Starcraft 2 Tournaments and Leagues

No, Starcraft 2 isn’t dead. While it’s true that competitive Starcraft 2 has seen a decline recently, the esports scene is far from dead. These are legitimate concerns, though, the reason is that Starcraft 2 is quite advanced and is mostly suited for gamers who are familiar with the game. Of course, many people that bet on Starcraft 2 would also watch the games. But the number of people betting on Starcraft 2 tournaments today is small in comparison to other esports like CSGO and Dota 2. However, Blizzard has recognized the issues and have made several changes recently to bolster the competitive Starcraft 2 scene.

History of competitive Starcraft

The Starcraft franchise more or less shaped esports single-handedly towards the end of 90s. The popularity of Starcraft 2 tournaments in North America and Europe in the past ten years isn’t a coincidence. When vanilla Starcraft was first released in 1998, the game was flat and straightforward. The game was too imbalanced to allow for serious competitions. With the release of Starcraft: Broodwar however, the game improved a lot. The game was balanced out, and it became much more difficult, allowing for a higher skill ceiling. Finally, the strategy in real-time strategy game was in place. At this point, competitive Starcraft saw the light of day.

While Starcraft became a new growing ground for competitive gaming, another social activity started to spread. Internet cafés in South Korea began to boom. The timing of this boom and Starcraft: Broodwar resulted in an esports boom in South Korea. By the end of 1999, ahead of the new millennium, the Broodwar expansion had sold over one million copies in South Korea. This translates to 2% of the population owning a copy of Starcraft: Broodwar. The growth as an esport came naturally as the game itself became a cultural phenomenon.

Starcraft esports

At this point in 1999, the first Starcraft tournament was broadcasted on cable TV in South Korea. A kid channel called Tooniverse thought it would be good to put some more teen/young-adult content on later hours. This is basically the first official, mainstream form of esports. This first Starcraft tournament was called Tooniverse Progamer Korea Open. The next year, in 2000, the organizer created a dedicated gaming TV channel called Ongamenet (OGN). Ongamenet only showed game-related media.

Starcraft esports grew quickly at that point. There were commercial profits to be made, and many tournament organizers got involved. Naturally, with a fractured market, many conflicts took place. As a result, the Korea Pro Gamer Association (KPGA) was formed.

In 2002 something insane happened, it was the finals of the SKY OGN Starleague (OSL). The tournament was taken place offline as a LAN event in an arena. Approximately 52,000 fans showed up.

Around this time, in 2004, large corporations got involved with sponsoring Starcraft players and organizations. One of the first deals was worth $1,700,000 when the telecom company SKT bought a Starcraft team. Many other companies followed suit, and the competitive Starcraft scene in Korea grew even bigger. At this time, the KPGA was taken over by corporations and renamed to Korean Esports Association (KeSPA). When this happened, esports in Korea was 100% corporate. Labor disputes between Starcraft pros and organizations happened frequently. As a result, rules and guidelines were implemented. KeSPA can be credited with making the framework for esports and the interplay between tournament organizers, esports teams and esports professionals.

During the 2000s, Starcraft tournaments became popular outside of South Korea but at a much smaller scale. It remained as a sub-culture with a following within gaming culture. Tournament prize pools slowly grew but not on the same level as in South Korea. This would come to change with Starcraft 2.

Starcraft 2 is released

Starcraft 2 was released in 2010. The game was designed for esports. With the combination of an already large player base and large competitive esports scene, the game became an instant success. The transition to esports was natural. For a period in 2010, it was the most-watched game in the world. The first year saw 852 players participating in 115 Starcraft 2 tournaments around the world, competitions for a total prize pool of $820,000. The largest Starcraft 2 tournaments in the first year were the Sony Ericsson Starcraft II Open Season 1 with a prize pool of $170,000. The event was played in Seoul, South Korea, where the Korean player FruitDealer won and walked away with $85,700.

Starcraft 2 tournaments kept growing for the following two years. In 2012, 789 Starcraft 2 tournaments were played, and there was a combined prize pool of $3,179,864. As a comparison for that year, Dota 2 was the second biggest with a total prize pool of $1.67 million across six tournaments. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 had a combined $1 million across five tournaments. Competitive Starcraft 2 remained at the forefront of esports growth at the beginning of the modern era of esports.

In 2012, League of Legends toppled Starcraft 2 from the top spot in esports with $87,000 more in prize pools. The tournament count for Starcraft 2 remained way higher than any other esports, however. The following year though, something happened. Growth for Starcraft 2 esports stalled. A trend which would continue for the next years until 2018 when Starcraft 2 finally started seeing some positive trends. This is mostly due to Blizzard introducing Warchests. Warchests is a loot box system with skins, decals and sprays. 25% of proceeds from sales arising from Warchests go towards Starcraft 2 prize pools.

In 2020 made further efforts in boosting Starcraft 2 tournaments by partnering up with world-renowned esports organizers; Electronic Sports League (ELS) and DreamHack. The partnership will stretch between 2020 and 2023. It’s an effort to streamline further the esports structure. Where regular season play will culminate in large global finals which are played offline during LAN events.

