TeamLiquid got a chance to have a Q&A session with Blizzard's Kim Phan and Bob Colayco about the newly announced WCS 2014. This interview has been condensed and edited.
TeamLiquid Q&A with Blizzard
Is GomTV now free to choose their own streaming price policy?In terms of streaming and VOD policy, how they want to handle that is up to GOM. They're obviously going to share that with us ahead of time, but they're responsible for that.
Does that mean ESL and NASL could possibly change up their stream policy as well?It's a partnership, so they have the ability to provide input on that. But in those discussions, they have both agreed to 720p for free [same as 2013].
WCS Global Events/Third Party Events
There's a lot of criteria listed for the WCS Global Events. Do you have any strict technical standards for the booths or sound dampening?That chart isn't like a be all end all to everything. It's not like you check off everything on the list, and you're automatically good. It's more like a set of guidelines, because ultimately the Blizzard esports team is going to talk to and work with anyone who wants to be a WCS Global Event. So we'll go through those nitty-gritty details at that point. It's more like a guideline, a place to start a conversation.
So there's flexibility then with the prize money, and the number of players who have to be there live?We think the only thing that wouldn't have flexibility is the minimum prize pool. Aside from that, I think everything else is something that could be worked out with a partner when we're going through the licensing process, the planning process. We'll partner up with whoever wants to be a part of WCS and we'll work regularly with them.
There's a "Player Bill of Rights of Rights and Responsibilities" mentioned. Is that something new?It's something new to the public. We didn't publish it this past year, but it's something we're planning to publish in 2014. We have to make changes to it based on our changes in 2014, but it's basically a list of what player rights are and what their responsibilities [i.e. a rulebook] are if they choose to participate in WCS. It's a forty page document right now – it's a lot to read but we plan to share it with the public.
Will all of the qualifiers for "sub-regions" of a WCS region be run separately? Also, how many qualifiers will there be for each sub-region?There won't be any mixed qualifiers. The only way that players from different sub-regions could play against each other is in the Ladder Wildcard qualifier. The intention is to dedicate those slots to the people in the sub-regions/countries that were listed.
Ideally it would be through one qualifier tournament for a sub-region, but we're still working with our partners in how each qualifier is going to happen. For example, for America there's eight spots – it may be one qualifier tournament, it may be a series of them. That's information we're going to share hopefully in the next month.
Does that mean the Ladder Wildcard spots are open to everyone, including the players who have already competed in their sub-regional qualifier?That's correct, but because we don't have the exact dates of when the ladder wildcard qualifiers are starting. It may be the case that a ladder wildcard qualifier could happen before a country qualifier, and a player might want to try for both. There's no problem with that.
There's nothing preventing a player who chooses to be in one region, say WCS America, from competing in his country/sub-region specific qualifier as well as the ladder wildcard.
Now that there are region-specific spots lined out in the qualifiers, will you be expanding support for flights/travel?We can't really go into details about the specifics of that, but players can expect at least a similar degree of support as last year.
The reason why we're not ready to share any details yet is because we're still working with partners to determine how to best support teams and players from a travel perspective. Potential options such as having a live, on-site Ro32 greatly impact these details.
New Challenger Format
What do you think about concerns that the new Challenger format is more luck based than in 2013, where the system was complex but offered multiple chances?The view of it that we have is that it's become a very simple and straight-forward process. If you want to qualify, you win one series and you get into Premier. That creates a lot of opportunities for up and coming players.
Challenger will be best of five, so it may not necessarily be so luck-based compared to two out of three. There's trade-offs there – you may only have to win one match, but are you really going to win a three out of five against Polt?
But there's a lot of race match-up luck involved as well. Some players are good at two match-ups and bad at one.We know it's not a perfect system , but that could be the case with the old group drawings too. In group drawings, we've seen players draw against three players of one race, and that could also be considered bad luck or good luck.
It also happens in pro-sports sometimes. You could be the top seed in the NBA and get matched up against the #8 seed in the playoffs, and it happens to be the team that has your number, the one that's been built to beat you. You just have to deal with it.
Still, you recognize that as a consequence of the change, it's a more volatile system than before?We're not sure if we agree with that. It's not perfect, and the way the odds work may be different – having to play one best of five versus three best of three matches. But we don't think that we stopped to say "there's any more luck in this one than the other one."
Is the main goal to make Challenger more streamlined, more linear?That's one of the main goals. The other is that we think that it will make those particular Challenger matches more meaningful and exciting to watch. There's a lot more on the line for that one match. Once that player knows who he's paired with, they can just focus on practicing against that opponent entirely.
There are pros to it – if you're coming in and trying to prepare for two, three other people, it's harder. In the new system, once you know who your opponent is, you can focus and really play your best against this person.
Challenger is going to be New vs. Old, but how about seeding?There will be seeding, but there is some randomness to it. Those are details we'll share in the future because we're still working with our partners – we want to make sure we're all aligned and in agreement.
