Fans swarm for StarCraft II expansion pack

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Fans swarm for StarCraft II expansion pack


People line up in front of Uniqlo-Ax building in eastern Seoul yesterday waiting to get their hands on the first limited edition of the StarCraft II expansion pack Heart of the Swarm. By Lee Ho-jeong

A group of young men and women in their 20s and 30s had been in line in front of Uniqlo-Ax, a multicultural space, in Gwangjang, eastern Seoul, since Saturday.

They were waiting to get their hands on the international release of StarCraft II’s first expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm, as promised by Mike Morhaime, co-founder and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, during his visit late last year.

The last time so many gamers lined up was in May when Blizzard released Diablo III. It created such a phenomenon that even an elderly woman bought a copy.

The Korean game market has been uniquely beloved by developers, especially American company Blizzard, which also produced Diablo and World of Warcraft.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty made its global debut in Seoul.

Blizzard has also ramped up marketing targeting Korean gamers, including enhanced social networking and additional exclusive experience bonuses.

“StarCraft is most popular here, and Korean players are most passionate,” said Matt Schembari, senior software engineer at Blizzard, when asked why StarCraft II was releasing its first expansion pack in Korea. “It’s amazing and humbling to watch Korean fans firsthand,” Schembari added. “When we work we have Korea constantly on our mind.”

The strategy online game has sold more than 11 million copies since 1998, and 4.5 million of those were in Korea, taking the country by storm. With the help of widespread of PC rooms in the late 1990s, StarCraft dominated the market.

The popularity of the game helped widen the establishment of e-sports as the game played by professionals was on cable TV and became a cultural phenomenon.

However, StarCraft’s popularity is no longer what it was. Three years ago, Blizzard tried to reignite the excitement by unleashing StarCraft II, the first sequel in 12 years.

The game was enhanced from 2-D to 3-D graphics and sold 3 million copies worldwide in the month after its release. Still, StarCraft II is not among the top 20 games played at PC rooms.

When the StarCraft II was launched in 2010, developers said they would add three expansion packs - Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void.

One of the biggest features of the expansion pack is enhanced social networking, which is a feature that was absent in the “Wings of Liberty.”

“[Heart of the Swarm] continues the epic with a full campaign and story,” said Schembari, “On the multiplayer side, the game is a lot easier and more social so you can play with your friends.”

In fact, the “players near me,” feature was introduced by Morhaime during his visit last year. It is designed for Korean players who spend most of their time at PC rooms. The system allows users to find nearby players such as PC rooms and college dorms.

Another notable feature of the game is “unranked matchmaking,” which allows players to play without being ranked. They can also practice against the computer.

“With Heart of the Swarm, our goal has been to expand on the multiplayer action and cinematic storytelling of Wings of Liberty,” he said last year.

“Combined with features like unranked matchmaking and our new leveling system, this expansion elevates the StarCraft II experience for players of all skill levels,” he added.

Blizzard Korea handed out 2,000 limited edition copies of the expansion pack yesterday. The listed editions are valued at 75,000 won ($68), twice the 36,000 won retail price of the nonlimited edition. Uniqlo-Ax hall was crowded with gamers whose eyes were fixed on a demo game held during the launching party, which lasted four hours until 11 p.m.

“As the first StarCraft was able to gain wide popularity and was loved by so many players for more than a decade with the expansion pack Brood War, we hope [StarCraft II] will enjoy similar affection,” said a Blizzard Korea official.

By Lee Ho-jeong []
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