MBCGame was a South Korean cable television company mostly known for its MBCGame StarCraft League (MSL), which was, along with the OnGameNet Starleague (OSL), the most highlighted premier individual events of the Brood War era. In cooperation with OnGameNet, MBCGame held the Proleagues, a series of premier team leagues. MBCGame discontinued operations in 2012 to switch to a music format.
Fans celebrated MBCGame's history and contributions to the community with a memoriam.
History: In Context and Relationship with OnGameNet
On February 1st, 2012, Korean cable gaming channel MBCGame ceased operations. During its eleven year run, MBCGame was best known for holding the MBCGame Starcraft League (MSL), a pillar of the professional StarCraft: Brood War competition in Korea. Though professional Brood War was the channel's primary focus, it also produced a large variety of gaming and esports related programming, and helped sustain the Korean Warcraft III and Tekken scenes for a number of years. Declining viewer numbers became a concern in later years and, in 2011, parent company MBC Plus Media made the decision to replace MBCGame with a music-focused channel.
From its launch in 2001, MBCGame could not avoid being defined through comparison with its primary competitor, OnGameNet. OnGameNet had been founded in 2000 as a spin-off from Anime channel Tooniverse, after its ventures into televising tournaments of Blizzard Entertainment's hit game Starcraft ended up being successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
The two companies would form a curious, competitive relationship. The early years of competition were fraught with frequent format tweaks to their flagship programs, the OnGameNet Starleague (OSL) and MBCGame Starcraft League (MSL), as the two tournaments sought to find a formula that would distinguish themselves from their competitor. During this period, MBCGame and OnGameNet even refused to refer to each other by name on air, calling their rival's tournaments "other leagues" instead. At other times, they looked like allies of circumstance, as in 2007 when KeSPA seized control of the broadcasting rights to the Proleague (the primary team level competition in Korea) and sold them back to the two broadcasters, which had helped lay the foundations for the Proleague with their own team competitions in 2003.
In the end, MBCGame would always be second-place in the eyes of Starcraft fans, as the OSL's longer history, combined with OnGameNet's superior promotion, made sure the Starleague never gave up its reputation as the first, and the best tournament. Incidents such as the 2009 NATE MSL finals – in which the power for a player's computer went out due to a production oversight (the culprit was a space heater plugged into the same line as the computer) – and the Warcraft III map tampering scandal – in which an unscrupulous producer secretly altered unit stats in an attempt to influence race balance – made MBCGame look like a well intentioned, but sometimes fatally incompetent, challenger.
Despite this, MBCGame created a unique Starcraft identity that resonated with many fans. The OSL's strength was its reputation for creating the most dramatic storylines, with moments such as Kim "Effort" Jung Woo impossibly coming back from 0 – 2 down against Lee "Flash" Young Ho, or Heo "JangBi" Yeong Mu finally winning a championship after five hard years being important parts of its legacy. To the viewers, the OSL was the place for pipe dreams and fairy tales.
On the other hand, the MSL was the reality from which these dreams could sprout. The five 'Golden Badge' (awarded to three time MSL Champions) winners served as accurate representations of the Starcraft powers of their day, with Lee "Nada" Yoon Yeol (2002), Choi "iloveoov" Yeon Seong (2003 – 2004), Ma "sAviOr" Jae Yoon (2005 – 2006), Kim "Bisu" Taek Yong (2007-2008), and Flash (2009 – 2011) being considered the standards of excellence to aspire to – and also as nigh insurmountable challenges – during their championship reigns.
In a way, MBCGame as a channel resembled their progaming team MBCGame Hero (founded in 2006). Both suffered from a chronic lack of funds and were distinctly rough around the edges. Despite this, both were beloved by Starcraft fans for letting the best Starcraft players show their abilities to the world.
GeMBC's flagship tournament was the KPGA 1st Tour, a tournament that borrowed the name of the eponymous Korean Pro-Gaming Association (the previous embodiment of KeSPA). The KPGA was another new organization that had sprung up following the explosive success of Brood War in South Korea, and their cooperation with GeMBC was an attempt for both organizations to gain relevance in the eyes of the fans (in that respect, it was a venture that would pay off for both down the road, though their perceptions in the public eye would diverge greatly).
