We chat with Australia's top StarCraft II player.
By Alex Walker on April 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm
It’s always a good day when I get to talk to Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender, Australia’s and Queensland’s most recognised professional gamer around the world. He was in good spirits the morning after the Heart of the Swarm launch, albeit a very tired spirit: Pender only slept a few hours that night, having gotten up early for a live cross to ABC News 24 that morning.
Blizzard had kindly stocked the conference room with drinks and jelly beans, so everything was ripe for a nice little chat. And considering you don’t see gamers on national television a great deal, I decided to ask what it was like dealing with the media these days.
GON: You did the interview with the ABC; basically almost as long as I’ve been around, you’ve been representing Australia playing WarCraft and so on. How’s it like, how’s the media relationship changed especially when StarCraft has been such a big part of it?
Andrew Pender: It’s definitely getting a whole lot more professional. There is just so many more people interested in it, so many more companies interested in covering it. I’ve been on TV twice in the last two days! It’s taken off a lot more since WarCraft 3 days at the very least.
GON: Technologically it’s grown a lot. Back in the day it wasn’t quite as easy to play in international competitions, and one of the interesting things is when you were sort of on the rise the big competition was something like the World Cyber Games. I remember you going over to Germany and playing in things like that and WCG was the main interest for media here locally, but now as a competition it’s faded away. How do you feel about that; that was a big thing for you, always representing Australia?
Andrew Pender: Yeah it’s disappointing that its faded away so much but I guess the tournament stuff is a bit outdated, the format and all that sort of stuff it really never changed. It’s a shame, it was like the centrepiece, the tournament you would want to go to and win because it was just like The Olympics, but there’s just so many other tournaments which have taken its place now. There’s constantly international tournaments for different brands and there is no real main one I guess except for maybe the Blizzard run one. But it’s a shame that WCG has fallen off.
GON: Do you find it a bit draining that there is so much to play in these days?
Andrew Pender: Yeah absolutely. I guess it’s a good and a bad thing it’s good to constantly be working towards something, travelling and getting exposure and all that but, yeah, there is just so many tournaments to attend that you gotta really pick them. I think these days you can’t go to all of them.
GON: And it’s not just being able to play in the ones overseas; the number locally has actually grown quite substantially. Do you plan ahead, like you have a calendar and you work out “this is the hours I am going to practice, I have this tournament coming up” ?
Andrew Pender: I always definitely base the level of practice on when a tournament is, what it is and I kind of definitely chose my tournaments so they’re not too close together. It’s probably the worst thing having like a tournament back to back or a week apart; you don’t really get practice for the other one and you get tired and you obviously just play bad in the second one. I think it’s very important these days to plan ahead, because it does take a lot of planning coming into these tournaments for both the players and just practice in general.
GON: Do you have to change your sleeping schedule a lot to accommodate playing in tournaments for different timezones?
Andrew Pender: Yeah, especially if you’re travelling to like Europe or something, it’s very brutal from Australia.
GON: Especially the Poland trip. (Pender played in IEM Katowice earlier this year.)
Andrew Pender: Yeah believe me, I suffer greatly from jet-lag. I’m probably one of the worst sleepers out there when it comes to [professional gamers]. It’s something that I really need to get better at, either by finding some awesome sleeping tablets or something. It’s a big factor for everyone who pretty much travels.
GON: Have you spoken to a lot of the other up-and-coming Australian players like MaFia and PiG and Tgun and given them advice on how to deal with travelling overseas and playing at big events? Have they come and asked you for advice?
Andrew Pender: They very rarely go to international events to be honest. Not that they can’t go but I don’t know sometimes they just choose not to. They never really ask much advice about it but I am always happy to like tell them what I think, or what they should do, or like how they should practice, or what to expect. But they kind of keep to themselves and have their own kind of ideals about it, as most of us do: we are all very solo players.
GON: Do you think that’s a bit of a mistake that they don’t travel internationally as much as they could?
