Get Mad, It's Good For You: The Denver vs souL Grudgematch and the Future of Community Contentby XiaoXiaoo
After the curtain fell on another memorable StayAt HomeStory Cup, we were again left with the familiar feeling of yearning for more. There’s just something special about watching RotterdaM and Lowko trying to cast over the sound of fire alarms in HeRoMaRinE’s pizza kitchen while TaKe looks at the camera in despairing regret at his half shaved head. But this fun, irreverent style is not actually limited to HSC. A few months prior, progamers and fans alike got together to put forth a showmatch that reminded us we don’t need to wait on TakeTV for this brand of entertainment— the community can come together and make their own fun! TaKe has shown us how fun StarCraft events can be, and we the community should embrace it to fill the void between HSCs.
If we look at the showmatch in question, what started out as a bit of heated banter between souL and Denver quickly escalated to a best-of-9 grudge match organized by Lambo. Progamers like Serral, Reynor, Clem and others showed their support by taking a reprieve from their IEM preparation to partake in the drama and cast the games. Fans showed their support by boosting the prize pool to the point where the winner may as well have been an IEM global finalist. Manner mules were had, offensive “?”s were thrown left and right, Serral taught us how to pronounce “Walukiewicz,” and above all, everyone had a blast.
So what makes this grudge match so special? Historically, StarCraft fans hold pros to an exceptionally high degree of professionalism, to the point where even leaving a game without “gg”ing made waves across Twitch chat and Reddit. But in this case, entertainment catalyzed by bad-manner between two players was actually supported by both pros and fans. While we normally associate bad-manner with toxicity, this event was wholesome through and through. Not only that, it provided a rare HomeStory-like feel, without actually being a part of HSC! So what made this showmatch so well received? Does this suggest a new direction for StarCraft II in a post-Blizzard world?
The ShowmatchAs it turns out, this is not the first time that souL and Denver have clashed over grudges held against one another. A similar incident occurred 2 years ago, when souL had a particularly “exciting” win over Denver in a ladder game involving 92 nukes in 50 minutes. Unfortunately for Denver, this was one of the games that you wish could be wiped from existence and never spoken of again. Even more unfortunately for Denver, souL reportedly sent this replay to a plethora of peers, including MarineLorD, Harstem, Maynarde and others, some of whom uploaded a cast of the game to YouTube. In that incident, Denver was the one who had a point to make, and a best-of-7 grudge match ensued (VODs of the original grudge match: part 1, part 2).
Fast forward to 2021, it turns out the grudge between souL and Denver was still not settled. During a routine day of ladder games, souL lost two games in a row to Denver which souL attributed to “stupid strats” and “dumb runbys”. This apparently tilted souL enough to cancel his plans for the day and attempt to snipe Denver for a rematch. Denver, cheeky as ever, used the Battle.net broadcast function to publicly poke fun at souL, while refusing to give souL the opportunity to redeem himself. Other pros quickly caught wind of the broadcasts, and began teasing the duo with broadcasts of their own. It was only a matter of time before another grudge match arose, except this time it was souL who had something to prove.
Come time for the actual showmatch, the match was no longer only about souL and Denver. On the English stream hosted by Lambo, Serral staked his confidence in his trusty Terran training partner while educating the masses on the proper pronunciation of Piotr Walukiewicz, Reynor debated whether the games look more like his brother’s or his dad’s, while Harstem indulged in the 3 Zerg casters trying to make sense of the chaos. Meanwhile, on MarineLorD's stream, his Francophone compatriots showed their unity and came together to cheer on their fellow Frenchman, with Clem, PtitDrogo and Koka joining the cast.
Similar to the traditions of HomeStory Cup, the match focused less on the gameplay itself, and more on the casual atmosphere of casters and players having a good time. While there was certainly high level gameplay to be had, the highlight of the match was definitely the journey rather than the scoreline. That said, the scoreline was still certainly important to Denver and souL; not only was there pride on the line, but almost €800 to boot. This surpassed the sum that the 33rd-36th place finishers at IEM Katowice 2021 would receive ($500), and was roughly equal to the 29th-32nd place winnings ($1000). Of course, this was far too much money for any one person to walk away with, so the players uniformly agreed on what they believed to be a fair split: 99:1.
