The current eSports boom ushered in by StarCraft 2 has given rise to smaller grassroots organizations looking to fill a niche (like RedditSC and Collegiate StarLeague) and larger promotions with the funding and ambition to be the next GSL. Judging from this weekend, IGN's upstart StarCraft 2 event may have the latter in it crosshairs.
Gaming news network IGN's first foray into eSports, the IGN ProLeague (IPL) has demonstrated that a little spit and polish can go a long way when winning over the hearts and minds of SC2 fans. Since their 16-man tournament started on Thursday, eSports enthusiasts have been treated to a show every bit as entertaining as the GSL (if not a wholly mainstream sport like Major League Baseball).
Unlike their local competitors Major League Gaming and the North American Star League, the IPL's inaugural event is a simple 16-man, double elimination tournament featuring a healthy mix of popular North American players. (Read the previous eSports Update for more details on the tournament.) Compared to MLG's one-weekend, live-broadcasted tournaments with over 200 players or NASL's sprawling Spring season that is currently booked through June, the IPL is small-time--only 16 players, a shorter "season", and broadcasting from replays instead of a live show.
Instead of trying to be "bigger", the IPL is working on "better." It's the little things, like the Street Fighter-esque player portraits and win screens, the post-game statistics breakdown, and the free (ad-supported) live feed and video-on-demand channel, that kept me watching from my living room couch last Sunday. Even better, it just worked: No Octoshape plugin garbage, no periodic lag on a high-quality feed (streamed at 720p with barely a hiccup the whole day), just an all-around excellent StarCraft 2 experience.
In doing so, the IPL might well have discovered how to win over a wider audience. At the moment, professional StarCraft 2 is too abundant. If I wanted to stay completely current, I'd have to budget a few hours each for the GSL, NASL, and IPL almost daily. That's not even counting smaller shows, like the Team Liquid TSL, the Collegiate StarLeague, or any number of player streams and showmatches. My StarCraft 2 time is limited, and right now the IPL is occupying all of it because it's easier and more enjoyable to watch.
Moreover, I'm watching despite the fact that it's not the best player pool on the books. The IPL's confined to players based in North America, and everyone knows that the Korea-based GSL is the gold standard for StarCraft 2 talent. That said, restricting the IPL to only North America-based players makes it easier to put together a better show, since they don't have to cater to international viewers for the live feed (the video archives are free, anyway), and they don't have scheduling conflicts for international players--Ukrainian legend White-Ra (Protoss) was forced to forfeit his NASL matches to Korean pro July (Zerg) because he was playing in another tournament, for example.
The IPL's timing couldn't be better. Considering that the two other big-money pro StarCraft 2 leagues in North America have a residual amount of egg on their face from their last few events, the IPL stands to win over plenty of viewers disgruntled by production issues and an apparent lack of professionalism.
Patrick Miller is a Staff Editor for PCWorld. Add him on Twitter or Facebook, or message him on Battle.Net (pattheflip.729) for a game.