Ok, PHedemark holds teams, and their hype apparatus, up as a necessary part of the scene. Very well then, let’s take this to its absolute end.

I’ve chatted this around a bit and I’ve found the discussion quite interesting, and the answers not as obvious as some have made it out to be: are teams really necessary in a solo sport like Starcraft, or is the fact that these teams/brands/agencies/hype men/whatevers hold such a prominent place in the Starcraft landscape simply a holdover from days when Counter-strike, an actual team sport, held sway?

If you’re a fan of HuK, for instance, will it really matter to you what team he’s on, or will you continue to follow him and root for him regardless? (If not, what does that say about you and becoming attached to corporate brands?) When several teams send a few players each to a large event, is the overriding picture of the event of teams competing against each other, or do such affiliations more or less fade into the background, while the individual stories and performances come to the fore?

Can it be said that players on the same team collectively exhibit a particular style of play that can be attributed to the team, or does each player more or less carry their own style (and fans of that style) with them wherever they go? It’s not as if players ‘on the same team’ compete together when attending major tournaments; their individual result hinges on their individual performance.

Any notion of team-based rivalries at major events is entirely in our heads, people.

Why, exactly, was HuK’s transfer itself from TL to EG such a big hairy deal? Put aside EG’s stint on the #hypewatch list, and all the vitriolic nonsense posted to the TL boards. I’m trying to ignore this completely irrational segment of the esports market here that puts more stock in the logo a player wears than the players themselves. It’s not as though EG’s Starcraft squad plays as an indivisible unit, and HuK’s play is the missing link between EG and success.

We have ‘team brands’ competing for attention not just amongst each other but also at times taking precedent over that of the players. Why is this exactly?

Team competitions are starting to pop up here and there around the Western scene, but let’s not forget that it’s a recent development. It’s at best an awkward situation, and at worse reveals their place in this particular ecosystem as unnecessary in the long run.

Starcraft is a solo sport.

I can find just one justification for the presence of teams in the Starcraft landscape: the scene is yet too small for individual players to strike out on their own. The only two people in the Western hemisphere anywhere near the top of the money list are HuK and Idra, averaging $55,000 in prize earnings between them. Is that enough to support a year’s worth of involvement in the professional Starcraft scene? Ehh, not quite.

Advertisers also probably feel that putting direct support behind a single player in a single game, instead of a team with a greater sense of longevity built in and a greater spread of attention across the larger esports scene, is a bit of a risky proposition at this point in time. Two things will change this, though: Starcraft’s continued domination of mindshare amongst esports fans, and the continued growth of prize schedules. Barring the possibility that we’ve another bubble pop in store for us, a remote possibility in my opinion, these two things will likely hold.

See, the primary function of teams is to act as a sort of insurance. Attending an event is a monetary risk that someone has to assume; nobody is so far ahead of the rest of the scene that making back travel and accommodation costs is a given as long as they show up. Players aren’t well off enough to take that on themselves yet, and advertisers don’t see enough potential return to directly sponsor players yet.

What happens when that’s no longer the case, when the scene is large enough that players can command endorsement deals on their own, and can make the financials work outside of the multi-gaming team ecosystem? Will teams try to perpetuate their position within the Starcraft scene by trying to push these team competitions closer to the forefront? Will players not want to leave the relative comfort of the team environment, even though the potential for better earnings will surely come sooner or later outside it?