Without going too deep with the gameplay analysis, let’s take a look at the stats that actually matter:
- souL’s manner mules: 2
- souL’s manner “XD”: 1
- Denver’s maner hatch: 1
- Denver’s /dance: 1
- Denver’s manner “?”: 4
- Denver’s manner “XD”: 1
- Denver bonus for BM into loss: 2
Final score: souL 5 : 3 Denver! Regardless of what the score screens may say, Denver provided more of what we fans came for—spicy flair backed by spicy plays, so he’s the victor in our hearts.
In any case, the most important thing is that the grudge was settled and everyone had many good laughs. Both players departed on good terms, although from the way things went it’s hard to imagine the two were anything but friends.
Grudge Matches and SC2The souL vs Denver grudge match success is not just indicative that grudge matches are fun to watch. It’s actually symbolic of a bigger shift within the StarCraft II scene in the last few years from a centralized, professional scene to a more balanced scene that’s as driven by the community as it is by the sponsors. This momentum is unlikely to stop as community figures like Wardi grow while entities like Blizzard’s influences wane. Now is the time to ask ourselves, what kind of third-party content do we want to see more of? Do we want to focus on “professional”-style tournaments like TSL and ASUS ROG, or do we want to indulge in more free-spirited content?
StarCraft grudge matches in prior years had an odd place. If we think back to the era of KeSPA Proleague, it was quite unimaginable for grudge matches to take place within the scene. For starters, BM and personal interactions in general were heavily dampened by the draconian rules set by KeSPA. Remember when Stephano was almost DQ’d for typing “glhf” in the game? Players definitely had chances to show their personalities, but it’s become clear that they couldn’t be 100% genuine—just look at what Brood War streamers have gone on to do since leaving KeSPA.
Skip forward to 2021. Corporate sponsors are not as prevalent, but we’ve also seen insane growth in community figures and fan support. ESL Open Cups are casted by various community casters like Wardi, while fans like WhieShark single-handedly sponsor $5000 tournaments. As a result, players and casters have much more freedom to express themselves freely and casually without worrying about disqualifications. Heck, INnoVation showed up 2.5 hours late to his HomeStoryCup group stage match, and the main debate we had was whether he overslept or was playing league of legends.
And just as the community has grown in influence, so too have the players. While KeSPA-era players saw progaming as their one and only responsibility, pros in the modern era are interesting in their own ways outside of their pro career as well. Reynor is always a bag of fun when it comes to anything—playing, casting, interviewing, you name it. HeRoMaRinE runs one of the most consistent streams not just in StarCraft, but in twitch.tv as a whole. It doesn’t even really matter who’s involved in casual events like a grudge match, because everyone is such great friends with one another in the pro scene today that it’s bound to be a blast.
So are grudge matches the way to go as we prepare for the post-Blizzard world? Well… why not give it a try? As Covid-19 shuts down our major offline tournaments and forces them online, we’re seeing less and less stories outside of the scorelines. No more Taeja failing to pop the champagne bottle. No more teary-eyed soO hoisting his long awaited trophy. The results slowly mesh into numbers on Liquipedia instead of the grand stories they could be. Casual events like grudge matches fill this need that not all, but many fans have for more personal stories. They tell stories about the players, not just the games. They craft deeper narratives for rivalries between players, rather than their Aligulac ratings. And the viewers of the Denver vs souL showmatch have shown that we’re not above indulging in petty drama. Imagine if for all the smack talk Reynor gave to poor BabyMarine during HSC, someone actually set up a showmatch between the two, wouldn’t that be a fun time?
And this isn’t just about grudge matches either. Archon mode has shown to be extremely entertaining time and time and time again. Reynor already mentioned he used 1v4 Archon mode to practice for his match against Maru in IEM, why not show fans what that was like? We don’t even need to stick to 1v1 mode— Artosis recently hosted the Artosis Bad Map Free For All tournament, which is as hilarious as its title suggests. And why stop there? Let’s bring on another Harstem Rank Roulette tournament, maybe featuring pro replays instead! If the community is willing to embrace more casual events in addition to the major professional tournaments we’re used to, we may yet discover that StarCraft II offers more entertainment than simply 1v1 pro matches.