IPL3: Origins – Part 1

2 Nov

Before I begin my recollection of my time at the StarCraft II (SC2) Tournament IGN Pro League 3 (IPL 3), if you’re not familiar with StarCraft at least on a beginner’s level, it may behoove you to read/watch some demos, such as these : [0] [1] [2] [3] [4]

I went to Atlantic City to watch IPL 3, thinking it would be similar to the anime conventions I frequent.  Although the preparation was similar: packing snacks, drinks, and caffeine, I did not bring any costumes to wear.  The IPL website had rules for costumes and props, but it turns out that no one there was dressed up.  This convention, though large, had not yet attracted cosplayers like Comic Con or PAX has.  Though this was a personal disappointment, in retrospect there would be little use for costumes anyways, as the majority of the tournament was spent watching professional gamers play iterations of SC2.  It sounds easy, but multiple 12-hour days of watching said games does wear on viewer and player alike.
The tournament itself was for a pool of $100k, with $30k going to the winner.  Although some players were invited and others played qualifying games before the tournament to win a spot, there was also an open bracket at the venue, where anyone could enter and try to get a place in the Tournament Round of 32.  These were not just Americans, either.  Participants included the ‘best of the best’ from South Korea, as well as crowd favourites from the Ukraine, France and Canada.  This mixture of cultures blended seamlessly through the wordless bond of video games.

Imagine rows of fancy table drapes getting in your way....

The venue was the casinos at Atlantic City, with home base being at Bally’s, but the main stage for showcasing select qualifiers and finals was at Caesar’s next door.  Because of this ‘mature’ venue, the registration age restriction was 18, though unfortunately those under 21 missed all the socialization that occurred at IGN-sponsored ‘Playhem Happy Hours’ (they even provided ‘IGN Girls’ who wore skimpy uniforms and socialized with us all).

Yep, and those were only a few of the girls!

If you are a fan coming to watch the tournament, I highly recommend attending the first two days (before the Round of 32), as viewers and players mingled more in the ‘Qualifier Room’ at Bally’s.  This ballroom was reconfigured with a couple platform stages and a hundred or so computers that were set up for one-on-one matchups.  I was under the assumption that it was a massive LAN party, but then I was informed that they were on BattleNet, as SC2 does not have LAN.  Apparently, this is a continuing grudge between professional gamers and Blizzard.

Kick-ass bag, via IGN's Facebook

I had a ‘Diamond’ pass which allowed me to peek into the players’ lounge and see players in their element.  I only ever went in once, though… it was more of a haven than a place to ogle the players.  Much of our  mingling was done at the Qualifier Room.  Through watching SC2 (via Team Liquid.net or Twitch.TV, mainly), I knew some of the player’s faces, and those who I recognized by name were quickly added to my repertoire.  By the end of the tournament, my knowledge of the population had more than tripled, as I had face-to-face conversations with many of said players.  A whirlwind of matches took me through my first few hours.  Pro gamers were pointed out left and right: HuK, Slush, DeMuslim, Machine, Sleep, Puma, Lucky, MC.  Those who were on professional gaming teams were easier to identify, as they had their team logo on shirts, jackets, and bags.  Whether they had the team logo or not, you could also pick out the professional gamers because they carried around their own mouse, keyboard, mouse pad and headphones.  Their setup is crucial to the typing of commands, and some players even remove keys from their gaming keyboard that they don’t use, to prevent a miss-click: a second delay in one order could spell the difference between victory and defeat.

Hell yes. Geek cage battle.

 There was a mass exodus at the dinner break, but everyone re-emerged for the ‘IGN Girls’ happy hour. The girls gave out free drink tickets, and were chatty, but looked freezing in their sports bras and miniskirts.  Some girls were in this for the novelty of the situation, but there were a couple gems that I spoke to who knew the game and appreciated both the players and the fans that came out to the event.  Tickets were exchanged, Euro techno blared, and there were ‘cage battle’ 3-D StarCraft games (sponsored by Samsung – a massive sponsor!).  It reminded me of what a nerd frat party might be like.  I was able to meet Sheth and White-Ra, both of whom were exceedingly friendly and genuinely kind.  As much as some players might be rude or short-tempered, these two demonstrated to me why they have such huge fan bases. They are just honest-to-goodness nice guys.

Behold, the ultimate gaming setup!

Once we enjoyed IGN’s generosity, the games continued, with some matches being shown on the ‘Main Stage’ at Circus Maximus, a 5 minute walk from Bally’s.  The auditorium itself was massive: a typical movie theatre setup with center aisle and two wings, and higher banked seating in the back half.  A few half-moon cocktail tables between the nosebleed seats and the front sections reminded us that we were in a casino. The stage contained three massive screens hanging above and four sealed glass booths, which would, 2 at a time, contain the gamers that played the projected game.  Inside these ‘soundproof’ booths, the payers wore helicopter earphones with white noise piped in, to prevent them from hearing the play-by-play commentary, as well as the crowd outside.  In between these booths was a raised table where the two ‘casters’ (announcers) called out the game play-by play. While the screens directly above each player’s booths displayed their game view (areas they had not explored yet were blacked out), the casters had full reign over the view hanging above them.  They were able to watch both players’ progress, which adds to the drama of this strategy game.  There are many articles that describe why it is so exciting for others to watch a game played by ‘strangers’, and if you are interested, I highly recommend –StarCraft From the Stands- by Jeff Huang (PDF link).
The games ran until 11, and another happy hour followed at the Wild Wild West bar (aka WWW aka cheap-as-anything).  It was a great venue to meet the fans, as well as players and casters.  Our distinctive black IPL lanyards were a great way to identify and start a conversation with a complete stranger, as well as giving the group solidarity.  We all had at least one thing in common, and it was a great starting ground.
Still to come: Part 2!

2 Responses to “IPL3: Origins – Part 1”

  1. Jody Alston 3 November 2011 at 7:50 am #

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.


  1. IPL3: Origins – Part 2 « districtgeek - 3 November 2011

    […] (…continued from Part 1) […]

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