StarCraft 2 is in a curious position right now. It's not even close to the most-viewed game on Twitch, falling well-short of its competitors like League of Legends and Dota 2. It's also not as flashy as other popular games that can skirt around the idea of tight, competitive play thanks to an electric aesthetic that draws viewers in—think Fortnite, a game that has serious esports issues but manages to draw in people based on how fun it is to watch rather than how hotly contested a ranked match might be. On the surface, StarCraft 2's niche role as a dynamic presence within the South Korean esports scene and an off-the-wall draw for tournament organizers in the west appears to be the perfect spot for it.
That just isn't fair to the game, however, which has come a long way since its darker periods in the middle years of this decade. After refinements to the game's economic system that sped up gameplay significantly, more viewers began to tune in, and a funny thing happened—the statistically "better" player began to win more often. There are still underdog stories, but it felt less like a game defined by which players thrived under specific patches and then faded into the background and more like a rotating cast of the world's best winning tournaments, only occasionally being usurped by a surprise contender who carved a path of destruction to get there.
In short, StarCraft 2 is a great viewing experience right now. It's narratives—the best player in the world debate, which continues to revolve primarily around Maru and Serral, has been one for the ages—and it's fast-paced strategic gameplay leave it second-to-none for breathtaking moments, provided someone's familiar with what's happening. That latter part is key, which is why it bears stating: esports fans should absolutely familiarize themselves with StarCraft 2. The learning curve isn't even that big compared to games like League of Legends, whose roster size of playable characters continues to expand. In StarCraft 2, once you understand the basics about Zerg, Protoss, and Terran, those fundamentals never really shift.
That isn't to say the game doesn't have different periods of race viability and tournament metas, though, which is another big draw. Maru against the world was a common theme last year, as Maru represented Terran, a race many believed to be underpowered. Unfortunately, he was just too talented, and other Terran players had to wait for buffs in patches while Maru played circles around the other two races who were perceived to be stronger. Now, we're in a period of Protoss dominance, the likes of which hasn't been seen for nearly half a decade. The shift has allowed some underdogs to shine, like Trap, and some of the world's best to establish themselves in a defined meta—Zerg player Dark is finally solidifying himself as one of the best in 2019, largely on the back of his preparation skills letting him routinely dismantle all the Protoss players he's come across.
That's the thing about StarCraft 2 that makes it such a compelling game. There's always a way through. Even in metas that feel stagnant or oppressive, some players possess the kind of magic that lets them break through all the same. While we're not advocating for suffering through periods like this patch of Protoss nigh-invulnerability for too long, it's also not as bad as it could be. It makes for some incredible viewing, watching the suddenly villainous Protoss players continue to dominate or heroes from other races rise up to steal games and hearts. It's the underdog story told ad nauseam in a setting that produces some visually electric gameplay, and it's well worth giving a look.
StarCraft 2 isn't in its healthiest state right now. It doesn't need to be, either. People have been sleeping on the game for so long after its improvements that even now, without the balance that helped make 2018 a battle of the world's best two or three all year, it's still amazing viewing. It doesn't need to replace any esports—StarCraft 2 stands on its own as a unique and palatable viewing experience, one that more people need to give a shot to as it feels like competitive gaming becomes increasingly tunnel-visioned toward one or two genres.