Most popular Starcraft 2 tournaments

ESL Pro Tour

ESL Pro Tour (EPT) is a series of Starcraft 2 tournaments and events that are organized by or together with ESL. The game developer, Blizzard provides $1,900,000 in prize money which is distributed to all the tournaments during the year. EPT is split between South Korea and the rest of the world; Europe, North America, Latin America, China, Taiwan and Oceania.

The Starcraft 2 tournaments in the EPT are the following:

  • EPT Korea
  • Global Starcraft 2 League
  • AfreecaTV GSL Super Tournament
  • EPT RoW
  • IEM Katowice
  • IEM China
  • ESL Open Cups
  • King of Battles
  • DreamHack Masters

Starcraft 2 World Championship Series Global Finals

The Global Finals of the WCS is the biggest and most prestigious tournament. The regular season play in the Starcraft 2 World Championship Series is concluded with the Global Finals towards the end of the year.

Teams qualify by winning any of the WCS tournaments throughout the year or by collecting enough WCS points during regular season play. Sixteen players participate in the Global Finals for a prize pool of $700,000 (in 2019). The prize pool is partly funded by proceeds from the Starcraft 2 crowdfunding system. Blizzard contributes with a $500,000 base. For 2019 an additional $200,000 was added from funds stemming from Warchests. Considering that the last three year’s prize pool for the Global Finals has been $700,000, we can expect the next edition to be at the same level.

The 2018 edition of WCS Global Finals we saw the first-ever non-Korean World Champion since Starcraft 2 was released in 2010. The order was restored in 2019 when South Korean player Dark won the Starcraft 2 World Championship title.

Starcraft 2 Intel Extreme Masters

Intel Extreme Masters is the longest-running esports circuit in the world. IEM has consistently delivered top esports tournaments since 2006. As a leader they of course host Starcraft 2 tournaments which is one of the main attractions at IEM events alongside CSGO and League of Legends.

The first Starcraft 2 IEM was the Global Challenge Cologne in 2010, and only Western SC 2 players participated. The prize pool was tiny, only $9,800. Swedish player MorroW ended up winning and $5,000. The same year IEM American Championship took place where only American players competed. The tournament had a prize pool of $8,000. The top four saw two Canadian players, HuK and drewbie while Peruvian player Fenix won and walked away with $4,000.

The following years IEM’s Starcraft 2 tournaments grew bigger and attracted the top talent from South Korea which improved the quality significantly. Intel Season 6 saw the total prize pool for the IEM exceeded $100,000.

The latest IEM Starcraft 2 tournament, IEM Katowice 2020 had a prize pool of $400,000. The base prize pool was $250,000, then an additional $150,000 from crowdfunding was added to the total prize pool. The winner was also awarded a seed for the WCS Global Finals. IEM Katowice is part of the ESL Pro Tour.

DreamHack Starcraft 2 Masters

DreamHack Masters is another tournament circuit that’s part of the official ESL Pro Tour. Three Starcraft 2 tournaments are played; Masters Summer, Masters Fall and Masters Winter. Each seasonal split has regular-season play where players compete for a place in the season finals.

Currently, the DreamHack Season finals have prize pools of $57,000 with 16 players competing.

Global Starcraft 2 League

GSL is a Starcraft 2 tournament circuit that is held in South Korea. It’s the longest-running Starcraft 2 series, running since 2010. Matches from GSL is broadcasted on AfreecaTV twice per week, every Wednesday and Friday.

No direct seeds are provided by finishing first in GSL tournaments. However, EPT points exclusive to Korea is up for grabs along with cash prizes. The GSL is played in three seasons per year, each season having a prize pool of $140,000.

King of Battles

King of Battles doesn’t provide any direct seeds to the global finals, but participating players can earn EPT points. Sixteen players, eight South-Korean and eight Non-Korean compete for a prize pool of $30,000.

Maru of Jin Air Green Wings won the latest King of Battles and walked away with $7,800.

Homestory Cup

Homestory Cup has come a long way from its very humble beginnings. The first edition was cast from one of the participating players, hence the name Homestory. The prize pool was a meager $500. The next edition had some sponsors, so the prize pool grew to $2800. Eleven players were invited to the house where the tournaments were broadcasted, and another five joined online. For the third edition of Homestory Cup, the tournament organized Dennis Gehlen moved to a bigger flat where 32 players could fit. The prize pool increased to $5000.

Today the prize pools are considerably larger and no longer hosted at the home of Dennis Gehlen. The last edition of Homestory Cup was played at Tropical Islands in Berlin, Europe’s largest tropical indoor resort. Thirty-two players competed for the $53,000 prize pool. The world champion from 2018, Serral won glory, fame and $14,000.

Starcraft 2 tournaments FAQ


We will see what Blizzard together with Electronic Sports League and DreamHack have in store for us in 2021 and beyond. With the crowdfunding system, Starcraft 2 prize pools should continue to grow. With a streamlined system in the ESL Pro Tour, it should be easier for fans to follow players as they compete to become the best in the world. We are hopeful that the improvements Blizzard worked on will give us improved Starcraft 2 tournaments and more betting opportunities.