The event that defined global, multi-title esports competition is set to make a return, five years after its tragic death. The World Cyber Games, which were discontinued after 14 years of operation, are slated for resurrection at the hands of Korean publisher Smilegate.
While young esports fans did not have the same attachment to WCG, those who followed the industry since its morning days had to say a bittersweet goodbye to the circuit in 2013. For them, it was an emotional moment: WCG had defined global competition in the early 2000s like no other event did. Though many of the top tier esports of that time eventually established more prestigious tournaments of their own, triumph at WCG was a special kind of success. Win it, and you were the official world champion. Even South Korea’s BroodWar — a scene which celebrated the much more established OSL, MSL and ProLeague tournaments — carried home all their 14 WCG trophies with pride.
Emotions used to define the opening ceremonies, as progamers carried their national flags onto the stage, representing their countries and not their employers. At the time, this was the closest esports could get to an Olympic event.
WCG’s first four editions were held in South Korea, benefiting from the improving infrastructure and experience of a country which had already embraced esports as cultural phenomenon. So, when the event eventually decided to head west in 2004, it went on a down spiral.
San Francisco’s (USA), Suntec City’s (Singapore) and Monza’s (Italy) editions of WCG were organizational failures. Not only were playing conditions subpar, but the list of titles was greatly diluted. Where earlier years only focused on proven competitive games like StarCraft: BroodWar, Quake III and WarCraft III, the 2004-2007 period welcomed the likes of Project Gotham Racing, Dead or Alive, Carom3D, and even Tony Hawk’s Project 8. These were blatant acts of promotion at publishers’ expense — something WCG never denied — but they ate away at the prestige of the tournament nonetheless.
With the coming of 2010, esports entered its modern era with the rise of StarCraft 2. By 2012, mastodons of contemporary esports like Dota 2 and League of Legends were also well on their way to being established. And while the landscape of the fanbase evolved, WCG were stuck in their old ways, refusing to step up to meet the new expectations.
WCG’s catalogue continued to feature absurd “esports” titles such as TrackMania, Asphalt, QQ Speed and Lost Saga. In the era of Twitch.tv HD streaming, WCG’s production value seemingly never improved from the old 480p resolution. Even though it remained the most established nation-based global competition, nobody cared anymore.
In year 2011, the organizers brought WCG back to its home country of South Korea and stayed east for the 2012 and 2013 editions, holding the event in Kunshan, China, but it was a struggle in vain. The circuit was officially discontinued in 2013.
Even with WCG gone, multiple attempts have been made since to resurrect if not the actual brand, then at least the spirit it once carried. In March 2016, Chinese e-commerce holding Alibaba launched the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) and put seven figures on the table: a $3.7 million prize pool over four titles.
As the WCG brand was still unclaimed, Wang Sicong, owner of Chinese powerhouse Invictus Gaming, made moves. In February 2017, it was reported that Sicong was in negotiations to acquire the rights from WCG founders Samsung, but a month later talks were put to an end. Samsung’s decision was to keep the rights to WCG Korea-bound and Smilegate, the developer of the massively popular CrossFire, was chosen.
“The newly launched WCG will not only be limited to esports, but also act as a festival where all participants, including spectators, share the joy of playing games together,” Naver wrote. “In order to become a global digital entertainment culture platform, WCG will actively collaborate with leading global gaming companies.”
Festival. Culture platform. Active collaboration with developers. Not the language often used to describe a high tier esports event, but instead the familiar publisher parade. Was it all going to be the same rubbish that the scene buried three years ago?
Fast forward to present day, and an official announcement has been made. Smilegate will bring the resurrected WCG, new logo and all, to Bangkok, Thailand, April 26-29. On Twitter, esports fans asked “Really?” only to get a perhaps disappointing answer by PGL CEO Silviu Stroie:
Yeap. Not sure how much esports will be there though— Silviu Stroie (@ssilviu) November 7, 2017
There is no reason to expect that WCG 2018 will be in any shape or form an esports event for the history books. The brand was in a decline for the latter half of its original lifespan until it became nothing more than a publishers’ promotion venue, or at least this is how fans saw it. In a time where millions in prize pools is the standard for these once-a-year events and where production value rivals that of traditional sports, WCG and their cheap host venue solution in Thailand do not promise much.
This is a bittersweet announcement for those old enough to recall the glory days of WCG in its prime. Normally, such revival of an iconic brand should be a cause for celebration but with its maligned end in mind, WCG’s return to the scene is set to create only a dichotomy of emotions.