I'm at a downtown sports bar, where a hundred pairs of eyes stare at six giant screens as a dozen pixelated men in bulky uniforms sprint back and forth, trying to overcome their opponent. Around me the crowd bursts into cheers as the men charge forward and blow up their enemy's spaceship in a burst of alien flame. Welcome to e-sports.
Specifically, welcome to the first night of Barcraft Boston (facebook.com/barcraftboston), where, a few times a month, video gamers take over the upstairs of the Greatest Bar to watch professionals battle it out in Starcraft 2. If you can't picture video gaming as a spectator sport, you probably haven't seen Starcraft, a real-time war game with the speed of basketball, the depth of chess, and the unpredictability of Russian roulette. But the nearly 200 people who showed up from as far away as Providence are used to watching, just not in a group. "There's a lot more cheering," says Asaf Shahar. "[There's] just an awesome camaraderie right there that's shared."
The bar staff race to keep up with the crush of fans, who are cheerful and friendly. Onscreen, each game plays out in 10 to 30 minutes, and the variety of what can happen in that time is huge. Nuke-toting spies demolish manufacturing facilities, unstoppable waves of tanks raze writhing alien ground forces, psychic storms wipe out swarms of exploding bugs. One thing that makes Starcraft fascinating is that you play as one of three alien races, each with different units and rules — imagine playing checkers against someone playing Go. It sounds complicated, but event organizer Scott Trano says, "You can look at it and realize what's going on without ever having watched the game. Large number of guys killed smaller number of guys! Big thing kills small thing!"
Between games, Trano tells me that this is one of more than 20 Barcraft events starting up all over the country. But since there's no Boston team, who do we all root for? Some cheered for their favorite in-game alien race. Some have favorite pro players. Ian McCloy cheers for any player with an unusual strategy. Shahar roots against players he thinks are rude. And Trano suggests that I "root for anyone who's not Korean," as Koreans dominate the sport and have won every major tournament. "Nothing against them, but they're too damn good."
, Games, Video Games