The Korean eSports Association has discontinued StarCraft ProLeague, the world's longest-running esports league, and will no longer operate five of the seven participating teams, including SK Telecom T1, KT Rolster, CJ Entus, MVP and Samsung Galaxy.
"The decision to put the past 14 years behind us and discontinue ProLeague was a difficult one, and it deeply saddens me to have to also bring you the news that KeSPA will be stopping its operations of ProLeague teams," KeSPA chairman Jun ByungHun said in statement posted to Facebook. "Although ProLeague has ended, StarCraft will continue to be a globally competitive eSport."
ProLeague has run continuously since 2003, featuring StarCraft: Brood War until 2011 before switching over to StarCraft 2. At the time of its shutdown, it was Korea's only premier team league, and the most competitive team league in the world.
In addition to running ProLeague, KeSPA managed the teams that competed in it on behalf of sponsor organizations like SKT T1 and KT Rolster.
Though KeSPA's initial post did not name the five teams that they would no longer manage, a report from FOMOS' Kim "kenzi" Yong Woo names SKT, KT, CJ Entus, Samsung Galaxy and MVP as those affected. Of the remaining two teams that played this season, Afreeca Freecs remain undecided about their future, while 2016 ProLeague champions Jin Air Green Wings have committed to keeping their StarCraft 2 team alive.
None of the teams have made official statements as of 9 a.m. ET on Oct. 18, which leaves it unclear what will become of their sponsored players. The five teams collectively represent eight of the Top 10 players on the WCS Korea leaderboards, as well as 64 percent of the Top 50. Their disbandment may mean that top players including SKT T1's Classic, Dark and INnoVation, KT Rolster's Stats, TY and Zest, and Samsung Galaxy's Solar and Dear have all become teamless less than two weeks before the WCS Global Playoffs at BlizzCon.
Following the announcement, SKT's MyuNgSiK, ranked 10th on the WCS Korea standings, announced that he is retiring from SC2 to join Team First Heroic's Overwatch team. According to a report from kenzi, SKT's Sorry has also retired.
On Facebook, ByungHun said KeSPA would work with its partners to support the individuals competing at BlizzCon.
He said that KeSPA made the difficult decision to shut down the league after many efforts to improve sponsorship and team participation fell through. He cited "the drop in the number of ProLeague teams and players, difficulty securing league sponsors and match-fixing issues" as reasons for the move.
"Behind the excitement, [ProLeague] also had its share of hurdles that we as its organizers had to overcome. We had faced challenges that hindered ProLeagues operations including the acute drop in global eSports sponsorships in 2008 caused by the global financial crisis, the first case of eSports match-fixing, and declining number of teams," he wrote.
ByungHun said KeSPA tried to create better broadcast conditions, increased sales of broadcast rights, cooperated with non-Korean league organizers and secured a partnership with Jin Air Green Wings to improve the league's financial situation, but ultimately it was not enough.
"I did my best with the association and its partner companies to improve ProLeague and market conditions," the statement continues. "We looked far and near for all possibilities."
More news on this as it develops.
Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking
Abaddon Slardar Clinkz Medusa Oracle a P90 my Souvenir Negev. You can follow him on Twitter.