But there will be some form of seeding, and most likely it will be in the form of WCS rankings. It's not like we have two buckets of sixteen people and just randomly draw. There will be some randomness to it – say if some players aren't ranked at all or have no WCS points. Then they would have to be put into one category, and that aspect would have to be random.
Why go New vs. Old instead of mixing things up?We call it the Challenger League, and it's intended to imply that there are new people coming in to challenge the Premier people for their spots. That's part of why we still want to keep the name Challenger, it now better reflects what's happening in that particular stage of the tournament. It truly is a 'Challenger' at this point, taking on people coming up to challenge for your spot.
WCS America Concerns
There are twelve Koreans seeded into Challenger in WCS America. They're all considered "Old" for the purposes of this Challenger, and will thus be facing mainly foreigners. Are you concerned about the potential amount of Koreans that might start in the first WCS AM Premier of 2014?It's a fairness issue, we can't just straight boot them out, right?
It was already communicated to the players that their placement in Challenger the last season would seed them into the next season. That is something we had already communicated to them even before we made the final changes to WCS 2014. We didn't want to go back on our word on that. This is the best transition solution that we have.
It gets more complicated if you kick players out of a region. How do you seed them into a new region that they need to go to? It's just a weird situation, 'Oh there's too many Koreans, you're all kicked out. We hope you find a new home somewhere else.' And they have to start from scratch?
It just got really complicated, and we're trying to be fair to the players.
If you could have gone back to the start of Season 3 and just cancelled Challenger altogether in preparation for the partial region lock in 2014, would you have done that?We take very seriously when we communicate decisions to the players and the community. Many players may have made decisions and plans based on what we previously informed them. This reality played a significant role in the decisions we made and was incorporated into our 2014 Season 1 plans. If the circumstances were different it’s likely we would have made different decisions, but I don’t think it’s helpful to provide a hypothetical answer.
What's the reasoning behind WCS America having two wildcard spots, while Europe has four?A lot of that has to do with WCS America already being the natural home for more sub-regions than Europe. We want to make sure we distributed slots for them. In Europe, it's like everyone playing on one big server. At the end of the day, we had to dedicate more of the slots in America.
The partners in our regional offices work together to come up with the numbers, and it's not to say those numbers can't change in the future. But right now, that's the idea they'd like to move forward with, that they think would be best for their region.
How is Premier scheduling working? Does it work so AM has its own two days, EU has its own two day, and GSL has its own two days?Correct. We're asking our partners to tell us ahead of time what days they want to broadcast, so our viewers know when to expect the matches. For example, NASL may want to choose Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They will announce that ahead of time, so you know that it will always be broadcasted on those days. GSL may say that it's best for them broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so hopefully we can announce that ahead of time.
And other tournament are free to overlap their broadcasts with the Premier/Challenger casts?Yes, that was never something we prevented before. We think there was a lot of confusion around rules in the past.
The only things we would prefer to avoid would be a WCS regional final and a WCS global event happening on the same date. We obviously wouldn't prevent it, but we think that it would be challenging to spread the viewership.
In terms of qualifiers and Challenger, we do communicate to the partners that they're not required to broadcast it. They can choose to broadcast maybe a very exciting Challenger match or they can give it to a community caster.
But any event or any other organization that wants to broadcast on the same day is more than welcome to. The idea is to release our schedule ahead of time so people can make a decision. So if another tournament organizer knows ahead of time that WCS America is going to be on a certain day, then they can make an informed decision on whether or not they want to broadcast a tournament on those same days. But Blizzard is not going to come in and say "you're not allowed to."
Speaking of scheduling conflicts, there's a cluster of events coming up next week that are overlapping with each other. Will Blizzard get more involved in making sure events don't overlap?Definitely. What we're trying to be delicate with is not announcing partner's dates before they're ready to announce it. Partners may share dates with us, but they haven't locked it down or worked out their sponsorship, so we have to be careful that we're not revealing information before they are.
But we are working with every partner to figure out how we can share dates without revealing an announcement. So partners know that "hey, there is something in the works or is being discussed on this date."
There has been an agreement from pretty much all of our partners that they would love that global calendar. So we are working toward that global calendar to share. We're just trying to find ways to make sure that we don't announce things that we're not supposed to announce.
Do you plan to cycle maps more rapidly next year?The idea right now is to at least bring in two new maps every season.
Is GSL free to then have their own unique maps as per past tradition?No, they're conforming with our map pool next year. It's something we all do together jointly, so it's not like a Blizzard decision solely.
We did that in Season 3 and even Season 2, but going forth in 2014, all the partners have input into the maps that they want in WCS.
GomTV's prize distribution is very top-heavy. The wording in the announcement makes it seem like this was GomTV's preference. So is that what happened? GomTV and Blizzard Korea said 'this is the way Koreans like it?'GomTV as well as our Blizzard office in Korea reached out to not just the teams, but to the press, media, and community members – the esports community, esports enthusiasts – to get feedback on what they would like to see.
GSL was something that was very beloved by the community, and we think they wanted to see that type of tournament and prizing format come back. That's the feedback that we got from quite a few people in Korea.
Ultimately, the top-heavy prize distribution was highly desired by GomTV.