×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Blizzard won't release StarCraft 3

It might be difficult to imagine now, but Blizzard's StarCraft series was one of the earliest to lay a foundation for what would later come to be known as esports. Though games like Dota 2 and League of Legends now dominate the discussion of professional video game playing, there was a time in the late 1990s when it was basically QuakeStarCraft, or bust.

StarCraft 2 followed up on its predecessor's success in a lot of ways, but the esports scene is a lot different, and RTS games aren't as innovative as they used to be. The status of StarCraft 2 currently begs the question: will Blizzard make a StarCraft 3 sooner rather than later? 

To us, however, it's not a question of when, but if. There are a lot of different reasons that StarCraft 2 might be the last game in the series, ranging from how pros are currently being treated and the way Blizzard has managed its current stable of StarCraft titles.

StarCraft 2 is doing better than you think

StarCraft 2 had a bit of a reputation as a dying game a few years back, but thanks to a few smart changes from Blizzard, it's currently rebounding. To be fair, it's not the most original idea, but StarCraft 2's War Chest has helped the pro scene immensely. War Chest is a season crowdfunding program that is remarkably similar to Dota 2's Battle Passes; purchasing a chest gets you a host of in-game goodies. 25% of proceeds from the War Chest go directly to the game's professional scene, helping infuse it with the kind of money that attracts sponsors and talent — not to mention viewers, who are tuning in to StarCraft 2 in encouraging numbers.

StarCraft 2 is also free-to-play now, with Blizzard making profit from it through War Chest purchases. The ease of accessibility for the game makes it easier to try, meaning it has a better chance of attracting new fans. A growing game means more sponsors, which means more pros, which creates more fans — a cycle that any esport is happy to nurture.

With a resurgent pro scene, StarCraft 2 is rebounding from a few down years. It wouldn't make sense to pull the trigger on a StarCraft 3 after all the work that's gone into saving its predecessor.

Blizzard's expansion model works

Whether you're a World of Warcraft fan or not, you've got to be impressed by the game's staying power. Blizzard is simply the best at extending a game's lifespan through the use of expansion content, delivering new adventures that often feel as though they'd be worthy of a separate game release anyways.

The same is true of StarCraft 2, which has seen two expansions already in Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. Both expansions have created their own eras in competitive play, introducing a number of new units and gameplay options.

If there's an eventual problem with StarCraft 2, Blizzard can just patch it up. The developer is constantly adjusting each race's units, and if it wants to add new ones, it knows what to do: deliver another expansion to shake the game up. It's a similar strategy to the one the developer employed with Diablo 3, whose initial release largely disappointed fans, only to be saved by expansion content addressing the game's biggest issues.

Blizzard has already done a major overhaul of StarCraft 2

Prior to Legacy of the Void, Blizzard had a choice to make. It wasn't a new phenomenon, but League of Legends had surpassed StarCraft 2 in South Korea as its most played and viewed game, and more esports titles began to vie for the rest of the game's fan base. What could the company do to make StarCraft 2 more appealing to modern viewers?

The answer was simple, but brilliant: Blizzard sped things up to keep pace with the viewership experience of its competitors. Legacy of the Void increased worker count at the start of the game, making new and exciting build orders possible earlier in the game. New units, like the Zerg ravager, were introduced with a heavy focus on micro rather than macro skills. Suddenly, StarCraft 2 was an intense playing experience from minute one, rather than the slow and plodding build-up to big exchanges in the mid-to-late game that it had been previously.

The result has been a game that looks very little like it did when Wings of Liberty first came out in 2010. That's a good thing, and it shows that Blizzard is still very much invested in the success of StarCraft 2. In a lot of ways, Legacy of the Void is likely what a StarCraft 3 would have looked like anyways.

StarCraft Remastered proves Blizzard isn't even done with Brood War

How is a company supposed to release a third title when they're still supporting the first?

Obviously that's hyperbolic, but in the context of StarCraft, the remastered version of the original is strong evidence that Blizzard has no interest in a StarCraft 3.

While there were rumors that StarCraft 2 was initially intended to replace Brood War altogether, that's clearly not the plan now. Blizzard has recognized the value in keeping Brood War popular, and has expanded its ambition beyond South Korean PC bangs. The company recently announced the creation of a global StarCraft: Remastered series, with the intention of creating a tournament setting where international players can hone their craft. Not only that, but Blizzard's tournament series is explicitly designed to be welcoming to aspiring professional players rather than those who are already pros.

Ultimately, attracting a bunch of new talent to a game that isn't even your most recent iteration of a franchise sends a strong signal that StarCraft 3 isn't even on Blizzard's radar at the moment.

The RTS genre is basically dead

RTS games just don't have the same esports clout that they used to have. Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2, and CS:GO are some of the most consistently popular titles on Twitch. None of them really resemble RTS games, despite MOBAs having their roots in the genre.