Andrew Pender: Its gotta align with their goals. It depends what their plan is, if they really want to be international players, if they want to take it to the next level, if they don’t think they can, if they don’t have enough confidence. I’m not sure but I definitely think they should try to go as to as many tournaments as possible, and we don’t get that many opportunities in Australia especially if we don’t have a sponsor that can pay for it, so I think it’s important. I think they should be trying a lot harder.
GON: Do you think it would be better in their position to go to an international tournament and risk a really bad result as opposed to just staying home and just picking one out and just betting everything on that?
Andrew Pender: I think experience is very helpful in an international tournament. It’s something that I have a great deal of, coming from WarCraft 3 and being travelled a lot. I came into StarCraft II very prepared for international tournaments or tournaments in general: I don’t get nervous, I understand what I have to do, I understand when it comes to travelling what it’s going to be like, and I know how to network and all this kind of stuff that’s very, very helpful.
I think going to as many [events] as you can, even if you are going to bomb out … if you are practicing very hard there is a good chance you won’t bomb out, so it’s all about preparation too I guess, but they should be going to every single one.
GON: You mention networking. How important is that for a professional gamer these days? Because the scene is so much wider than it used to be five years ago.
Andrew Pender: I think it’s incredibly important. There is so many people you can talk to when you go to like a MLG or something, there is so many sponsors that just wanna have a beer and chat. If you are chatting to them and they like you, you have a contact, you have a Skype contact, you have a business card, you can talk to them down the track if you want to get your team sponsored or if you just wanna know something. It’s incredibly easy to do: you’ve just got to talk to them. None of these guys are really bad people and they’re very open to chatting to players, especially players that have travelled from somewhere far away.
I think it’s essential to be honest especially for Australians because we’re coming from not much. We have a very small scene here, though its growing. We have a small amount of sponsors here but that’s growing too and I think it’s really important to try and get your name out there, whichever way you can.
GON: The scene is quite big but the environment has changed too now, especially with Heart of the Swarm. How do you feel about the changes and the new toys?
Andrew Pender: It makes the game very more dynamic, a lot more interesting. It really gets the Wings of Liberty, kind of, staleness away cause some match-ups were just getting a bit bland and they weren’t really changing anymore. But the new units kind of directly fix those problems; they were kind of introduced as these counters to certain strategies that made the game like really stale.
GON: There’s always been that sort of dichotomy too between match-ups. You have Protoss versus Zerg which is almost more a WarCraft 3 style kind of match up in that the focus is more centralised on one big singular battle. Where as you have Terran versus Zerg where there’s much more adrenaline, there is more focus everywhere. There is multi-prong attacks, there’s drops and there is kind of that constant battle for control. So which one do you prefer and how sort of has it changed in a way from a Zerg perspective? Is it something you know you’re more comfortable with now, looking at the changes in Heart of the Swarm, or is it more something you know that is going to be more of a challenge?
Andrew Pender: I think Zerg vs Terran is pretty similar to Wings of Liberty and, and that is kind my preferred game play style where it’s like very fast paced, very demanding but fun. Zerg vs Protoss in Wings was just yeah as you said, was just fighting a death ball or like trying to stop the death ball being formed in general. I think it’s kind of changed a little bit in Heart of the Swarm though it is a bit early [to tell].
Vipers, for instance, are good great at picking, picking apart death balls and Swarm Hosts are good at pushing before death balls form. It’s still kind of the same deal with Protoss though; they still gotta make a death ball or they don’t really have much other option and they do have the units to make a good death ball in Heart of the Swarm, like Void Rays being incredibly strong these days. I think we will just have to wait and see what happens if it’s going to get more dynamic than that — I really hope it does.
GON: As a Zerg player, does the recall mechanic kind of bother you? That has the potential to really sort of change the focus of fights.
Andrew Pender: It’s, a very, it’s a very tricky thing to play against. I think we are gonna see it utilized a great deal more in the future. I mean, it does have its flaws, like they can’t attack or do anything for a few seconds when they warp out and when they warp in, so it’s not as bad as it could be but we will have to wait and see.
GON: In terms of the new units, which ones have you been thinking about the most in terms of strategies? What do you look at and go, “OK, this is something I’m going to build around”.
