Brood War's allure - ASL through the eyes of a newbie
I've got something to admit:
Despite being an esports consumer for over 7 years, I've never played or watched a full match of Brood War until ASL's second season began. I grew up in the 90s and the 2000s and video games were an integral part of the process, but despite sinking thousands of hours in WarCraft 3 and Age of Empires 2, the original StarCraft and its expansion are one of the major RTS titles I skipped.
Having read a number of captivating articles about the absorbing stories coming from the Korean BW scene, I saw the return of all four of the TBLS (TaekBangLeeSsang, Brood War legends) to tournament play as the perfect opportunity for me to start following it.
For all those who are curious what it's like, here's my experience.
Beginning in the middle
8 minutes are left until the fan favorite Tastosis appears on my screen, followed by what many fans consider to be the “real final” of the tournament - Flash vs Jaedong. I'm randomly browsing Liquidpedia, reading about players while waiting for the match to begin as my thoughts set off in a direction of their own.
Brood War is the second “dead game“ that I've started following in the recent years. The fact that I've already familiarized myself with another older scene helped in not being as intimidated as one would assume for getting into one of, if not the most complex competitively played video games, and undoubtedly the one with deepest history of the scene. The latter is in fact a big part of why I decided to start watching after all four of the TaekBangLeeSsang announced their return.
I've read about some of the famous players and stories in the title's twelve years as the top esport in South Korea. However, as I came to know with Quake, reading about and watching the actual games is an entirely different experience.
Another considerable part of why I was excited to get into BW, despite barely knowing anything about it as a game, is that Quake Live has become one of my favorite esports to observe, yet many have stated publically that the original StarCraft is an even better spectacle. One of the traits that makes Quake duels so compelling to watch is the simplicity - kill the opponent more than they kill you, using what you find on the level. Yet the more you learn about the game the more you realize how complex it is.
With Brood War however, as a result of the genre, it seems to be completely the opposite. Strategical and tactical understanding have a naturally higher barrier to entry and even the mechanical excellence is hard to fully comprehend unless you've played the game. Fortunately for me and possibly many others, the fan favorite caster duo (Tastosis) does a splendid job of breaking down strategies, tactics, timings and explaining exactly how hard it is for the player to micromanage units in the specific ways they do. At the end of a map, one can almost feel as if they know why actions that occurred did so and what the implications by them are. But by the time the post-map break is over, you quickly realize you'd barely have any idea what's going on if there were no casters.
What is the truly fascinating thing about Brood War though -- to me at least -- is the sheer amount of players that have been involved in the scene over the course of its lifespan as a competitive title and the fascinating story lines they were entangled in. Everyone who spends enough time as an esports fan eventually learns about the dominant bonjwas and the greatness of the TaekBangLeeSsang, just as they do about HeatoN, Potti, FATAL1TY, Cooller, Cypher, Night, Grubby, Diago and all the other greats.
However while other titles' intriguing storylines and players go only several dozens of IDs deep, the rabbit hole is much deeper in Brood War.
There have been dozens of champions than the already mentioned, and the IDs of players that have an important place in history by themselves or a key role to some of the best storylines go over a hundred. As the infamous LS described it in his appearance on Thorin's “Esports Mount Rushmore“ , Brood War's twelve years run as the top dog in Korea was very much like a good TV show. It had fascinating main characters, but in addition to that, there were hundreds of others -- still very important to the story, but in what viewers could easily deem a supportive role.
… meanwhile in ASL
But enough about why I felt compelled to start following another “dead game“ and back onto the ASL.
After catching some matches from the first season and the Ro24, I began following the action in the Ro16. Unsurprisingly to some, the former champion got eliminated here, but what was surprising is that he failed to bully out the reportedly weakest player in the Ro24 (and supposedly an amusing streamer) IamMang, otherwise known as GuemChi.
