous aside, but there’s a lot to cover from the last couple of days and the last couple of years, and I love this scene a whole fucking lot :(