StarCraft 2's HomeStory Cup tournament series is one of the most entertaining esports events around, and it's a formula that should be copied - at least, some of its elements should be - by more organizers moving forward. It's yet another example of how StarCraft 2 has managed to remain relevant despite occupying a more niche role in the world of esports, and tournaments like HomeStory Cup are exactly why, as they embrace the role of the game instead of attempting to artificially inflate it to levels of viewership and ubiquity it doesn't currently call home.
For those unfamiliar, HomeStory Cup is a tournament organized by Dennis "TaKe" Gehlen. It first began with TaKe inviting players from around the world to compete in his home studio for a cash prize, and has grown into one of the premiere events of the year whenever it takes place. For context, the most recent HomeStory Cup, it's 19th iteration, ultimately awarded $4,000 USD to the winner, with many players who participated receiving no money whatsoever. Despite this, players look forward to the tournament more than most, and viewers consider it as something that can't be missed. Why is that?
To start, HomeStory Cup is a unique tournament setting that situates players in rather small spaces with each other in a more relaxed environment. The tournament features several other distractions - a bar, to name one, but also side-games aplenty - and players who haven't played yet or have already been eliminated regularly mingle into the crowd to watch other games. It's a community event for the players, the casters, and the viewers, and it serves to remind each of them that StarCraft 2 is a game - no matter how many times it feels much bigger than that.
The biggest reason HomeStory Cup is such a wonderful tournament series, though, is that it allows players to showcase their personality in ways that no other tournament series offer. Players can jump onto the couch to commentate games with each other, often demonstrating both insight and entertainment in equal parts. For some, it's not a surprise, but for others, the revelation that they're more than just stone-cold mechanically gifted killers is a massive boon. South Korean players in particular get a chance to show off personality that is usually lost in translation in other settings. Players like Zest and TY have managed to garner thousands more fans thanks to their clever interviews and personalities, and that doesn't usually become an emphasis at the other tournaments they play in.
We've argued before that StarCraft 2, by nature of being an game decided in a 1 vs. 1 setting, tells the best stories in esports - soO finally ending his second-place curse, Maru becoming the most dominant Korean player we've ever seen before immediately falling from grace in 2019, and Serral's once-in-a-lifetime run in 2018 are all proof of that. At HomeStory Cup, though, those stories get a chance to shine in less dramatic fashion. This past weekend, it was Zest's Immortal and Warp Prism pushes versus the collective dismay of the entire Zerg race. It was Serral, casually referred to as the Night King despite being nothing like a disappointment, casually dismissing opponents while exhibiting some cheeky personality along the way. We saw Stephano get a brief moment back in the sun, and Lambo proved if professional play ever began boring him that casting could easily be his calling.
All of these things, realistically, would never have been exhibited in another tournament setting. That's what's important about HomeStory Cup - it shines a spotlight on some of the narratives and players who might otherwise never see it, or who might have thousands of fans waiting to embrace them if they only got to see what they were like outside the game too. It helps build brands, personalities, and viewer investment in a tournament series that will never, ever, get anywhere close to the viewership or prize pool of massive events like The International 2019, which is currently on pace to hit a $30 million prize pool.
What it does do, however, is something that can't be replaced. Prize pools come and go - StarCraft 2 players know that better than anyone, really - but personality and entertainment are timeless. More esports organizers outside of games that are completely dominant should look at HomeStory Cup and realize there's money, and security, to be found in letting players, not money, be the selling point.