Andrew Pender: To be honest, both of them are very interesting to me, for my race anyway. From the moment I saw a Viper could cast abduct, I was like, “I want that unit in my army every time.”
Andrew Pender: It’s the kind of unit that I love, it’s got such a cool ability, it looks great, it makes for really exciting games, it’s micro-based, it’s very accurate and fast so it feels like it’s right up my alley.
That’s my favourite kind of unit but the Swarm Host is also like a very cool pushing unit, it can really add something to your army, some free fodder that is pretty much desired for Zerg because it’s when you’re going up against like Colossus or something you really need something in front and if it’s going to be Hydras then it’s terrible. So I think the Swarm Host has its place, though I haven’t really gave it as much nearly as much thought as Vipers, but I definitely plan to use them a lot.
GON: Do you feel you have to take more risks as a player now?
Andrew Pender: More risks you mean with the new units?
GON: Yeah with the new units and just in general, because of the changes that the other races have gotten in terms of power and the timing of when the units come into effect as well.
Andrew Pender: Mmmm.
GON: So for example the Viper and the Swarm Host you don’t get them where as you get the Widow Mine a lot sooner.
Andrew Pender: Yeah, yeah. Well there’s a lot more risks I guess. I guess it’s just more about trying to understand it as fast as possible, like, what is this Widow Mine capable of — is it gonna kill me if it drops right now? You have to understand these situations as a Zerg player and you gotta really be prepared for it as best as you can, though there are still, for instance, the six queen Wings of Liberty strategy opening for Zerg [which is] still effective against everything. You can still do some similar things like that to counteract so there’s not that many risks involved; you can still play pretty safe but it’s kind of understanding where it’s gonna lead.
GON: How do you think the rest of the Australian contingent will do throughout Heart of the Swarm, because we have such a large Zerg army?
Andrew Pender: (laughing) Yeah it’s gonna be interesting because Zerg is not really the flavour of the month anymore, it’s kinda changed with the balance changes in Heart of the Swarm. Hopefully more Terrans pop up, for instance, and hopefully our current Terran players start to flourish a bit more cause it would be nice if the scene had more of a balanced race distribution.
GON: Be nice to see some Protoss.
Andrew Pender (at the same time): I dunno, Protoss.
Andrew Pender: Protoss isn’t very fun, but yeah I really hope that they do flourish. I hope some Zergs at least drop off or decide to change race because it would make, it would make it a lot easier for me [since Zerg vs Zerg] isn’t always the most fun.
GON: That’s an interesting thing too in Australia we essentially have two matchups because we don’t have any high level Protoss players. Is that something from a career perspective that will make your life a lot easier in the next year?
Andrew Pender: I guess it makes it easier for the local tournaments but not so easy for international tournaments: if you’ve got no one to really focus on for that race you [don’t] really have any requirement to prepare for it. Maybe like some tournaments here you only need to prepare for [Zerg vs Zerg] so you’re like, “Great he’s good at [Zerg vs Zerg]”. Then you go to an international tournament and get schooled by like a Korean Terran and its like “well this is pointless”.
I do look to international tournaments beyond local though. I do think it’s really important to win local tournaments but unless it’s something like Blizzcon, for instance, I don’t wanna like rack my head over it compared to like an IEM or something.
GON: Where do you get your inspiration when you are looking for solutions? Do you keep grinding at the ladder and just try little adjustments, or do you look at the big tournaments, watch GSL, copy that and then start working from there?
Andrew Pender: It kinda varies. It really depends on what I see [and] what clicks. It’s either if I’m like grinding out games, I have like my own little quirky style going and this really works against this kinda style [so] I kinda go with that or I see something in GSL and I take that onboard and I kinda make it my own and do whatever adjustments I need to do to it. So it’s kinda inspiration from everywhere I’ve just gotta find it and it kind of just works with me just like that.
I don’t really like sit there and like write a hypothesis and think about it for hours or something, but I feel it’s kind of an epiphany more than anything if I’m coming up against something.
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to chat with us!