Out and about: All the details from the 3000-strong Heart of the Swarm launch event

Heart of the Swarm Launch Event

By on March 13, 2013 at 11:02 am

I was sitting next to a good friend a few hours into the launch. The developer Q&A had just finished, and I turned to survey the remnants of the crowd.

“How many people do you reckon showed up?” I asked. After a short guesstimate, she figured around 600. It seemed reasonable.

And then we were told around three thousand people turned up, despite the searing heat earlier on. Hundreds of people lined up from around 6pm — the launch wasn’t scheduled to start until 8pm — in 36 degree weather just to pre-register and collect their wristbands. Suddenly, 600 people seemed like the understatement of the night.

There was little about the spectacle that wasn’t impressive. After a decade of seeing national tournaments and “gaming” events in danky netcafes and random LAN events, the sight of so many people filling up Federation Square blew my mind.

Not everything ran perfectly. Bizarrely, for anything related to gaming, the event was actually ahead of schedule once the showmatches began even after a slight delay with “taking command” (or resuming a match from a replay, which is what Blizzard originally called the feature).

Even Jared “PiG” Krensel, that wonderful specimen who somehow always finds a way to delay every tournament I’ve ever seen him play in, couldn’t bring the schedule back in line. That threw some of Leigh “Maynarde” Mandalov’s cues off a little, although nobody seemed to mind.

More annoying was the resurgence of what’s jokingly referred to as the “NASL Sound Guy”, the catchphrase for any annoying sound issues. For the first hour the microphones were either too soft or too loud, and the first Baneling Bingo round was accompanied by the most ear-splitting crackle I’ve heard.

But on the whole, these were minor quibbles. Granted, I didn’t have to endure the ignominy of standing in the long, long, long queue to the single registration tent. That oversight fell on EB Games’ shoulders, but everyone was incredibly tolerant considering the conditions. Perhaps they viewed it as part of the experience; it was a special occasion, after all.

And Blizzard did indeed make it very special, even before the proceedings began. I wandered over to a nearby cafe after being told that “some of the guys” were hanging out with Dustin Browder. It turned out that “The Rock”, as he was affectionately termed later in the evening, was just chatting with some of the players. For about an hour and a half.

Even after he was done answering questions there, Browder took it upon himself to go visit the far end of the line — which, at 7pm, nearly covered the full length of the bottom to the top ends of Federation Square — just to cheer up the fans with a few photographs. The man even signed a fan’s rock later on in the evening.

He wasn’t the only force of nature in attendance though. The crowd enjoyed one of the lighter moments of the evening when people from the nearby Future Music festival began flowing through Federation Square towards the city centre.

As is typically the case with music festivals, one or two people were inebriated beyond belief, which culminated in a scuffle in the small area between the crowd and the railings in front of the stage. This continued for a few seconds until one person stood up, screamed something and gave what is possibly the biggest death stare I’ve ever seen in my life.

You know those moments where the events around you become so surreal that time just seems to stop? This was one of those. Amazingly, the stare worked and the offenders moved along of their own accord.

The players put on a good show of their own too, with Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender showing a masterclass in how to handle Protoss. But the exchange of the night went to Daniel “deth” Haynes and Jared “PiG” Krensel: the two enjoyed the longest and closest matches, and the fact that Terran vs Zerg is naturally more frantic helped out.

Errors earlier in the evening were also corrected with thousands of dollars of peripherals. Most was given away after the close of proceedings, with Blizzard staffers scouring through boxes for free stuff and just handing it out at the rope-line. I don’t think I saw a single person who was genuinely unhappy, and everyone involved should be immensely proud of that fact.

But the night’s shining moment belonged to Dustin Browder, who followed through on his trademark passion when he delivered one of the most inspirational lines of the night after being asked how one could break into game design.

“I’ve hired, I think, five or six guys now out of the modmaking community, guys who’ve done amazing work … you can actually go to almost any game company in the world with that mod. Chances are they’ve got a copy of StarCraft on their machine, somewhere in their office, and you can say, ‘Look, I have made game. Check it out.’ And if they’re serious about making games, they will look at that, they will play it and go, ‘You have made game, this is cool.’”

Thousands of people laughed, but they knew he was right: gaming is cool. Things have certainly come a long way in the last ten years.

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