The 2013 StarCraft II World Championship Series Finals. How exactly does one sum up an eight hour event, one that largely consisted of staring at two South Koreans waging war against each other with virtual armies?
It was, in a word, great.
A friend and I arrived at the Toronto Congress Centre a few minutes before 1:00 PM, and stepped into an immense room that was already largely full. There had to be at least 1,500 people there when we arrived, and hundreds more would wander in as things began. Everyone was concentrated either on the stage, if they had good seats, or five four-foot-wide screens on the left and right, or the huge screen you saw upon entering the venue, in front of which were seats for VIP members only.
I expected a few things from the final matches of a video game tournament, but I can assure you that one of them was not the noise. Right next to where they were giving out wristbands in exchange for tickets was a man selling thundersticks, which are essentially just two inflatable sticks representing one of the three StarCraft races. These could be beaten together to create a din like you would not believe, and beat them people did.
Up on stage sat the two main casters, Sean Plott and Andre Hengchua, or, as the crowd knew them better by, Day and Gretorp. They did a lot to get the energy up, including beginning a long-running joke about how we prefer the city to be referred to as “Toronto, Ontario” instead of the more general “Toronto, Canada.” After a few other niceties to herald the finals we were off, and the first match began.
Now, I don’t really want to go into the specifics of who won what during the quarter finals and on, but what I do want to underscore is the experience of the entire thing. I’ve only been to a handful of sporting events in my life, and never really cared much for them, but this? This was something entirely different.
I’m pretty well-versed in the ins and outs of the game, though I don’t play it personally, and used to watch matches almost every day. Never really with others, though. Never with a crowd that cheered so loudly they drowned out the gargantuan speakers hanging above us, never sitting and standing next to people who vocally [and sometimes physically] reacted to every single engagement or close call.
Each round was best of 5, and at the outset of every game we clapped our hands and thundersticks for each player, growing faster and louder until we erupted in scattered applause. Best of all was the cheering midway through some games, with the obvious favourite made painfully clear.
Let’s go Soulkey! [clap clap clap-clap-clap]
Let’s go Soulkey! [clap clap clap-clap-clap]
LET’S GO SOULKEY! [CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP]
The filler in between games was great, as well, with the event-coordinators doing what they could as players got ready, or when technical difficulties arose. The commentators analyzed the game that just ended or speculated on the one about to start, a prerecorded interview with the players was aired [with English subtitles, of course] asking which of their peers they would most like to body check, and Day even signed a fan’s math book.
Before the final match started between Soulkey [Kim Min Chul, playing Zerg] and Dear [Baek Dong Jun, playing Protoss] we were treated to a little something I absolutely did not see coming. Temp0, a rapper who I knew through his StarCraft II songs on Youtube, performed three songs live. The following, in particular, was a pretty big hit:
But really, at the end of the night, after the final nail-biting games, what really stayed with me was the sense of camaraderie I felt. There was the cheering, there were the signs that people made and waved at the cameras that panned around the room, there was knowing that the people to your left and right were wincing and ooh-ing when a Terran Dropship was sniped just before it could make it out of range.
I can’t even explain how great it was seeing that the audience was 2-3% women, and that a good amount of them weren’t just tagging along with their boyfriends, or describe the joy of sitting on a bus back to the subway station listening to people marvelling at those games, at the players’ skill.
It was my first time ever experiencing something like that, and I definitely don’t want it to be the last time. Watching video games in general, much less alongside a crowd of hundreds, may not be your thing, but if it is these events do exist, and I strongly recommend checking them out. Sports as a whole are well-known across the board, but the fact is that eSports are just as real, and has an audience that grows larger every day.