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Stormgate Nexus

Frost Giant Announce Global Esports Circuit

by Philip 'BeoMulf' Mulford

Frost Giant Announce Global Esports Circuit

Hot on the heels of Frost Giant's announcement that Kakao Games would be publishing Stormgate in Korea, Studio execs Tim Morten and Cara LaForge flew out to the longtime Mecca of esports to spread the good word in person. If you've been following Stormgate's development for a while now, a most information is old news - things like the monetization system composed of skins, heroes, and mission packs, the four pillars of focus, etc. However, buried within all this is exciting information about upcoming Co-Op heroes, a first solid look at the esports plan they announced during the Stormgate Showcase in November, more insight into how they plan on easing new RTS players into the game.

Focus On Korea

It should be no surprise that Frost Giant considers South Korea key to their long-term success. If Stormgate is to gain legitimacy as a true competitor to the Starcraft/Warcraft, it's going to have to win over what Director Kim Sang-gu called the "country of RTS." To that end, they've announced the scaffolding for key partnerships with AfreecaTV in the style of the immensely popular "Starcraft University", a Korean esports league starting in spring 2025 (and Korea as one of the 6 regions for Stormgate's esports plan), grassroots PCBang competitions, and a Korean-inspired Co-Op hero designed locally in Korea. That's a big investment, but it will pay off if Stormgate can take over the netcafe ecosystem in the same way that Starcraft: Brood War or League of Legends have done in the past. A big win for Stormgate - it's free to play on Steam, so the licensing issues of Brood War are a thing of the past.

Stormgate Korean Hero
Credit: ruliweb.com

BuddyBot

If you talk to a non-RTS player about RTS games, one of the first things you'll hear is "I'm just not fast enough to play those games," or something to that effect. Frost Giant has been extremely vocal about their desire to be a game for everyone, not just the players willing to grind hundreds of hours on the 1v1 competitive ladder to be the best of the best. Part of this approach is putting as much focus on campaign, Co-Op, and custom maps as the competitive game modes, but another component is providing tools to streamline different parts of playing an RTS game. We've already seen the first prototypes of Frost Giant's auto-hotkey tech (where units produced can automatically get added to certain control groups), but they spent a lot of time at this conference talking about an AI assistant that Frost Giant is calling "BuddyBot."

Frost Giant Stormgate Celestial Units

BuddyBot is a setting that player can enable that will start building units and/or structures if a player gets above a certain bank size. Experienced RTS players will know that this isn't optimal - you'll have less control over the structures you make, the units you have, and the ability to save for a tech swap is reduced. On the flip side, for people new to the genre, having some units and getting less supply blocked is vastly superior to having no units and getting supply blocked even more. Even better, because this approach is inefficient, it provides incentive for players to improve - a player playing competitive ladder will eventually run into players that force them to abandon BuddyBot if they wish to improve, while still providing an avenue for those that just want to play campaign or Co-Op with less stress to do so.

"As Many Gardens As Possible"

On the subject of esports, Frost Giant has long argued that while esports is incredible, their primary goal is to make a great game and to let esports grow out of a grassroots swell. To quote Kim Sang-gu, "the first year, lets create as many vegetable gardens as possible." Kakao Games and Frost Giant both realize that building a large player base, and therefore a large esport, is going to be the work of years, not the work of days. That being said, Frost Giant's love for the Korean RTS scene carries through, as they've announced at a Spring and Summer regional league for South Korea starting early in 2025, on top of the other streamer partnerships mentioned earlier. It remains to be seen just how successful this will be, but Kakao, at least, seems to believe  that the Korean market is finally crying out for a new RTS 26 years after the release of the masterpiece that was Brood War.

Frost Giant Esports timeline
Credit: ruliweb.com/Google Translate

The Plan

Per their presentation, Frost Giant deeply cares about the concept of "Grassroots Esports" - allowing multiple community groups and organizers to develop their own spin on Stormgate tournaments throughout 2024. Fret not, though - the 2024 Global Championship is still in the cards, as well as whatever Kakao Games decides to run through the end of the year. That, as are many things in this announcement, is pending a date, format, and prize pool.

2025 is where it gets interesting, though. On top of the (hopefully) robust grassroots infrastructure that will develop through 2024, Frost Giant plans to develop 6 regional leagues in 2025 to supplement - we assume these would be Europe, North America, South America, Korea, Asia, and Oceania. These leagues will feed directly into the 2025 Global Championship, which is currently planned to run sometime in the middle of next year. Assuming Frost Giant pairs that Global Championship with an existing esports event (such as Dreamhack), that would potentially put the 2025 Global Championship at Dreamhack Dallas 2025 in early June.

For those of you that have been watching things, this should be roughly in line with both expectations and previous announcements. What's exciting is we now have a firm scaffold for exactly what Frost Giant plans to run.

But what about the game?

One of the easiest criticisms of Frost Giant announcing this now is that a focus on esports is nonsensical for an unfinished, unpolished game. There's some truth to this - Stormgate in the Frigate playtest was lacking the polish that Early Access or 1.0 will have, the balance isn't in place yet, and we won't have a full complement of Tier 3 units until some unknown time in Early Access.

However, Stormgate is already seeing marked esports development (EGC's $10,000 tournament during the Steam Next Fest, Adico's endless tournaments, etc), so it makes sense for Frost Giant to support that grassroots scene as much as possible in 2024 - which is exactly what they plan on doing, with the lone exception being some level of Global Championship towards the end of the year.

If Frost Giant is confident about their game, as they clearly are, this approach is the lowest investment, highest return possible. It also makes sense to lay the scaffolding for a larger ecosystem out as early as possible. Six regional leagues or a world championship take some time to pull together. Supporting grassroots events is a minimal spend that reaps significant returns in community involvement - just look at how active things like the Chobo Team League, Playhem weeklies, or the ESL Open Cups have traditionally been, both in terms of professional players and members of the community.

At the end of the day, it would be a mistake for Frost Giant to commit millions of dollars to esports at this stage of development - but it would also be a mistake to do nothing when the grassroots support for Stormgate esports is already growing. It seems like Frost Giant is taking the middle path, supporting grassroots for minimal investment, putting on one tentpole event to establish legitimacy, and working with regional partners for 2025 and beyond.

It's also important to remember that the funding for this likely will not come from the same budget that funds game development. Frost Giant has been transparent about releasing War Chests, or battle passes to fund the esports scene, for over a year now. Between their partnership with Kakao Games (clearly interested in Stormgate esports in Korea), potential international sponsors, and iniatives like War Chests, there is definitely a path to long-term Stormgate esports sustainability. The only question remains is whether Frost Giant finds it.