The first four KPGA Tours were series of monthly tournaments held through August and November of 2001, and alongside MBCGame's broadcast of WorldCyberGames 2001, they amounted to dress rehearsals for more serious competitions. In 2002, the KPGA Tour expanded to compete directly with the OnGameNet Starleague – the Starcraft tournament par excellence – making the important change of extending its duration to a similar two to three months. In 2003, the channel would change its name to MBCGame, and rechristen the KPGA Tour as the MBCGame Starcraft League (MSL) – the name it would keep for eight years and over twenty more tournaments.
MBCGame unveiled the KPGA Team League (later renamed MBCGame Team League) in 2003, making it the first major team level competition in professional Brood War. The Team League introduced the popular all-kill format, a king of the hill style of play. By allowing a single player to defeat many opponents in a row, the best players of the day were able to demonstrate their prowess, while lesser known players had the opportunity to make themselves known by going on a hot streak. Though the format disappeared temporarily after KeSPA combined the MBCGame Team League and OnGameNet Proleague into the unified KeSPA Proleague, it later made a partial return by popular request.
After its release in 2002, MBCGame started to air Warcraft III tournaments with both individual competition and clan-based competition. Following its initial success, MBCGame made a strong commitment to Warcraft III in 2003, branding its individual league as the 'Prime League' and giving it its own dedicated website – an investment not even made for the MSL. The refocused Prime League gained a surprising cult following and lasted for five seasons.
However, in 2005, the Prime League was rocked by scandal. One of the head producers of the Prime League had been tampering with the maps behind the scenes, slightly strengthening the Orc race while weakening the Night Elves – respectively the under and over-represented races in the league at the time. The discredited Prime League shut down in the aftermath, halting the momentum in the growing Korean Warcraft III scene. Though MBCGame would attempt to reboot its Warcraft III efforts in 2007 with its World War series, there was not enough interest to sustain it for an extended period of time.
In October of 2005, MBCGame started what would become one of its longest running programs in Star Muhan Dojun (Infinite Challenge). The program featured MBCGame's broadcast personalities (and the occasional progamer guest) playing popular Starcraft 'Use Map Settings' games, while mic'd up to provide entertaining banter. Though MBCGame would produce many other programs in the same 'variety' category as Star Muhan Dojun, none would replicate its success. Star Muhan Dojun would last for over six years and three hundred-episodes. The program went off the air in January of 2012, outlasting the MSL to become the last iconic MBCGame program to shut down.
By 2006, the focus of professional Starcraft in Korea had shifted from individual leagues to the team level competition of the unified KeSPA Proleague. MBCGame decided to expand its involvement in the Starcraft scene, and acquired the talent-filled, but impoverished, progaming team Pirates of Space and converted it into MBCGame Hero. MBCGame Hero would go on to have a great deal of success as one of the lowest budget teams in progaming, becoming Proleague champions in the very same year.
In 2009, MBCGame capitalized on South Korea's rich Tekken scene by starting the Tekken Crash League. Though South Korean players had been widely considered the best Tekken players in the world for over a decade, there had been no regular, serious competition inside Korea itself. The Tekken Crash league gained a considerable cult following similar to the Prime League of the past, and remained a mainstay of MBCGame's programming over two years and eight seasons until MBCGame's shut-down was confirmed.
Towards the end of 2011, rumors began to circulate that MBC Plus Media was planning to close MBCGame and convert it to a music channel. Although MBCGame representatives denied that any certain decision had been made, MBC Plus Media would eventually file for an official channel change to be completed in February of 2012. Some pointed to declining ratings as the reason for the decision, as both OnGameNet and MBCGame had struggled to retain their peak audiences from the mid 2000's. Others suggested that the image of professional Starcraft had taken too big a hit from the match-fixing scandal of 2010, and that MBC Plus Media had lost interest in supporting professional gaming.
MBCGame was sent off with a five part special series, 'Adieu, MBCGame.' The final episode ended with the following words:
MBCGame (MBCGame Memoriam)