Blizzard's StarCraft Sequel Takes the Gaming World by Storm

Women check out a StarCraft character at the China Digital Entertainment Expo in Shanghai a few days before the release of the long-awaited StarCraft II.
Women check out a StarCraft character at the China Digital Entertainment Expo in Shanghai a few days before the release of the long-awaited StarCraft II.

It's been a dozen years since Blizzard Entertainment's blockbuster computer game StarCraft: Brood War took the world, well, by storm. The game sold more than 11 million copies, making it one of the top-selling PC games of all time. It defined the real-time strategy genre, in which players don't take turns, but instead play continuously until the game is over.

Now, it looks like the game's long-awaited sequel, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, could surpass its predecessor. Blizzard announced Tuesday that the game, released last week, sold more than 1.5 million copies in the first two days. (That's faster than the iPad.) And the success of StarCraft II could help PC games -- and specifically real-time strategy games -- take back some ground from the massively multiplayer games (such as World of Warcraft,Blizzard's online role-playing game) and console games that have been gaining popularity -- and market share -- in the last few years.

When it comes to Blizzard's established franchises, such as Diablo and World of Warcraft, the company "can do no wrong," says M2 Research analyst Billy Pidgeon. But it's too soon to call StarCraft II a success, compared to the original game, he says, adding that sales need to continue at this pace, reaching 10s of millions of copies sold in the next six months, to qualify. And to continue its success in the long-term, the company will need to expand further into digital and online distribution, he says. Still, in the short term, Pidgeon says, "they're doing great."

Essentially, StarCraft players control an army of human space marines (the Terran), swarms of aliens (the Zerg), or a technologically advanced army of human-like psychics (the Protoss), while looking at the battle map from a bird's-eye view. StarCraft players must collect resources to construct new buildings and train new soldiers, and then direct those soldiers into battle. It plays like a game of speed chess, but one in which you and your opponents constantly move pieces around the board instead of taking turns.

Spotlight on South Korea

Nowhere is StarCraft's popularity more evident than in South Korea. The original game sold 4.5 million copies in the country, by far StarCraft's biggest market, and spawned careers in professional gaming for hundreds of young Korean men. That's right: The country has professional StarCraft teams, and they're sponsored by some of South Korea's leading companies, including technology giant Samsung.

While most pro players earn an average of $20,000 a year, which is slightly higher than the average salary in South Korea, top players such as Lee Young Ho, aka Flash, and former champion, Lim Yo-Hwan, aka BoxeR, make much more. Lee claims he makes $250,000 per year and Lim boasts a salary of nearly $400,000 per year. What makes them worth the big bucks? Top players can perform more than 300 "actions per minute," meaning 300 different clicks on individual buildings or soldiers, along with the moves to direct those units around the map.

Watching a professional game often means staring at a battle map as a green cursor blurs across the screen. But watching these games is one of South Korea's favorite pastimes. In 2005, nearly 120,000 fans came out to watch the SKY pro league finals, and many more watch every day on television. Videogaming is the second-most popular spectator sport in the country, behind soccer.