From top dog eSport to being overshadowed by other games, Starcraft II’s popularity has been a roller-coaster of a ride. While a healthy amount of fans will still swear by it (including yours truly), there are also naysayers and those who take pleasure in pointing out that it’s no longer the biggest name on Twitch, that it’s dead, that Blizzard killed it, etc.
The world of competitive Starcraft is one of the most unique experiences in recent multiplayer releases. Unfortunately, a lot of new and potential players are scared away due to the extremely hardcore nature of the game. There are truths to their claims, but as with everything, it’s much more than that.
Let’s face the facts first: Starcraft II is a massively frustrating and difficult game. That is it’s identity. It’s the cause of most of its problems and also the reason why it’s so unique. There are no team mates to blame, no scapegoat to point at. Starcraft is carefully designed to maximize player agency and as such, everything depends on the players’ skill. It’s like fighting with knives while balancing on a tightrope. The first mistake you make will often be your last. The feeling while playing is seemingly as stressful.
This is where a divide is born. Despite the fact that a platform of pure representation of skill is a boon to any competition, Starcraft also made the mistake of being conceived as a video game. In a medium where most people wants to have fun, having a game created for the sole purpose of cutthroat competition will most definitely alienate a part of the gaming crowd. Multiplayer Starcraft is just not for casual players. It’s made for the competitive crowd, designed from the ground up as an eSport, and evolved 5 years later as such.
Yet the stress of the game is also one of its most defining features. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s rage-inducing. But the surge of relief and sense of accomplishment when you win a game of Starcraft at any level is indescribable. Imagine the feeling of besting your opponent in a game where a single mistake could well done easily lead to a loss. Seeing that victory screen tells you that you just won against your opponent in one of the hardest games ever made. I don’t think that feeling can be replicated in any other recent game.
A hobby of its own
Starcraft as a game has a lot to offer. The campaign is top notch, the co-op missions are fun, and the plethora of custom games on the Arcade makes for a nice distraction. You can even play the multiplayer for fun and the excellent matchmaking will match you with players of your level. If you’re not interested in 1v1, Archon mode and team games are fun to play as well. There’s a lot in the base game for everyone.
However, Starcraft is not just a video game in the same way chess is not just a board game. The majority of the people who play and try to improve at Starcraft II treat the entire experience as a hobby itself. Starcraft fans love the game because it rewards personal improvement above all else. If you look at it as a video game, you would dismiss it as silly. Why the hell should I put in that much effort in a video game? See, we don’t see it as just a video game. It’s an entire hobby in of its own, with its own thriving community and its own competitive scene.
As a hobby, Starcraft can confer the usual real-life benefits, such as multitasking, the ability to analyze situations and make correct decisions on the fly, the ability to be objective, etc. They’re mostly the same as playing chess, to be honest. But the real reward for investing your time into Starcraft is the satisfaction you get as you see yourself improve. There’s a deep sense of accomplishment as you see yourself climb the ranks of the ladder.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if you see Starcraft II as just a game, playing it is going to be a frustrating, stressful experience. But if you look at it as a hobby, if you think of it as the chess of our generation, you would see the true beauty of the game: the perfect platform for pure competition.