StarCraft 2 at PAX Prime 2012
StarCraft is the eSports community's perennial favorite, having built interest and history for nearly fifteen years through StarCraft, Brood War and StarCraft 2. Any time you offer the StarCraft community the chance to get together and cheer on their favorite players (go go Scarlett!) you're bound to draw a crowd, and this year at PAX there were a couple chances for players to get together to enjoy the eSport that some fans have come to call "the beautiful game."
On Friday night after the PAX expo hall closed, attendees were treated to that finest of eSports traditions: the BarCraft, which affords SC2 fans the opportunity to meet up in a bar or pub to enjoy a few matches and yell at each other about balance tweaks. I headed north of Seattle's downtown district to a bar called Spitfire to check out the Red Bull-sponsored fan event.
As an added treat, South Korean SC2 pro Bomber (of team Startale) was on hand facing off with challengers at the event. I decided not the shame the PC Gamer brand by challenging Bomber with my scrubby Silver-league play, opting instead to watch from afar as others got annihilated.
If you're a StarCraft fan and you've never made it out to a BarCraft, well, you're really missing out. There's a simple yet exhilarating thrill in overhearing someone in public shout at their friend, "Dude, you have no right to talk! Infestors are ridiculously OP right now and the Queen patch completely negates hellion harass. What else do you want!?" It'll send a chill up your spine.
Red Bull LAN "Trial of the Xel'Naga"
The major event of the weekend for StarCraft 2 fans was the Red Bull LAN, a pro-am (professionals paired up with an amateur) tournament with an interactive twist. Viewers at home and at the venue were able to vote on specific ways to change the game on the fly, resulting in some amazing scenarios that delighted the crowd.
In the matches I witnessed, the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic and constantly cheering. It's hard for StarCraft 2 fans not to get a little bit over-excited when watching zerglings warp around an opponent's base equipped with Protoss teleport capabilities.
Even seemingly small changes like giving a unit a new ability can fundamentally alter the game experience when playing at the highest level. Constantly changing the rules meant that any established strategies went out the window completely. Improvisation became just as important as practice and skill. This was like a jazz concert as opposed to a symphony. Or perhaps more appropriately, this was like a baseball game where the fans could choose to give the players jetpacks or loose a tiger onto the field.
There were more explosive occurances as well (the voters rarely missed a chance to nuke or otherwise explode everything in sight) as fans often voted on things like the Planet Cracker, a Protoss Mothership ability that was taken out of the game during SC2's beta phase. And for good reason: it blows up everything in sight. When this ability came into play, a neutral Mothership floated around the battlefield melting everything in sight with a doom beam of awesome.
Amid all the laughter and cheering of this specific event, I actually looked back and saw the normally rather stony-faced pro-SC2 player InControl (click to glimpse said stony-face) practically giggling with his hands over his face as the Planet Cracker hovered forebodingly over a Zerg player's base just barely out of range of destroying every structure the player had.
The real joy of the experience came from the packed audience. Everyone was excited to be there, and casters Sean "Day" Plott and Mike "HuskyStarCraft" Husky did a great job not only casting but keeping the audience engaged. The roof practically popped off during a couple nuke drops and mothership beams. Overall, the experience was wonderful and I'm really hoping Red Bull makes this a bi-annual tradition at PAX Prime and PAX East.