The Korean and Me: My Introduction to Competitive Starcraft 2
“And this is ‘Our Korean’.” Team owner Simon Boudreault tells me as he finishes his introductions. The possessive throws me off for a second; it makes this tiny, modest Korean sound like hired muscle in a gangster film. I shake his surprisingly strong hand. He smiles nervously, “Young……or ‘NadaViking’”. He turns around and points to the name printed on the back of his team jersey. They get jerseys? Apparently so, and more over they look quite comfortable. What looks like a loose fitting Lycra number with the logos of computer Hardware companies sprinkled across the surface of it. “The Korean” smiles sheepishly at me before asking, ”Do you play?”
I am at MLG meeting 4NOT, a Canadian team that is competing in the Starcraft 2 and League of Legends tournaments. Simon and Starcraft 2 Manager Daryl Langs were gracious enough to allow me to attach myself to them and pretend that I was a war correspondent.I chose them mostly because they were interesting, and amusing. But also because Daryl smoked frequently and seemed excited that I asked him to explain things to me. He nodded sagely when I explained that this was my first time at one of these competitions. “Pretty wild isn’t it?”
I listen in as Daryl gives Young a pep talk before his match. As Young finishes his third or fourth cigarette, I start to understand just how nervous he is. This is his first MLG event, this match will move the winner onto the main stage, and last night someone stole Young’s mouse and keyboard. He heads down to ready his station and prepare for the match. Daryl and I stay up for a minute as I finish my coffee, he tells me just how real the psychological pressures are at an event like this. Young has a good run at this competition despite being a less well known competitor, but Daryl is worried that the theft of his equipment has placed him in a bad headspace.
We are standing in the middle of a throng of about a hundred people, watching Young go up against a player named “HuK”. Young’s hands move the way that hackers type in bad 90s movies. From where I stand it looks like muscle memory, almost as though Young doesn’t even need the computer there to play the game. A couple of players compared it to playing a musical instrument, the analogy seemed silly until I had the chance to watch two skilled competitors go head to head. Your right and left hands are performing their own separate but intrinsically tied dance. This is not a slow, graceful waltz, but a furious and percussive tap dance. It seems more akin to playing a game of Speed Chess in which you can only see a fraction of the board and may only interact with the pieces with chopsticks.
Young’s eyes seem to slide in and out of focus as he alternates between focusing on specific units and the entirety of the screen. Daryl is right beside me. He chews his knuckle nervously as he runs me through what I am seeing. He tells me that Young’s best hope is to hold off HuK’s pushes and take it to a late game fight. HuK should not be able to keep this pressure up for too long. Daryl runs me through what Young is doing well with, and what potential problem areas are. A few seconds later HuK figures out a hole in Young’s strategy and begins to apply pressure. “Fuck……….That’s game.” Daryl says, but I just don’t see it. A full twelve seconds roll by, and as each one passes it looks darker for “The Korean”. I watch Young’s shoulders sag in defeat as he taps two out the concession of defeat: “gg”. Daryl and Simon are both on stage as they reset for round 2. They look like a boxer’s corner team, sliding in to provide workable advice for the second match-up while boosting his spirits.
The crowd’s applause dies down and round 2 starts. It lasts a bit longer than the first, but I honestly could not tell you by how much. Daryl narrated again, providing me with a blow by blow of the action. He notices a possible problem and tenses. In a hushed voice he runs through what Young needs to quickly rectify it, but with no way to communicate it to his teammate he is forced to watch the minor problem snowball. I look over at the 25 year old Canadian; outside he joked that he lived vicariously through his players, as he was not as skilled as they are. I expect disappointment when Young concedes defeat, but he rushes the elevated platform flanked by the rest of 4NOT. Young stands, shoulders hunched, as he packs up the keyboard and mouse that he borrowed. He flashes a grin to the victor and the crowd; the slight Korean with conjurer’s hands moves off stage, gracious in defeat.