The last time I visited the Australian Technology Park was eight years ago. Back then the occasion was the World Cyber Games national finals, and everybody thought it was the largest event we’d ever seen. There was a BYOC LAN with a couple of hundred people, an auditorium with shoutcasting – a rare addition for Australian events of any kind – and the first live webstream at an Australian event.
Returning to the venue yesterday was a clear indication of just how far things had come. The 100mbit/100mbit connection allows the Australian Cyber League to broadcast a full 720p quality stream over the course of the event, while the size and scope of eSports, coupled with the determination of Blizzard to “promote and grow the community” has made it possible to fly out Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski and Nicolas “Tasteless” Plott from South Korea, while also bringing Alex “HDStarcraft” Do and Taylor “PainUser” Parsons from the United States.
On the first day of proceedings, which Blizzard and ACL marked off as a day for friends, family and the media, locking out the 600 plus people expected over today and tomorrow, a brief press conference was held with Blizzard, Tastosis and Peter “Legionnaire” Neate and Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender.
The expectations of both players were wildly different: Pender was entering the tournament as the most experienced competitor in Starcraft 2, while Neate was returning to a scene he’d left seven years ago. The conference was held after the first round of matches were played in the morning; Pender had already progressed to the second round of the upper bracket, while Neate’s hopes were quickly dashed in a 0-2 loss to Team Immunity’s Tim “MaFia” He.
But despite the dark omens outside – the wind had whipped up into an astonishingly brutal gale, even knocking off some of the roofing panels at the venue – the event was running incredibly smoothly, a point that the casters made important to stress.
One of the great touches of the event was the addition of a player lounge, which was accessible to the press yesterday (it wasn’t supposed to be, but admins had other concerns). Nick Vanzetti, head of ACL, said in a little briefing last night that the room was designed to be the “zen zone” for the players to help them focus and concentrate ahead of matches.
The ability to gather your thoughts while playing in a custom booth in front of cameras and sitting next to casters – whose appearance fees have been rumoured to be higher than what the winners would receive themselves – broadcasting to thousands of people can be nerve-racking. Some players dealt with it far better than others, with some opting to wait in the booth while technical issues were sorted out between games.
While the results were largely as expected, a couple of major upsets landed on the first day. MaFia ended up getting dropped to the loser bracket in a surprise 2-1 loss to the Terran Yojun “YoonYJ” Jun. Another Terran and one of the most consistent players in Australia, Ethan “iaguz” Zugai, fell to the loser bracket early and was dumped out of the tournament in a shock 2-0 victory to a Protoss user from Adelaide, Luke “BiGBiRd” Bridley.
The above photo (courtesy of dot89) is symptomatic of how invested the players are. It’d be a stretch for anyone to paint this as a casual hobby. Pender said during the press conference that he spent six to eight hours a day playing when he wasn’t preparing for an event. Even the attendees that juggle study or full-time work spend three or four hours a day maintaining their skills.
Neate admitted as much in the press conference that part of the difficulty preparing for the event was simply regaining the mechanics that had atrophied over the last few years, let alone updating his knowledge on the current metagame.
The timing of WCS Australia/Oceania was particularly interesting for Neate, considering that it came after the final StarLeague in Korea – essentially the death of Brood War as a professional avenue for gamers. ”It was a weird feeling, and you know when you do something wrong or something bad has happened and you know there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s that sort of feeling,” he remarked.
Nevertheless, he still retained the capacity to qualify for the event despite only playing a few days before a qualifier in Brisbane. “I feel a little bit bad that I’ve stolen a position from someone else who might want to go on and do professional gaming in the future,” Neate said in a separate interview later. That hasn’t affected his capacity to enjoy the proceedings, and his presence was certainly enjoyed by the players and the casters in particular – Tasteless said during the broadcast that he used to look up to the Australian Protoss, who was one of the first foreigners to make it as a professional gamer in South Korea.
The amount of support from the small crowd and the casters helped Neate surge through the first day, although he was summarily put down by Team Immunity’s Ray “Light” Zi earlier today.
On the upper bracket, Pender continued to dominate his matches, qualifying for WCS Oceania without dropping a single game. Like most Australian events, Zerg was the flavour of the month, with Jared “PiG” Krensel and Bradley “tgun” Seymour also reaching the semi-finals.
The event will run right throughout the day, so if you want to see the best Australian Starcraft 2 players mixed with the best production ever seen in a local eSports event, head on over to the live stream on Twitch. I’ll update this post throughout the day with the results, while providing coverage tomorrow of the eight-man WCS Oceania bracket. Until then, enjoy the matches.
Update: Jared “PiG” Krensel has taken out the WCS Australia portion of this weekend’s action, defeating Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender in the second best-of-three after the latter made a comeback from the lower bracket.
He’ll take home US$4000 for his troubles, while US$2000 will go to Pender. Another US$900 was awarded to Tim “MaFia” He for coming third, while his colleague in Team Immunity, Ray “Light” Zi, finished fourth. Bradley “tgun” Seymour and Yojun “YoonYJ” Yun finished 5th-6th and therefore have also qualified for tomorrow’s 8-man bracket.