We speak to one of StarCraft II's biggest names about Heart of the Swarm, and more.
By Katie Williams on March 12, 2013 at 5:41 pm
One of Sean Plott’s earliest memories is of an early 1990s Chessmaster game. From a young age, he was fascinated with tactics, movement, mathematics. He remembers playing by himself, against the computer’s chess AI, and watching patterns emerge – and he soon found that he could predict how the AI was going to respond to his move, every single time. It became far too easy a game to beat.
“There’s only so much you can design for a single-player game before it becomes somewhat rote and unpredictable,” Sean explains. “But when you’re against another person, you don’t even need a particularly sophisticated system for it to get interesting, real fast. When I played my brother, it didn’t take long to see some crazy s**t in every game that we played.”
That pursuit of multiplayer madness has defined Sean as he has grown up. He is best known for his “Life of StarCraft,” as detailed in one of the cornerstone episodes of his StarCraft-centered web series, The Day Daily, which began in 2009. He was already a pro StarCraft player then, qualifying for – and winning – tournaments all over the place. Now he’s a sort of pundit in the world of zerglings and space marines, acting as a caster at events such as MLG and Blizzcon.
But for every person who draws knowledge from Sean’s strategies, there’s another watching to learn how to become more positive, more successful at life in general, a better person – a better gamer.
Area of Effect
Sean’s livestreamed gaming life attracts thousands of viewers each week (iiNet customers can watch it here, quota-free). The general emphasis of the series lies in dissecting strategies employed in individual games of StarCraft 2, but Sean also regularly explores ideas that he feels are important in bettering the competitive scene.
He has a special love for the newbies, and they love him, too. His viewer statistics show that some 30% of his viewers don’t actually play StarCraft. They may be players of other games, whether competitive or not – or they might even just be non-gaming bystanders, initially lured in by Sean’s enthusiasm and eventually sticking around for his relatable personal stories.
Sean embraces the non-player audience. They are, after all, where he believes unerring acceptance of gaming and its culture will ultimately, finally stem from. Sean’s StarCraft-focused existence is a bit of an anomaly currently, but he insists that one day, competitive gaming will be as normal as any other career.
“eSports is going to become a really huge worldwide phenomenon,” he says. “There’ll be high school eSports teams. It’s inevitable; the only thing that’s preventing it now is this imaginary stigma. At first it was, ‘Are video games bad for you?’ and now, basically, nobody thinks video games are bad for you. They’re the leading medium now. They’ve surpassed books, even movies, by a pretty big margin.”
Now 26 years old, Sean’s seen what growing up gaming has done for him. He was lucky to have a brother and mum supportive of his intense hobby – a rarity during the late 90s, but something that’s changing with his generation beginning to have children of their own.
“We’ll put our babies in front of games, knowing full well the benefits of it and how stimulating it is, how it can encourage all this creativity that they’ll carry into schools. And the teachers there will be the people who played games growing up, and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to support an eSports club,’ and then I imagine in about 15 or 20 years, we’ll start to see a decent amount of high schools supporting kids playing StarCraft in after-school practice rooms, trying to get better – just the way it is with a high school chess club, or a football team or a lacrosse team.”
Sean is tireless; he works on the Day show five times a week. He describes himself as a ‘tank,’ utterly lost at the thought of what to do with a fortnight-long holiday. What makes him so dedicated to helping out other players, to devoting himself to widening their skills and their perspective?
“You mean, why do I keep f**king showing up?” he chuckles. But he knows exactly what it is that restricts his viewers, whether it’s in StarCraft or other areas of their lives.
The answer, again, is a surprising analysis of the education system.
“Too often, everyone gets an A,” Sean says. “Everyone’s great. But you don’t get that when you step into the real world. People apply for a job and only one person gets it and 10 people don’t. What if you’re one of the don’ts? This might be the first time in your life you’ve experienced what it’s like to get an F. What if there’s a house you wanted to buy, but someone else made a higher bid and now it’s not yours any more? What if you were working with a client, and then their company went bankrupt and now they just can’t pay you?”
“This is how the real world works. That’s why I think games are an incredible learning tool – to have that experience in a game is far better a learning experience than getting As and Bs in school and turning things in on time. The education system makes you very risk-averse, because you learn that F is ‘bad’ – but it makes you much more willing to take risks if you play a lot of games. Competitive gaming is the greatest educational metaphor for life.”
It’s a big part of the philosophy he advocates on the Day Daily, and he believes that his infectiously positive attitude and popular anecdote-driven “life lessons” are the result of his own struggles with the fear of failure.
“I would do nothing but train,” he recounts. “Gave up everything. Stopped going to friends’ houses because I needed to dedicate more time to training. And then I would show up at the tournament – and choke and fail. Completely, totally, utterly collapse.”
“Everyone knows that story. It sounds terrifying – but I promise you, it’s not that bad. It’s like a cold pool you don’t want to jump into, but when you do you’re like, ‘Oh. No big deal.’ If you jump in enough pools, there is no pool that can intimidate you any more.”
Good Luck, Have Fun
Sean’s been looking forward to the Heart of the Swarm for a long time; again, he feels there’s a lot players are going to learn from the community shake-up that an expansion brings to a game as complex and as established as StarCraft. “You spend years developing this toolset that’s only good for some practices – and then an expansion comes out,” he says. “You take the same skillset and apply it to something totally new, envisioning it like an architect who’s only been able to work with wood – and then, all of a sudden, steel comes out! Wow! I can make buildings that are taller, stronger… but it’s not just that. It’s all built on a long history of knowing how stuff works and proving you can solve problems, and now there’s these new units thrown into the mix. It’s the most exciting thing ever.”
“I certainly think there are going to be some players who’ll fall off the top, who’ll have to work hard to get back on the horse and come up,” Sean adds.
But he doesn’t worry about falling off ladders these days. His priority, now, lies in educating other players through his web series.
“Be a Better Gamer.” That’s the slogan that accompanies every episode of the Day Daily, and it’s what Sean’s entire philosophy is founded on. But the game doesn’t have to be StarCraft, he says. It doesn’t even have to be a video game. Maybe the game his viewers are trying to get better at is life itself.
“You don’t want the end thing to be good,” Sean finishes emphatically. “You want to be good at creating end things. If you’re an artist, you don’t want to have a good painting – you want to be a good painter. With StarCraft, you learn very quickly that you don’t want to try to have ‘a good game.’ You want to develop all these mental tools that help you attack this infinite range of variety that’s going to be thrown at you.”
“You don’t want to be a good gamer. You want to be a good person. I believe firmly in that s**t.”