Blizzard Developer Talks StarCraft II and eSports

Blizzard Entertainment went all-out with its first-ever Battle.net World Championship (BWC) in Shanghai, China. The game publisher and developer brought the best StarCraft II gamers in the world together to award a true global champion. That honor went to PartinG. Blizzard also used the event to give attendees a look at the much-anticipated expansion, Heart of the Swarm, which will be released March 12, 2013. Eric Matteson, senior producer on StarCraft II, talks about the expansion and how it will impact the burgeoning eSports scene in this exclusive interview.

Game On: What impact have pro gamers like those who competed at BWC had on the development of Heart of the Swarm?

Eric Matteson: They’ve given tons of feedback. Like any large group of people, there’s not much consensus, so I couldn’t say, “The pro-gamer said this.” But they gave tons of feedback to David Kim and Dustin Browder. They sat down with the design crew and explained what pro gamers told them and then we’ve had to synthesize that all out. That’s driven all of our moves.

It contributed to the Warhound being pulled out. It contributed to some of the changes to the Widow Mine and the Oracle changes. All of those haven’t been one pro gamer said this, so we did what they said, but it’s been a bunch of pro gamers that said things. They indicated we should move in this direction, then the design team would sit down, take that feedback, and come up with what they think is the right unit.

Remember, we have to balance the game at every level of gameplay. It’s not that we were worried about the Bronze League level with unit balance, but you have to make sure that there’s not a Bronze Level “I Win” button.

How do you think Heart of the Swarm will affect eSports?

EM: I think it’s going to revolutionize it, personally. There’s actually a fairly subtle feature in Heart of the Swarm. It’s actually in the beta patch right now, that I think six months from now is going to be one of the key features of it. It’s the fact that we changed spectator and observer modes, so now the UI is completely customizable.

What can happen now is all of our broadcast partners, the broadcasters, and even the streamers, can build their own UIs for observer mode. Rather than being constrained to the UI we’ve built, or very simplistic overlays that the streamcasters allow you to do, you can now use the full power of the StarCraft II system to build your own user interface for streaming and for broadcasting.

Much like you’ve seen the change in the NFL from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s level of broadcasting information to where it is now. I think you’re going to see that happen really quickly. It’s kind of a subtle feature, and it’s not one that you’ll see Day One, but I think over time you’re going to see the quality of the broadcast of StarCraft II go up tremendously just because of that.

When you were developing Wings of Liberty were there things you had to table that we’ll see in Heart of the Swarm?

EM: Any time you’re developing a product, you have limited resources and you have to make tradeoffs. It’s not that we sat down and went, “This feature we’re going to deliver in Wings of Liberty, and we’re going to hold that one and put it into Heart of the Swarm. We’re going to hold the next feature for Legacy of the Void.” We don’t think about it that way. We are trying to make sure we pick the right features to put into each box and put as much value as we can in the box.

It’s one of the reasons that Heart of the Swarm took as long to make as it did, because our focus is quality. At the end of the day, what matters is that our users are delighted with the product we build, that they’re amazed at what we’ve done and they feel like they’ve got value. We’re going to put that value into the box on every aspect of the game.

What advice would you give someone who’s just starting to play Heart of the Swarm?

EM: Keep at it. We’ve done a bunch of stuff in Heart of the Swarm to make it a little bit more approachable, so that you’re more rewarded for beginning gameplay and that there are continuous rewards. Players will feel like they’re getting what they need out of the game to help them stay at it. My own personal experience with StarCraft II multiplayer -- and I am a terrible player -- but once you get past that initial hump, the game is so much fun. And it’s much easier in Heart of the Swarm to get past that initial hump than it was in Wings of Liberty.

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