Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Starcraft-ing, foreigner-style

Last weekend, Alex, Eugene, Jeemyn and I went to a Starcraft tournament in Daejeon. Starcraft is a computer game that is crazy-popular in South Korea, however gaming nerds all over the world could give you the low-down if you asked them. It’s a professional sport here in Korea, so there are pro Starcraft players and, yes, tournaments. Tournaments complete with cheerleaders, announcers and screaming fans with thunder sticks. This sort of thing isn’t exactly my cup of tea. I mean, I’m not really a sports person to begin with, and I’m definitely not a gamer. But I kinda had to see this. Fans cheering on concentrated pro gamers? Only in Korea. And… I may have also been lured by the fact that the K-Pop group, Secret, was to open for the game. They’re my favorite music group here in Korea! (possibly because I only know of, like, five.)

After wandering around Daejeon in the morning, we finally headed over to the Expo Center around one. It was free to get in – we just had to sign a paper saying which professional we were rooting for. I had no clue who either of them were, so I let Jeemyn sign up for me. At last, we seized our tickets and found a place in the growing line. In not even five minutes time, a Korean guy with a perfect English accent (we later learned he was from Alabama) approached us and asked where we were from.

“America," we said in unison.

“You don’t have to wait in this line. Come with me,“ he instructed. He took us past the line and through the doors where we found a dozen or so fellow waygook (foreigners) sitting on benches, drinking Coca-Colas and inflating their thunder sticks. We were all Starcraft VIPs, apparently... (one guy had even flown in from Australia, just for the tournament! Dedication, I tell you...)

I didn’t understand it. I definitely didn’t think it was fair. But I went with it. They showered us with drinks and free Starcraft coffee mugs. They passed out cardboard and markers for us to make signs with. We decided to quote Team America for all the American gamers out there watching us live. (Oh yeah, it was the Finals competition in the Starcraft tourney and was being broadcast live around the world!)

Just before doors were to open to those waiting outside, they led us "VIPs" inside and sat us down, front and center. All the better to see Secret. I felt bad, I really did. But admittedly, stoked at the same time. I later decided that the reason they treated us waygook so well and wanted to have us on camera was to help spread the Starcraft craze outside Korean borders. I mean, they were showing Japanese signs on camera, English ones... I think they wanted to have us visible in the audience to say, Hey. Starcraft is cool. These people all think so, and they're not only Korean...

A couple of hours and a few dozen pictures later, it finally started. Lights were flashing all around us; smoke and fire came shooting out from the stage; and hundreds of hardcore Starcrafters (and me) were beating their thunder sticks wildly as the cameras panned across the arena. And finally, Secret entered the stage.

They sang—okay, lip synced—and danced to their two biggest hits, Madonna and Shy Boy, while everyone sang along…with the track. I was a little disappointed to discover that they don’t actually sing. But they were great dancers and I still enjoyed it (and Jeemyn really enjoyed it). I mean how often do you get free front row seats one of the biggest music groups in the county? (My students were so jealous when I told them about it on Monday. Ha. Ha.)

When it was time for the tournament to start, both competitors dramatically made their entrances down each of the aisles with their teams backing them and a guy in front waving a giant flag. Smoke was pouring out from the stage. The announcers took their posts. The English announcers took theirs at the left side of the arena. And thus, the madness commenced…

Okay, so it didn’t get too crazy. I mean, it’s a computer game, how wild can it get? Each professional was sealed in a soundproof booth on either side of the stage. We, the audience, could view what each competitor was seeing on their computer via the giant screen at the center of the stage, above the announcers. To my surprise (and, okay, delight), the tournament only lasted about an hour and a half. But in all honesty, coming from a non-gamer -- it really wasn't that bad. It was even...sort of interesting.

The champion received a giant check for 50,000,000 won…roughly 50,000USD. After being awarded a trophy, he took his place on a platform that suddenly rose up out of the stage. He then kissed his trophy while streamers and confetti fell. Glorious. The runner-up still got 30,000,000 won. Not bad. Not bad at all. And this, on top of a steady salary for full-time gaming. Dang, maybe I should take up this profession.

Jeemyn, Eugene, Alex, and I with the champion Starcraft-er! (wish I knew his name)

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