Scavenger Hunt Task 3A: 2012 Global StarCraft League Semifinals!
I hope you’re all sitting down because I have something really shocking to report: living in Korea is EXHAUSTING. I know! Who could have guessed?!? As a result of this general fatigue that is the by-product of doing anything in this country, I’ve fallen behind on my reportage. But I have a new strategy that I am borrowing from HCB and his years of dissertation work: write outside of the home, far from bed and books and easy internet and dishes that need washing and the other thousand things that can distract from storytelling.
So here I am at Palazzo del Freddo in Dongdaemun, sipping on an appalling café Americano and listening to the new Madonna single (eewwww).
Although there are MANY stories on the docket, I must talk about the StarCraft tournament HCB and I went to last week. Scavenger Hunt Task 3A was, as expected, a little bit bananas. We were escorted there by the gracious boyfriend of one of HCB’s colleagues who has been in Korea for a few months. With his help navigating the bus system, nothing interesting and traumatic happened on the way to the GOMTV studio, which is housed, strangely enough, in a high school. The location makes one wonder what the Korean government would think of American municipalities banning soda machines in schools. There seems to be very little ground left to fight for when the gaming studio is renting out the first floor—The gaming is coming from inside the house!—but I suppose I shouldn’t be too much of a grump about things.
The studio itself—although not capacious—was well appointed. There were two pairs of commentators broadcasting simultaneously, one in English and one in Korean. Between the two camera setups was a mob of spectators with hand-drawn signs and more enthusiasm than most die-hard sports fans. The median age of the crowd seemed to be about 15, and although some were pimply and clearly virginal, it was not an entirely geeky affair. Or, rather, our fellow audience members did not code as traditionally “geeky” in the ways an uninitiated American would expect. And there were even a few young women in the crowd!
We sat near the back of the audience because even though we were there well ahead of time, our curiosity was nothing when compared to the ardor in that room. People were stoked. And well they should be because the competitors were competing for the Global StarCraft League’s grand prize of close to $100,000 dollars. Essentially, this is the big time. With so much on the line, the sponsors—Blizzard Entertainment and Hot6ix*—had tricked out the set in that post-Star Trek, grungy space aesthetic that is so popular these days. Think Battlestar Galactica with red gels on all the lights. The competitors were sequestered in cockpit-esque gaming pods with StarCraft branded everything, but other than that, the whole situation had the air of a fight scene from a Rockie movie: the steely-eyed focus, the weathered trainers giving tips and back massages, the bone rattling techno music. And that was even before the actual gameplay had begun!
After staring, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, as everything unfolded around us, the match finally began. I won’t do a blow-by-blow because that would be bad storytelling, but it was actually surprisingly interesting to watch. A student of mine back in the US described professional StarCraft gaming as being something akin to speed chess on steroids. Where there are 32 pieces on a chessboard and a mere 64 possible positions, in StarCraft, there can be HUNDREDS of pieces in play and I don’t even know how many possible positions. Thinking about it that way, I found it much easier to take the game seriously. And the players are pretty impressive too. The number of discrete commands that each person issues is generally between 250-400 per minute. That’s craziness! Because of the extreme dexterity required, apparently StarCraft players age out at about 22. After that you’re just a used up husk. I guess, I missed my chance!
I have to admit it… I kind of enjoyed video game spectatorship. And if somehow I find myself at home with nothing to do this Saturday, I might, maybe, accidentally turn on the English channel and watch the finals to see who wins. Just for the commentary, of course! I’m actually really curious about the analysis. What can an expert see in that blur of activity? To me it was just pretty graphics dancing on the screen. I know. I’ve caught the nerd bug.
Who am I kidding, here? If I’m being REALLY generous with myself, I can claim my nerdiness has lain dormant since high school, but anything more is a total lie. I’m a nerd. Although I doubt this will become my new pastime, it was certainly an experience. Especially when you consider that the whole thing is basically an elaborate commercial for a videogame.
Thanks go to Anna, Sophie and Katie for suggesting the StarCraft tournament for the scavenger hunt!
*Hot6ix—pronounced, “Hot Sex!” by the Koreans—is the “natural” grandchild of Jolt Cola (caffeinated and sold to computer geeks). At the start of each match, the crowd shouts “One, two, three, Hot Sex!” Yeah. Branding’s great, isn’t it?