Imagine an auditorium filled with eager fans, many of them young women holding up signs and screaming themselves hoarse. Huge screens display images capturing different angles of the action as commentators attempt to analyze the performances and excite the crowd. Imagine two television stations broadcasting 24 hours a day, devoting themselves to this sport.
In Korea, this sport is StarCraft.
For about six months straight, I took many of my meals at my computer, logged into YouTube. After cooking my dinner (usually pasta or rice), I would load one of Klazart's, diggity's or moletrap's StarCraft videos. Here I was: tired after a long day, my room a mess, nursing a bowl of carbohydrates with Zerg versus Protoss on my computer screen. Weeks earlier, two Korean teenagers competed furiously in a televised match 7,000 miles away. An Indian-born Irishman and two Californians watched the raw video, ignored the Korean announcers and provided their own analysis of each game. For me, an English-speaking, American-born-Chinese spectator, it was fascinating.
Klazart, diggity and moletrap (among many others) take Korean professional StarCraft matches, record their own audio commentary tracks and overlay them onto the video. They are amateur commentators only in the sense that they have not been paid for their efforts. "Our first goal, which we have already met, was to have every single Korean pro-game of significance commentated," diggity said.
The closest examples of this kind of cross-cultural niche community are the fan groups that provide anime and drama fansubs (short for "fan-subtitled"). But this community is about so much more than translation; they inject their own thoughts, emotions, and energies into this product. Commentators provide explanations of tactics, predictions of the outcome and post-match analysis. They make the video easier to process, more familiar and more approachable to the casual English-speaking viewer.
"I try to make it as accessible as possible, without being patronizing at the same time," diggity said.
It's not simply a fad, either. Worldwide, StarCraft has sold 9.5 million copies with 4.5 million of those being sold in Korea. On a given Saturday night, there are 50,000 players on Battle.net playing a game released 10 years ago. StarCraft has endured.
Klazart and diggity both gave three reasons for StarCraft's longevity. The first is that game is easy to understand, so much that "a complete neophyte could pick it up." Klazart adds that you can enjoy StarCraft on multiple levels; depending on how much time a player devotes to the game, they will always be able to have fun with the single-player campaign or online on Battle.net. Secondly, it's fun to watch and keeps your attention. Almost all of the action can be readily identified on screen - like watching a tug of war between two teams, a simple judgment call can be made about who is winning. Finally, it's so well-balanced that there is an almost "unlimited depth of strategy." There is always a new facet to the game and the meta-strategy is constantly changing as new players enter the fray and older players adapt and improve their game.