Hello, my name is Jeremy, and I'm an esports addict.
Specifically a Starcraft esports addict. I've never been a great player, but since the very first time I saw a Replay With Audio file online, I've been hooked. The whole idea of listening to someone commentate a match was incredibly exciting to me, and I grabbed every .rwa file from Manifesto7's site and others until I had listed to them all. To try and satisfy my fix, I even made my own .rwa files, which thankfully for everyone have vanished from the universe.
Later I found TeamLiquid, and started seeing VODs posted from Korean matches. The fact that the pro scene even existed blew my mind. Then when Tasteless started commenting Brood War games on GOMTV, I watched those, and was deeply depressed when they went away. Little did I know that Starcraft II and the GSL were just around the corner. For those first crazy couple of years I lost tons of sleep staying up to watch GSL matches live. I wrote about my addiction for Ars Technica and got all wiggly when Artosis and Tasteless both tweeted a link to the article.
In the back of my mind there was always this crazy dream, to follow Nick and Dan to Korea and somehow become a Starcraft pro player and commentator. But it was only a dream-- I was too old, for starters, and I had a wife and bills to pay. I sometimes wished that I was younger, and better at the game, and more involved with the scene that I could only watch from afar. But I had a decent job that I enjoyed at a great company, and I wasn't going to give that up.
Every year or so, our company organizes a summit, where everyone from the Dublin, Vancouver, and Shanghai offices all come together for a week in a hotel conference center to collaborate and learn from each other. This year I heard rumblings about a Call of Duty tournament, with the finals held in the main conference hall. Call of Duty is the main title that we are responsible for at Demonware, in terms of developing, testing, and hosting the multi-player functionality. Suddenly I had an idea.
I set up a spreadsheet where anyone could organize a tournament of the game of their choice, emailed out the link to the whole company, and filled in the first tab of the sheet with a Starcraft tournament. I chose Starcraft: Remastered over Starcraft II for a few reasons: the power of nostalgia, the more stable meta compared Starcraft II to help people who haven't played in a while, the lower system requirements for older laptops that IT had available, and because it was easier to explain the game to an audience who might not be familiar with it-- the smaller battles caused by the 12-unit selection cap are a bit easier to follow. I still love Starcraft II, and if I did this again I would probably choose it instead for variety. Listen to Tastosis-- love both games!
In Vancouver, where I'm from, eight people signed up. I used Challonge to randomly assign people against each other in a single-elim bracket. The other two offices had enough people for each to determine a winner by themselves. The idea was to have the Dublin champion play the Shanghai champion and then the winner would go up against the Vancouver champion. I worked with the Admin team to book the conference room on Thursday (the day before the COD finals) from 6-9, after the main conference events of the day. IT was a huge help-- my man Kevin personally drove the equipment (laptops, keyboards, mice, game consoles for other games, etc) from the office to the hotel.
The tournaments got set up quickly-- we had Starcraft at one table, FIFA at another, some Rocket League, even a little impromptu Hearthstone. It felt very grassroots. We had pizza and snacks available and got a good crowd together. I didn't have time to eat, as I was discovering that running even a small tournament is just as much work as everyone says it is.
Oh, did I mention I signed up to play, as well?
I'm old and a bad player, but I wasn't going to turn down this opportunity. In my first game, I was so nervous that I was forgetting how to do basic things and move units around, and my mouse moved the screen around wildly at seemingly random moments. Fortunately my opponent was also having similar problems. I ended up winning the series with a cheeky cannon rush.
In the second series I was up against Pat, who was taking the tournament seriously. In the first game he destroyed me with his solid TvP strategy, good unit control, and about double my APM. By the second game, I was in full tryhard mode. I felt like the rest of the world was disappearing, and it was just me and the game. I did things that I had never done in a real game, like reaver shuttle micro, that almost worked. He slowly wore me down and won the game and the series 2-0, but he was exhausted and shaking after the final game. I shook hands and took a look at the end game screen. It had been a long game, and my overall APM was 120. I know, I know, but I had literally never played over 100 APM over a full Starcraft game in my entire life before. I lost, but I almost felt like I had won.
The crowd gathers
Pat went on to the finals, and I wasn't sure what to do. I wanted to cast it for people, but there were still other games going on. Would anyone care about watching it? I plugged my laptop into the big projector screen and joined the game in observer mode. Kevin handed me a microphone and people started to move their chairs into rows behind the screen. Holy crap, this was really happening!
First up: casting is hard. Secondly: casting is really really hard! I always had the greatest respect for Tasteless and Artosis and all the Starcraft casters before, but after this I think they are probably literal gods. We didn't have proper soundproofing, so I had to try and convey things to the audience without giving things away like hidden expansions. Then, just to make it like a real esports event, we had a power failure! One of the laptops ran out of batteries (there are never enough chargers for everyone) and we had to regame. We were also running out of time, as the hotel staff were coming at 9:00 to take everything down. And when the low power warning on my laptop showed up on the big screen, it added even more drama. Tony, a semifinalist, came running up with his own charger to save the day.
That's me in the bottom right corner, casting the finals!
The final game was epic. Pat was Terran and Andrew from Shanghai was Zerg, a classic matchup, and the game itself was incredible. From a barely-failed bunker rush, to a scrambled defense from the ling counter-attack, to a mass ling/lurker drop in the main that literally made the crowd go "OOOOH", it was a beautiful and long game. Pat won and ran up to lift the trophy to mass applause. The replay shows that the game finished at 8:58 PM.
I felt like all my esports dreams had come true. I have to thank everyone at my company who helped out, especially Kevin, and all the cool people who showed up to watch. The COD tournament finals happened the next day in front of the whole company, and was a resounding success thanks to some amazing pro commentary from Dominique (that's a whole other story!) But I like to think that our little grassroots tournament the night before helped set the stage for the bigger spectacle.
The epic trophy. Note the "SCdw".
Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I'm so glad that I got to help make it happen. I work in a pretty cool place, and I get to work with some amazing people. And for one day, I got to live out my dreams.