About the Blog

We are a couple of youths (no longer teenagers but not quite adults) who are preparing to make our way through Europe in the next 3 1/2 months. This blog will serve as a way to share our stories and reflect as we move along.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dreamin' in Stockholm

The train from Oslo to Stockholm did not disappoint in all those lovely views that we have come to associate with the area; vast panoramas of trees, frozen lakes and an abundance of fields.  The act of traveling has this funny effect on me (Amanda) where I know that I'm exerting very little energy by literally sitting on a train for 6-8 hours at a time but I come out feeling absolutely exhausted. By the time we arrived at the station I was wiped and dare I say not the best companion. Before setting off for our destination we had come to the decision that we were going to walk to our hostel, which should have taken roughly 45 minutes. The reality was a two hour extravaganza of wandering around lost and confused. The directions we wrote out were pointless and there was not a map to be found. Gabe pleasantly chatted about how beautiful the city was and constructively offered suggestions that would get us moving. I cried. Kudos to the somebody who had the good humor to get this team where they needed to be. 

One of the biggest draws for us in coming to Stockholm was to attend the "DreamHack Eizo Open 2013" StarCraft 2 tournament . Through the 4 1/2 years that Gabe and I have been together I would say that my exposure to the game has been fairly limited. I have been respectful of his interest in the industry and occasionally listened to his musings but on the whole you could not classify StarCraft as a shared interest. I was excitedly looking forward to this event because I thought this would really be a great chance to delve completely into something that has meant so much to Gabe. I was not disappointed. 

The tournament lasted two days, both days starting at 11:00 AM and concluding after midnight. Throughout the day there were over 2,000 people at the arena along with at least 120,000 people watching over the internet. The event was also being broadcast live on Swedish national television with around 72,000 viewers. There were 96 professional and amateur players representing 14 countries competing for a prize pool of  27,000 dollars. The tournament took place right next to the Ericsson Globe.

I was VERY excited.

The atmosphere was amazing throughout our time there. By the end of the tournament a local fan favorite was up against a legend in the pro gaming scene for the semifinals. After the fan favorite won the crowd went crazy in what was one of the coolest moments I've (Gabe) experienced in spectating sports. 

I (Gabe again) would describe Starcraft as kind of like chess on steroids. In Starcraft, the player and their opponent are dropped into a world with a single building and several workers. The player's objective is to collect resources, build buildings/troops, and position their army such that they destroy their enemies troops/buildings. To win one must build their units faster, have a game-plan that counters what they think their opponent will do, react to what their opponent actually does, and outmaneuver their opponents troops. At the highest levels of play everyone can build units at about the same rate; therefore, whoever uses their units more efficiently will win.

Starcraft 1 came out more than a decade ago and with the release of the expansion set "Brood War" it became a very popular game worldwide with it's epicenter in South Korea. There are many reasons Starcraft became such a big business in Korea that have to do with societal and economic influences but making a long story short Starcraft became Korea's "national sport". Starcraft Brood War is still being broadcasted on several different TV channels and professional players can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. It's worth noting that many of the best players from Brood War only made the switch to Starcraft 2 within the last year because people were still watching them play Brood War. Now, more than a decade after the first game, Starcraft 2 has been gaining popularity in the western world. Last year alone the top ten players collectively won $1,143,000.00.

About DreamHack; specifically it runs by having four smaller tournaments feeding into a larger final at the end of the year. The tournaments take place all over Europe, twice in Sweden, once in Valencia, and once in Bucharest. Finally, the DreamHack Winter is held again in Sweden where the top four players from the previous four tournaments play along with a select few others for a prize pool of 500,000 SEK ($77,000 dollars). 

In the days leading up to the tournament I (Amanda) was feeling nervous and self conscious. I repeatedly asked Gabe to explain who various players were and how different strategies worked.  I didn't want to embarrass myself in a large group of knowledgable fans but mostly I didn't want to embarrass Gabe. I really had no reason to worry because almost all of my interactions with other spectators and players were super positive. People seemed pumped to be there and more than willing to accept anybody in the group. 

The arena was larger than I expected.

DreamHack's production crew were very good at their jobs and rewarded fans who were invested in the tournament. At one point we were holding up a sign from way back in the crowd and a camera man transferred us to great seats while simultaneously filming us.  I think the theme of the two days was hanging out with generally nice and accommodating people. There were players who took the time to interact with the crowd such as QuanticHuyn, who Gabe and I played rock paper scissors against, or Leenock (Spoilers: the victor of the event) who smiled and grabbed fans hands (including mine!) as he prepared to play.

