I have been heavily involved in the foreign scene since I started playing again in 2004 (took a few years break in 2001). I was never really that into the Korean scene, and when players such as Kingdom stopped making regular appearances in tournaments is essntially when I stopped following the pro scene altogether. I've been the leader of [LighT] for over three years now and have helped make it a pretty skilled foreign teams, and the best American team since 88 and rS in their hayday (I'm going to argue that Media wasn't vital long enough and didn't have enough team accomplishments to really put them up there). I consider myself to be one of the more immersed people when it comes to the foreign scene since I have been following it thoroughly and covering it by writing newses at GG.net and WGT.com for quite awhile.
Around 2004 when the "Starcraft is dying" talks really started, and in the years since then that those talks have been growing, I have almost always argued contrary to that fact - Starcraft is not dying, it is as strong as ever! Indeed, especially after the announcement of Starcraft 2, it seemed as if this game went through a mini-revival, that now has died out, and without the fervor of SC2-excitement, the death of this game is really becoming evident.
The one great thing about Starcraft in the years 2004-2006 is that there were a plethora of large-scale LAN events and big online tournaments being held.
- Giga Liga (in Germany)
- Madrid LAN (forgot the name, huge Spanish LAN held few times a year? or once per year?)
- Rymarov LAN (and some other big LAN in Czech)
- some big LAN's in Poland
- Holodek in USA (big prize LAN's in New England)
- Dreamhack (Sweden)
- ASUS (Russia)
- often other local / national LAN events, countries such as Romania and Poland, etc had their own ladders and communities that were pretty vibrant
- Fragbet League (seasons 1,2)
- Fish Server CL
- BWCL Premiere League
- WGT's World Team Cup
- (maybe one other thing I'm forgetting)
This event used to really MEAN something, several years ago it was a huge affair, with about 8 groups of 8 players each, really players from all around the world could go, even nations such as Iran and Turkey would send players to the WCG finals, but year after year the player pool became smaller and smaller, countries could not garner enough funding to send players, and even "top" countries were excluded. The trend really started with Spain and France not being included, after having some of the world's best players (and by world I mean outside Korea)... and the trend slowly blossomed until its zenith this year, when even Canada, the home of Grrr, Testie, Smuft, and more recently IefNaij (probably the most dominant non Korean today), couldn't pull in enough sponsorship to send a player to the Grand Final, in what seems like a death-blow to the community.
With all these events though, Starcraft was doing pretty well. It was said that there would really never be a cadre of players that could compete with the Testie, Mondragon, Sen, Draco quartet, but a new group emerged headed by IefNaij and including Strelok, White-Ra, DinOt, Nony, Idra, and Dreiven. China emerged as a pro-gaming powerhouse and even held its own huge scale offline tournaments open to several foreigners each time (with Draco famously playing very well in these) with large cash prizes. Dreamhack was getting bigger and bigger each event, with larger prizes and attracting better players, and the Czech LAN's continued to draw better players.
And then, there was the TSL which really infused a huge boost to the community. An event almost everyone would agree was equal or better in many respects to WCG (except the fact that it was only online). The other nice addition was prizes to WGTCL and the emergence of ICCUP CL as new avenues for competitive teams to still exist.
In addition, there were more sponsored teams popping up during this time than any other, MYM added a team and has become the most dominant, MTW just recently added a team, in addition to RoX, Excello, and NaW, and there are other less known sponsored teams like faculty, DK, as well as BVG (polish team, but dropped their SC squad if I am correct).
Sadly, it was too good to be true...
It seems like the grand hope of this game surviving and thriving, at least in the foreign community, is finally dying out at long last. If you examine the clan leagues, especially WGTCL which once hosted four full divisions (even about 8 sections of division 4) of 10 teams each. Today, about 75% of the teams that enter and play in Division 4 and 3 fail to successfully finish the season, essentially there are only Division 1 and 2 teams that seem to be stable, and some Division 3 teams, or about 40 teams when there used to be over 100 actively playing. BWCL also has cut its number of divisions and is rife with teams dropping left and right in the lower divisions, and even in the top Divisions - with teams such as Bartar's Excello, and most recently F2F closing their BW squads.
The LAN "scene" after a brief renaissance is dying - ASUS I believed announced they would not feature Starcraft in their upcoming event, Dreamhack no longer features Starcraft, and (I'm not sure about the status of Rymarov or other Czech LANs). Speaking from experience, it is highly difficult, if not impossible, to find sponsorship of reputable companies to host LAN events with decent prize pools, and again is almost impossible to convince existing big LAN events to host Starcraft tournaments.
WCG 2008 was one of the biggest disappointments as far as exclusion of countries and the overall experience, and the prospects for WCG 2009 do not look much better - Starcraft might not even be included at this rate.
Who's To Blame?
It is my personal opinion that the community itself is partly responsible for the death of the game we love so much. The amount of media attention events get is very poor. The quality and amount of coverage major news portals such as GosuGamers.net and WGTour.com have is continually decreasing (this can be for several debatable reasons) and shifting away from the foreign scene. In addition, I believe that the people at the top of the foreign community, I.E, responsible for leading/managing teams, web sites, and hosting events, really haven't acted with good business sense (until recently). I feel as if the exploration of sponsorship of teams and tournaments really was not taken full advantage of until the past two years. This could be due to several reasons, the aging leaders of the community have a better understanding of business and money than they did when they were younger, eSports outside of Korea is now at a point where sponsorship and money is becoming paramount as opposed to just playing games for fun or sport (making large scale sponsorship in previous years rare in occasion), or various other reasons.
The fact of the matter is, the money-making potential of our community was not realized until it was(is) too late to take advantage of it. If the community leadership today was in place in 2004 or earlier, our scene might look a little more like Korea today.
Other than the community, blame can fall on sponsors or organizations of events such as WCG, GGL, etc, for not really examining or taking advantage of the true size and power of our community, although again it is partly OUR fault for not making our size and passion more apparent.
Finally, the "blame" falls on the game itself for aging... Starcraft is no longer desireable in the eyes of major sponsors because of its antiquity and relatively poor graphics.
I believe that the "Starcraft is dying" remarks have been premature until now. After a lot of reflecting I really don't see hope in this game continuing competitively outside of Korea for much longer. There will be fewer tournaments, less sponsorship, and fewer people caring about what goes on, which will further decrease coverage of events, and lead to the eventual rotting of the foreign corpse. It is disappointing to me, especially being one of the major proponents of the foreign scene, but it seems as if the time has come to face the music.
+ Show Spoiler +
1) My list of events and stuff is not all-inclusive, it's just what I remember off the top of my head
2) This isn't a debate about top American teams, I was just trying to explain why I feel like I am qualified to talk about the foreign scene
3) I thought this song was fitting for the subject matter...