Beyond that, there just isn't a lot of innovation in recent RTS titles. The time between major releases in the genre is widening, and older games like Warcraft 3 are actually putting up the best stream numbers, indicating that fans prefer classics to many of the newest titles.

Looking at it from Blizzard's perspective, the idea of StarCraft 3 somehow revitalizing the genre is even more absurd. The company already owns three of the most popular titles in the genre, including two of them in StarCraft: Remastered and Warcraft 3 that are over a decade old. It's clear that fans don't expect much from RTS games at this point, and Blizzard is better off occasionally refining what they already have rather than trying to resurrect a genre that's been left behind by time.

StarCraft is too hard for newer players to understand

When it comes to making a splash in competitive games, presenting an easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master set of mechanics is crucial. That's why Dota 2 is re-examining its newcomer experience, and why League of Legends was so appealing when it first appeared with a relatively small roster of heroes.

Both those games can lean into the fact that they require teams, though, and that it is easier to learn through experience and being carried. StarCraft does not have that luxury; it is a game that is brutal in its treatment of new players, and its main competitive mode is 1v1, meaning there aren't as many chances to learn by watching teammates make some nice plays. As recently as Heart of the Swarm, even some of the game's pro players thought StarCraft 2 was too hard.

Part of this argument circles back to the previous one. Why would players pick up something like a StarCraft 3 when there are games with more resources and more opportunities to learn?

Games like StarCraft will always appeal to a certain subset of competitive gamer, the kind that doesn't mind sinking hours of their life into a title just to be less than horrifically bad at it. That demographic isn't going anywhere, but it also isn't big enough to sustain a new game, and it's a tough sell recruiting a new player base with promises of torment and years of being routinely victimized on the online ladder.

Losing pros to other games is a real possibility

Picture this: StarCraft 3 is announced by Blizzard at BlizzCon 2019, and will debut sometime in early 2020. That's not a very long turnaround period, so the game will have had to be in development for quite some time for this scenario to happen in the first place. Even if it were possible, though, it would still represent months of a weird, StarCraft 2-is-getting-replaced-soon period of time that would have players questioning their commitment to the game that already exists.

It isn't hard to imagine a lot of StarCraft 2 players migrating over to a new game if that happens. StarCraft 2 has its fair share of prize money, but it pales in comparison to top-tier League of Legends tournaments. Given that some StarCraft 2 players have already jumped ship to varying levels of success, the idea of having to learn a new version of the game in StarCraft 3 might send flocks of talented pros into the waiting arms of a competitor.

We're only just seeing pros getting regular sponsorships and teammates to work with again in StarCraft 2. Risking that on a new game in the series would be a gamble that pro players likely wouldn't receive too well.

StarCraft's story has wrapped up

Part of the appeal of a series like StarCraft is Blizzard's ability to make players care about who they're playing as. Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan are two of the most iconic Blizzard characters ever, and their saga in the StarCraft games is full of the kinds of twists and turns that make for a memorable story.

Unfortunately for fans, though, that story is basically done. Legacy of the Void wrapped up nearly every single major plotline, and although it left open a few loose threads, they're the kind of story beats that would better serve a smaller expansion rather than a whole new game. Raynor and Kerrigan (or a hallucination of her) got to walk off into the sunset, and the Big Bad behind the series' war has been resoundingly defeated.

It's not that Blizzard couldn't tell a compelling story about StarCraft still. It's more that a return to those same characters would feel like going back just for the sake of doing it and creating more content. The natural conclusion of these characters' storylines was one of the most satisfying things about sticking with StarCraft from its humble beginnings, and bringing back Raynor and Kerrigan for another adventure would feel like Blizzard cheapening their legacy. Given that it's Blizzard, a company that doesn't usually do things cheaply, StarCraft 3 might not be possible simply because its story has already been told.

Blizzard has pushed strategy design to its limit

Finally, we arrive at what might be the most compelling reason to avoid doing a StarCraft 3: Blizzard was just too good at creating the first two titles and their respective expansions.

The confines of what fans expect from StarCraft are such that there's only so many truly radical changes Blizzard can make to the game without it becoming a new IP in its own right. Legacy of the Void shook things up without completely altering any of the game's most fundamental mechanics, and fans are still debating about whether or not the expansion is truly StarCraft 2. There's only so many well-designed units a developer can make before the game becomes a build order lottery.

Blizzard has indicated before that the company feels like there's more to do with the StarCraft universe, including more Nova-based games. Even if there is more StarCraft coming in the future, it's hard to believe it'll be a true StarCraft 3 rather than something new, like an FPS or attempt at the long-rumored StarCraft MMO.

Either way, though, there's only so much RTSing one company can do, and it feels like Blizzard has arrived at the end of it. Whatever the future is for the Terran, Protoss, and Zerg races, it doesn't look like we'll be watching it through the lens of the series' familiar UI and map pools.