The game itself was more interesting that I had previously given credit. There is a lot of thought and strategy that goes into the decision making of the players. Watching the players at the tournament led my mind to wonder about how they learn in a classroom setting. It also made me wonder if there might be a correlation between Gabe's interest in StarCraft and his bachelors degree in Economics, both of which he finds fascinating. I have been intrigued in how technology is incorporated into the field of education, specifically in relation to video games, since my time spent student teaching.  While StarCraft may not be the optimal resource (in my opinion) for an elementary classroom setting I can definitely see how the game could be utilized to demonstrate concepts of economics and deductive reasoning in higher education. There have already been at least two universities in the U.S. who have offered courses in these subject areas using StarCraft as their teaching tool. I believe that this could be a way to really engage people and display a variety of lessons which could be later applied to other concepts. 

After this weekend I (Amanda) have had a lot to think about. Will I try my hand at playing the game? Potentially. Will I continue to stay current in the happenings of the StarCraft community? Probably. Did I learn a massive amount while there? Ohhhhh yea. Did I enjoy myself and given the chance would I do it again? Definitely. 

DreamHack was amazing for me (Gabe).

I've been playing Starcraft since right around the time the expansion set for the first game was released and it has been a very big part of my life. I remember staying up late with my buddies Arturo and Noah on Friday nights with about five dominoes pizzas and a couple two liters of root beer playing Starcraft. We never played super competitively and we didn't even know about the professional scene, but the game was fun and it was something that we loved. While the game was fun at any of our houses I never felt comfortable talking about it in school. Being different in school sucks no matter what it is that sets you apart and even something as small as liking a different video game could cause some trouble in the Berkeley school system. I loved chess, Starcraft, and Magic The Gathering but I tended to keep that stuff a secret because the kids that did love that stuff got picked on for it. That's why this tournament was really, really cool. This event was a conglomeration of people who were proud of their nerdiness and not afraid to show it. There were people there who have shown the world who they are and what they believe in and have been accepted for it. There were people there that I expected to see but also some I wouldn't have anticipated; moms and dads with their kids and groups of teenaged boys and girls.

There were some really cool matches that got played and much like a spectacular dunk in basketball the crowd cheered, groaned, and jumped out of their seats at all the right moments. I have watched the tournaments before online but seeing it in person was something special. It finally felt real and I felt like I was in a place where my nerdiness fit in.

As with anything there were some good and some bad parts. For some of the players involved this tournament was very important for the future of their careers and this meant that they couldn't interact as much with the fans and they tended to be a bit distant. On the other hand, those that had been knocked out of the tournament stuck around to see how it went and some even came down to hang out with the audience. One particular player who has been a pro-gamer since the Brood War days and at age 32 is known as one of the old men of Esports started to lead the crowd in a chant for the fan favorite during the semi-finals.

While the players were a bit of a hit or miss in terms of their personalities, the staff that ran the event and the people I (Gabe) met who ran the teams were all extremely enthusiastic, positive, and inspiring. At first we had trouble booking the tickets for the event because of some international banking laws. I contacted a well known person through a Starcraft website to try and get some help and I ended up getting the email address for one of the top production people working at DreamHack, Tomas Hermansson. After a quick exchange of emails Tomas let us know that he had reserved the tickets for us and we could pick them up when we got to the event. When we finally got there he made a point to personally hand us our tickets in the midst of all the chaos of the start of the tournament and he continued to check up on us to make sure we were enjoying ourselves throughout the event. We also met a director of one of the teams competing in the event, Petter Sten, who talked with me for a while about our trip through Europe and how the tournament was going. The thing that was most refreshing about meeting these people was that they were just as excited about the games being played than I was. When I went over to take some videos of the exciting moments in the games I could see Tomas talking animatedly with his colleagues and cheering with the crowd when the game ended. When I went upstairs to try and get a better angle of the crowd I saw Petter in a line of chairs with his friends analyzing the game and getting excited about an upset in the making. These are people who really seem to care about and believe in what they are doing. 

One of the coolest side effects of playing and watching Starcraft is that you meet people from all over the world. It reminded me of my chess match against the German man in Bremen named Ali. He doesn't really speak English and I don't speak any German but I understand something about who he is as a person by his play style. I know him and his personality by how he positions his pieces on the board and what trades he is willing to take. It's the same with Starcraft to an even greater degree. When you see an army being pulled back from an engagement, and then pushing forward, only to pull back again you can feel the indecisiveness. When a player in a three game series is down by one game and they choose to do an all out offensive strategy that could easily backfire and they would be out of the tournament, you can sense the boldness and reckless state of mind they are in. Starcraft also connects people who might otherwise never meet. I met multiple Swedish people who told me about the country and where we should visit if we had more time and I told them where to visit if they ever come to McMinnville Oregon (probably far less likely).  I had a feeling that these types of interactions existed before I came to the tournament but after being there I've got evidence. 
Overall we could classify this experience as everything that we had hoped it would be, and then some. Presently we have a 17 hour train ride towards Berlin to prepare for. Wish us luck!

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