It's no secret that watching a streaming broadcast of the world’s top pro players facing off during a high-stakes StarCraft II tournament can make for some fantastic weekend entertainment, but nothing quite compares with the feeling of being at the venue during a live event. We recently had the pleasure of heading to Major League Gaming's 2013 Winter Championship in Dallas and thought we'd share our experience with you, to give you an idea of why so many eSports fans make the effort to attend StarCraft II tournaments in person.
Upon entering the Dallas venue for the first time, our ears quickly filled with excited chatter as people from all walks of life milled about in anticipation, waiting for the matches to begin. It’s thrilling to realize that every person in the venue—and there were thousands of them—shared our interest in watching and playing StarCraft II. Every time we get the chance to attend a tournament in person, it's this sense of community and camaraderie that fascinates us most.
It's easy to strike up a conversation when everyone enjoys the same hobby, and that's exactly how we met Patrick Tharp and Phil Oglevee; two die-hard members of the StarCraft community who strive to attend as many events as possible. After talking with them for a short while, we knew we had to find out more about their history with the scene, and just what it is that drives their passion for StarCraft II eSports.
Earlier, you were talking about all of the different MLG events you've been to. It sounds like you're really dedicated.
Patrick: Well, we’re coal miners from Pennsylvania, so we make it out to every event we can get time off work for. We’ve been able to make it to every Columbus and Raleigh event, because they're within driving distance, and most of the Dallas events because we have friends that live here.
Phil: We try our best to get out to California for the Anaheim events, and we can't always do that, but we had a great time when we did. Like you said, it's because we're very dedicated to the scene.
How many MLGs have you been to in total?
Phil: Our first event was Columbus of 2011, because that's our shortest drive. We've been out to California once. Unfortunately, we didn’t get out there last year.
Patrick: Let's see, we've been to Dallas three times so that makes . . . eight or nine, at least.
We arrived at the convention center quite early, but even so, the best seats in the house were already claimed by fans clearly more experienced at the fine art of spectating than ourselves. We sat in anxious anticipation for the weekend’s opening moment while bracket predictions floated up from conversations of those seated around us.
Soon, a cascade of cheers erupted from the audience as the tournament host stepped out onstage, and after a short introduction, the show began. The rest of the day raced by in a blur as we became absorbed in watching the displays of superhuman StarCraft II prowess. Between matches, we’d catch our breaths and watch player interviews, while critiquing and analyzing match performances with our neighbors.
At the end of each night we were exhausted. We were hoarse from shouting—and we drank enough free soda to drown an elephant—but we were thrilled to have been a part of it all. For most members of the inclusive eSports scene, this event would be enjoyed from the comfort of their homes via the live stream broadcast, but attending in person can impart an irreplaceable community feeling as Patrick and Phil describe here.
What would you say it is that most inspires you to come to these events?
Phil: The community, by far. We're both long-time StarCraft players. We have been since Brood War came out and we’ve met so many people through the community and through attending live events. When StarCraft II came out it opened a lot of doors, like being able to meet people in different places. We only get to see certain people when we go to certain locations, so we travel a lot.
Patrick: We have a lot of friends that we only see at MLGs, but we get to see them every year. A lot of the coolest people we know are from this community, and I think another reason we come out is because we watch these players on Twitch, through Team Liquid on their streams, and get to know them. Then we come out to meet them. They're the most down to earth people, and we have yet to meet someone we don't get along with.
The weekend flew by so quickly that when Sunday finally came, it was hard to believe that it was time to crown a victor. Tensions ran high on MLG’s Championship Sunday as we watched two players, Lee ‘Life’ Seung Hyun and Lee ‘Flash’ Young Ho, rise above their competition to claim seats at the Grand Finals. The crowd could barely stay seated throughout the match, growing more vocal after each critical play until the shoutcasters were drowned out entirely. With victory riding on a razor’s edge, the final series seemed to last an eternity. To the crowd’s delight, the epic clash featured skirmishes and explosions all over the battlefield as the players struggled to topple one another, each hoping to claim the lion’s share of the prize money. After an epic struggle, however, Flash marked his surrender by typing one final “gg” into chat. The build-up to this moment was so intense that the audience jumped to its feet as Life emerged victorious to lift the trophy into the air.
What's the best part of a tournament weekend for you?
Patrick: Well, I have two favorites: I look forward to Championship Sunday all weekend because it has the best games, and every night after the games are over because we always meet up with a set of friends or pro players that we only get to meet up with at these events.
Phil: Championship Sunday because of the amazing matches. Being at the event is a lot different from being at home. One of the things I really enjoy about being here is that, even though we've been to so many events, we still haven't met everyone. Seeing all these KeSPA players since they transitioned to StarCraft II and getting to see them in person, I mean, I'm looking at Flash while we're sitting here right now. Being fans since Brood War and seeing all these guys playing now is really fun. They're obviously really busy, but even if we never get to talk to them, it's still just really exciting from a fan perspective.
From a spectator standpoint, tournaments feel like the fusion of a massive LAN party, a rock concert, and a professional boxing match all rolled into one, and delivered to the crowd over the course of a weekend-long blowout. If you're like many community members, your first live StarCraft II event will leave you scouring the internet to find how and when you can get to the next one.
Are you planning trips to other StarCraft II events in the future?
Patrick: We're going to the most wired country on the planet, where StarCraft rules. StarCraft was born [in North America], but it was raised in Korea. We have to go there and just want to embrace the culture on top of everything else. That's nerd heaven there. We’d also love to get out to California for MLG Anaheim and BlizzCon this year. That will depend on a few things, though, like being quick enough to actually get tickets to BlizzCon before they’re sold out.
Phil: It's always a lot of planning, and we're fortunate enough to be able to afford things that we enjoy doing. I would love to be able to go [to Korea] during one of the GSL finals at one of those arenas. I think it would be an amazing experience to just get out there for one of those.
We know that many of you are passionate about attending StarCraft II events, and we kindly invite you to share some of your favorite live tournament memories with us in this discussion thread. If you haven’t had the opportunity to go to a tournament yet, feel free to tell us which you’d most like to go to and why. We had a fantastic time talking with many of you at MLG’s 2013 Winter Championship in Dallas and hope to meet even more of you at the next major event. Until then, good luck and have fun!