Wednesday, 1 August 2012

FEATURE: (Video) In the heart of the swarm - a look at professional Starcraft in Korea

As promised, I went right into the heart of the swarm (GOMTV studios in Seoul) to check out what all of this e-sports business is about. Enjoy.


When you talk about professional starcraft, one place immediately comes to mind: South Korea. As I was on vacation in Korea just the other week, I thought it would be a shame if I didn't try to see some live matches. While I've played quite a bit of starcraft, I really don't follow the competitive scene. Nonetheless, I went down here, to GOMTV studios in Seoul, to see what all the fuss was about.

The studio itself made a pretty lasting first impression on me, it looked like the set of some futuristic TV game show, complete with multiple impressive-looking cameras and live commentators.  The players sat in self-enclosed little booths that I assume were to minimise distractions and the action was streamed onto a giant screen for the benefit of the spectators. Granted, it wasn't as big as some of the huge stadiums I have people playing in, but for just everyday qualifying matches It was really impressive to see a video game given the same level of attention and respect as any professional sport.

I said before that I didn't follow the competitive starcraft scene. I had some anxieties that I would be completely lost trying to follow the games, but these guys made those anxieties completely evaporate. They are Tasteless and Artosis, the English language commentators for GOMTV studios. When I arrived at the studio I was given a receiver so I could listen to their commentary, and I gotta say it was really spot on. For someone like me who knew how the game worked but didn't know all the advanced strategies, their commentary was incredibly helpful, insightful, and amusing. They really made the whole experience for me.

The actual games themselves were on a level I didn't even know existed. I crumble under the pressure of ladder matches played anonymously from my own home, yet these guys were able to perform at the highest of their ability while being broadcast on national television. Some of these clips show some pretty intense high-stakes battles, with micromanagement so complex and rapid that it felt like instinct to the players, but my favourite match was actually this one, with JYP's Protoss facing off against Hack's terran.

As you can see, a lone banshee is fighting against a handful of stalkers. Both of the players had somehow managed to destroy each other's bases, and were desperately trying to hunt down the remainder of each other's forces before the other. As both sides knew that they only had so few units, every battle was intense and felt like it could be the last. Eventually, Hack's banshee managed to save up enough energy to cloak and mop up the rest of JYP's units.

Watching streams is one thing, but being right there in the thick of it is something else entirely. Being able to see an intense battle and actually see the expressions of the players as they react, as well as the reactions of the other fans observing with you is pretty exhilarating. It was really something to see fans (including some particularly attractive female fans) lining up outside the studio to collect autographs from their favourite players. Plus the studio staff gave us free Krispy Creme donuts.

I'm not really a fan of any professional sports, so I have never been able to understand the fevor that sports fans exude when attending a live match. 'Why not just watch it on TV from the comfort of your own home?'  I would think. But seeing a video game played in the same fashion, as something that I can relate to and appreciate has completely changed my perspective.  If you are ever in Korea and you are a fan of video games, you don't even have to be a starcraft fan, I urge you to attend one of these events.

E-sports in Korea is a truly fascinating thing and it gives me hope that I'll one day be able to turn on the 'sports' channel in Australia and be able to watch exceptionally talented athletes engage in a battle of the minds rather than a bunch of blokes in short pants running around a field trying to thrust their faces into each other's arses.

Please enjoy the rest of  these clips, which show some highlights of the matches I watched.

Matches Watched:

Quantic_TheStC (Terran) Vs. LG-IM_MvP (Terran)

FXO_GuMiho (Terran) Vs. StarTale_Squirtle (Protoss)

EG_JYP (Protoss) Vs. StarTale_Hack (Terran)

TSL_HyuN (Zerg) Vs. Genius (Protoss)

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