Blizzard’s seminal RTS is making a return later this year with Starcraft: Remastered. Could this 2017 update to a classic single the return not only of the game’s competitive scene, but the genre as a whole?
The Real-Time Strategy genre of games is as good as dead currently. The most recent big-name release in the genre, Dawn of War 3, generally received negative reviews and, perhaps worst of all, could never hope to sustain a competitive scene. But once upon a time, Starcraft: Brood War blazed a trail in the world of esports, becoming one of the first non-FPS games with a competitive scene, and arguably becoming the first big esport in history. And Starcraft: Remastered could be the catalyst Brood War needs to return to the collective conscious.
As Starcraft 2’s more army-ball focused gameplay gave way to the rise of the MOBA, the original home of Starcraft esports, Korea, has slowly returned to the game that it once loved. Legendary esports figures like Lee “Flash” Young Ho, Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong, Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong, and Kim “EffOrt” Jung Woo have all come out of retirement to participate in an already growing wave of Brood War tournaments. The more micro-intensive, small skirmish playstyle of Brood War has been welcomed back in Korea with open arms, as tournaments like Afreeca’s ASL, a sister broadcast of their GSL Starcraft 2 tournament, have begun to outstrip their Starcraft 2 counterparts in viewers and support.
It’s unclear whether the spark of interest in Brood War was resuscitated through rumors in 2015 when a job listing surfaced looking for programmers to remaster old Blizzard games, or if Korea organically returned to the game as Blizzard coincidentally happened to be working on a remastered Starcraft. Whatever the case may be, a perfect storm of conditions have coalesced that may very well see Brood War revive itself much the same way Counter-Strike did in the mid-2000’s.
Brood War’s beauty as an esport is unparalleled. The game’s meta has almost never gone stale, and continues to change even to this day. Strategies that were once considered the norm have evolved, and even long-time caster duo Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski and Nick “Tasteless” Plott have noticeably stumbled over themselves as they simultaneously try to explain a historic, 20-year old esport to viewers who may not even have been alive when the game came out, while also adapting on the fly to the new strategies players have developed. The fluidity with which players have returned to the game and continued to innovate makes Brood War feel like it’s picking up exactly where it left off in 2012.
Additionally, Brood War is arguably one of the best spectator esports of all time. With games like Starcraft 2 suffering from visual acuity when big fights begin, MOBAs requiring knowledge of an outrageous roster of champions and abilities, and shooters suffering from twitchy player-cameras and jarring perspective shifts, Starcraft: Brood War’s 2.5D style and focus on small, micro-intensive skirmishes allow even someone completely unfamiliar with the game to have a clear, concise idea of what’s happening at all times. With Starcraft: Remastered’s sprites being redesigned from the ground up in 4k resolution, the game’s outdated fidelity can more easily be overlooked by a casual viewer, while giving experienced viewers a crisper battlefield to spectate.
While Blizzard likely focuses on the Overwatch League as their best attempt at regaining the crown they once held atop the esports world, Starcraft: Remastered might be the shock treatment the RTS genre needs to resuscitate itself from the throes of death. Many believe that Brood War’s popularity was kneecapped as Blizzard marched out their sequel just as esports began to get a mainstream foothold, while the resurgence of pro players indicate that others still believe the game has never been surpassed. Blizzard has done their part with Starcraft: Remastered, though, by painstakingly recreating the bugs and features that have become an integral part of the game, and adding much needed quality-of-life features expected of a modern competitive game like a ladder system, and an updated spectator mode.
With an already growing competitive scene in the East, and a new generation of players being introduced in the West, the RTS genre might have one last poetic chance at survival from the game that gave it life to begin with.