What should be made of the recent StarCraft: Brood War renaissance? Is it merely a one-off spike in interest caused by a long-awaited reunion of Kim "Bisu" Taek Yong, Song "Stork" Byung Goo, Lee "Jaedong" Jae Dong and Lee "Flash" Young, akaTaekBangLeeSsang? Or is the scene actually returning to its former glory?
Esteemed Brood War commentator and Kongdoo Company Director Seung-won Lee offered, "It's true that the return of TaekBangLeeSsang was the largest reason behind Afreeca Starleague Season 2's popularity. It should also be said, however, that the post-KeSPA scene has been quietly expanding and strengthening for quite some time now."
No combustion can take place without heat, oxygen and fuel. If TaekBangLeeSsang's comeback is the heat, the general fan base would be the oxygen and money the fuel. But will there continue to be enough of all three to keep the car running?
Lee, Jaedong, Bisu and Best weighed in on this topic, and more, regarding Brood War.
Brood War and its lasting appeal
"The question we've kept asking is, 'How do we make this last?' Many people came up with countless ideas," Lee said. "In the end, continuing to host regular and new leagues seems to be the answer. The more competitive opportunities players have, the more they stay motivated to maintain a high level of play, which in turn keeps the fans interested."
All good, except that many of Brood War's remaining star players -- including all four of TaekBangLeeSsang -- are yet to complete their mandatory 18-month military service. With the scene as fragile as it currently is, none are confident that the Afreeca grass will still be green around the time of their return.
Zerg legend Jaedong confirmed the sentiment.
"While I would like to keep [streaming and playing Brood War] for a long time, I will have to fulfill my military duties soon."
Bisu, the first of the elite four to join Afreeca's Brood War scene, echoed Jaedong's sentiment.
"I will keep on streaming until I have to leave for the army. Afterwards, I'm not sure," Bisu said.
It should be mentioned that a few star players both have completed their service and are committed to the game, such as Jae-wook "Best" Doh. Best is one of the most optimistic and enthusiastic players in the scene, and when asked about his plans for the future, he replied he wanted to stream Brood War for "at least five years." Most of his colleagues and fans, unfortunately, are in doubt about whether the current environment will last that long, especially with rumors floating around of a Brood War HD coming from Blizzard.
Lee from Kongdoo was not interested in sugarcoating the status quo.
"Many fans are worrying that the scene will wither away again when TaekBangLeeSsang head to the military. Others also point out that the batch of players we have now are continuing to age and will only play worse as time goes by, making everything less interesting to watch," he acknowledged.
"These all are realistic concerns, which all in the scene are well aware of," Lee continued. "We are not trying to ignore or deny these problems but looking for long-term solutions such as hosting more and larger leagues."
Can new players help bring Brood War more success?
"We need to grow the scene to such a size that completely new players will be incentivized to give competitive play a shot and hopefully produce a new generation of superstars," Lee said.
The key word here is hopefully. This hope is not universally shared.
Best says "Since the game has been receiving much more attention lately, I think a new great player could definitely come onto the scene."
Bisu, on the other hand, adamantly disagreed: "No. [It] simply cannot happen. New talent would have emerged had the [KeSPA era] continued, but in the current environment, it is impossible."
Jaedong's take was more tempered but still on the pessimistic side.
"New players will most likely run into a lack of motivation, [especially because] they won't have structured, professional environments to help them keep their minds in the right place," he argued.
The three star players' opinions also sharply differed on how necessary the emergence of a new generation was. In this regard, Best was the most pessimistic, suggesting the scene will fail without new players. While grateful for the support of the old fans, new fans just aren't there, he said.
In contrast, Jaedong believed the Brood War scene could sustain itself or even expand without an entirely new generation of players. To him, all it takes is the continued attention of the fans, and there will be a chance.
Bisu had no clear opinion on whether or not a changing of the guard was necessary, but did see the possibility as a great positive. He believes if there was a new power to come along, someone to take down the best players, things would change; the excitement level would rise.
"All sports are essentially about whether or not someone will manage to destroy the best player of the time," he stated.
While it remains to be seen if truly new names will enter the arena, Lee mentioned that a good number of "new old names" had their hearts set on returning.
"[Heo "JangBi" Yeong Moo] and [Jung "Fantasy" Myung Hoon] will likely return to Brood War as soon as they finish their military service. It is my understanding that certain StarCraft II players are considering a homecoming as well."
On streaming and competition
The allure of the streamer lifestyle seems to be a major draw for those players thinking of coming back. Best, Bisu and Jaedong all agreed their current day-to-day streaming schedules were very much enjoyable, although they also missed being professional players. Best said his new life gives him lots of freedom, but the old life brought him "a lot of fun and experience."
Out of the three, Bisu was the most reminiscent of his KeSPA days.
"Life as a player was extremely grueling, but focusing entirely on the game I love, setting goals for myself and achieving them through hard work was truly fulfilling," he reflected. "Now I have a lot of free time, but there isn't much competition going on to motivate me to improve, so it also is a bit boring in a way."
Bisu's lethargy may be due to his status of always having been one of the most popular and skilled players on Afreeca, however.
Lee explains that for a lot of streamers, their success on stream can be correlated to their success in a league.
"Impress fans [in a league], and they will come to your stream and make their appreciation known. Take [Yum "Sea" Bo Sung], for example. Since making it to the finals of ASL Season 2 and playing well against Flash, he has been getting much more viewers and donations."
The director continued, "Many streamers are reporting that they have been earning more and more recently, and that a financial incentive to do well in broadcasted competitions is definitely there. Overall, I feel the post-KeSPA scene has finally managed to settle upon an economic structure that works for all those involved."
On the esports scene needing something fresh
The last few years, Lee explained, have been about team games in esports. League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, three of the biggest esports in the world right now, fit that criteria. And fans are looking for something different, Lee suggests.
"I feel there are a number of viewers who are tired of team games in general, especially the [MOBA] genre. They are in the mood for something new. To those completely new to StarCraft, it being a one-on-one [Real Time Strategy] game could definitely be refreshing."
While Lee was hesitant to foster any unrealistic expectations, his view for the old game's future was firmly positive. He believes in its viewability for spectators, and if more and bigger leagues are hosted and Blizzard offers a little support, Brood War could see great things in its future.
Bisu, however, thinks the present scene was gloomy and blunt.
"There are no new players or viewers," he pointed out, suggesting the best that current players could do was to play at the highest level possible in the competitive leagues to come.
Jaedong shared a slightly more positive outlook, despite acknowledging there were "too many practical roadblocks" for a truly massive, back-to-the-golden-years sort of Brood War revival to occur.
"If the scene grows in size and more advertisement happens, [what we enjoy now] will probably become much more sustainable," he envisioned.
With forecasts differing so severely even amongst the most influential in the scene, it seems foolish to draw any conclusions about Brood War's future at this point in time.
Clearly observable, however, was the unfettered determination and evergreen desire of all those involved to cherish and rejuvenate Brood War ... to recapture the glory days.