If we want eSports to be successful, the first step is seeing what works for other sports. That means looking at sports with similar requirements to Starcraft 2 professional play and making changes to emulate the success and popularity those sports have. Starcraft 2 has solo play and team play.
Solo play is just like chess. Two players play against each other. Tournaments are setup with various formats (single elimination, double elimination, round robin). Some are invite only, others are open. In solo play, it is every player for themselves. There is no team to help. It is just the player, their equipment (mouse & keyboard), and the other player.
The closest sports to this are golf and tennis, but golf is probably not the best to emulate since it is more about beating the course than the other players. In tennis, there are two players to a game, a similar tournament bracket system, and several tournaments throughout the year, but tennis has a very important system that Starcraft 2 eSports does not: a world ranking system.
Each year a set of sanctioned tournaments are named. Tennis players are then ranked according to their results in these tournaments. Getting further in a tournament results in a higher ranking. Likewise, the “majors” (4 each year) give more points than the smaller tournaments.
What this does is give all the players and fans, a clear idea of how the players stack up against each other. Even more than this, it standardizes the whole tournament system. There are a few invitational tournaments, but most tournaments pick players based on their world ranking. Players can easily see what they need to do to get into a tournament. Tournaments do not all have their own rules. It is just get your ranking above X and you are in.
For new players, there are many open tournaments that allow anyone to sign up. This brings in new blood to the sport, very critical to the growth of any sport. Some of those new players turn out to be the next great champions. This is something we need in Starcraft 2 eSports.
Right now every tournament has their own qualification rules. Players have to sort of dance around to meet them. One tournament pulls the top 5 players in tournament X, Y, and Z. Another tournament pulls the top 10 players in tournaments A, B, and C. A third tournament requires a high Battle.net ladder ranking. The tournament organizers all have their own requirements. A world ranking would solve all of this by having a clear set of rules for all tournaments. Qualifiers for tournaments would then just be world ranking above X.
Now, there is a website, SC2Ranks, that ranks players based on their Battle.net ladder results, but Battle.net is increasingly becoming irrelevant in the professional scene. It really has no place in eSports due to the fact that Battle.net is region locked. It is a well known fact that the Korean server has far better players than the US server. Since players on each server are restricted to playing against players on that servers, the Battle.net rankings are unclear.
For example, pro player IdrA is usually in the top 5 on the US server, but on his Korean account he is not even in the top 100. And yet his US ranking could be 2000, the same as a Korean player who had to play much better opponents. Battle.net ranking cannot be used as a world ranking. It serves its purpose as being an easy ranking for regular Starcraft 2 players, but it is not something to rely on for eSports.
We could take the same ELO ranking rules from the ladder. Those are perfectly fine. It is just the region lock that is the problem. I would recommend making one addition to the ELO system to allow tournaments to be weighted. The biggest tournaments of the year would give the full points out of the equation. Smaller tournaments, however, would give fewer points. This would ensure the “majors” of Starcraft 2 really are majors with appropriate weight taken into account on a player’s world ranking.
I have not mentioned team play yet, because I cannot find any other sports that are similar to it. In team play, the games are still just two players against each other, but this time several games are played by successive players of the team. When a player loses, their team picks one of their remaining players (that has not lost) and the next map to play. A winning player gets to keep playing until they lose, allowing a single player to completely eliminate the other team by themselves. The games are a best of X series. After a set number of wins, one team wins.
Team play is very unique. There really are not any other sports like it. At its heart, it is still a one versus one competition, but the team can help a lot with forming strategies in the middle of the competition. Once a player loses they go back to the team. The team then gets to huddle and decide on their next player, map, and strategies that give them the best shot at winning.
Since there is no sport like it and it is still pretty much one versus one, I suggest treating the team as one unit as far as world ranking. Each team would get to choose a roster, say 10 players. Their team ranking would then be based on the average world ranking of the 10 players. The performance of all the players in the roster would be rolled into the team ranking, so the team basically becomes a player in itself. The roster could be changed at any time between tournaments but would have to be locked while a tournament is ongoing.
Improving Starcraft 2 eSports is an ongoing series where I discuss how the eSports scene could be improved. You can read all of these posts by heading to the category page.