After that, BeSt slayed Jaedong, the king of Zerg for for a second time in the tournament (in what has become my favorite match - PvZ), but both managed to get out of the group. For the next day of the group stage, on Christmas, I observed for the first time ever Bisu - the famed revolutionary of Protoss in his signature match-up PvZ. He came in on form and as always looking incredible, but what was inconceivable for me is how his play made it seem as if he's playing a different race, compared to fellow member of the six dragons, BeSt. As him and Flash both topped their groups, all four of the famed TBLS were through to the playoffs.
Then, the bracket draw occurred, and it is hard to imagine one that would have made both Afreeca and their sponsors happier.
On one side was two of the six dragons of Protoss, BeSt and Bisu, having to face hero and Sea, respectively. Fangirls’ favorite and a massive draw for viewers, Bisu, looked set up perfectly to make an appearance in the finals. On the other side we had the winner of Jaedong vs Stork -- a storied rivalry of its own -- facing Flash.
Things seemed even better when Stork was mercilessly murdered by Jaedong, both in the pre-game interview and with a quick 3-0 on the server. However in a huge upset, wearing bare knee jeans in the middle of a cold winter, Sea swept the revolutionist Protoss 3-0. A great final still seemed possible as BeSt's finest match-up is PvT and according to many his macro game is so superb that it could rival Flash's. Sea had other plans though, and slayed the second of the six dragons, reaching his first ever individual league final, despite being heavy hitter in the team leagues for years. An appealing story of its own right, but undoubtedly much less of a draw for fans the two he got rid of. And this is how we ended up having the “real final“ in the second Ro4 match.
I close the Liquidpedia tab, but there are still two minutes left until the broadcast begins. I open Twitter and somewhat unexpectedly it's blown up with esports fans and personalities talking about and promoting the LeeSsangRok.
Turns out there are tons of Flash, Jaedong and BW fans that I’ve been following, without knowing. Half-jokingly some are tweeting about how watching the duel is is the only thing you ought to be doing right now. Knowing that APEX's (Korean Overwatch tournament) second season and LCK 2017 (Korean LoL league) are debuting at the same time I start getting a slight vibe of pretentiousness.
It’s delightful to see people's nostalgia and excitement for the old title, yet I can't help, but feel as if I've gotten access into the inner workings of a cult, without going through the rite of passage. Thus I am being rendered amused, rather than seduced by the spiel. All the love for the esport that raised all standards is certainly fair, but should it really be shoved down people’s throats this aggressively? And who is the person you’re attracting by a sign saying "only people of taste stop here", rather than dscribing the qualities of what you offer ..?
Lost in my thoughts, I've missed the intro’s jingle, but Tastosis' voices startle me and I quickly close the Twitter tab. Artosis is already screaming about how amazing the match-up is, comparing the grandeur of the rivalry to a modern day esports accomplishments, while Tasteless is scrambling to give more context for newcomers, without interrupting too much.
This goes on for several minutes, and by the time the pre-game interview begins, Artosis is visibly struggling to contain his hype. Rather than delivering a friendly trash-talk, a confident and charismatic Flash and an absent-minded Jaedong, whose thoughts seem to be already in the game, are being respectful and appreciative of each other and the fans. It is one of the rarer moments in esports, where the emotions out of the game are truly heartfelt. The magnitude of the moment between the both and the audience is just as obvious as the fact that no efforts will be spared in the virtual bout.
The second they are in the game lobby, all traces of the two somewhat awkward nerds, unable to express their feelings in words, disappear, giving way to two ruthless generals willing to do everything for a win. The Ultimate Weapon starts on the offense, but to the surprise of many fans and experts the Tyrant responds perfectly. Seemingly everywhere at once, he is ready for everything thrown his way and 17 minutes later he draws from his opponent the first "gg" of the night. The camera shows the God's face and he's taken aback, whereas on the other side of the stage Jaedong looks furious, knowing it's too early to celebrate. For game two, it's Jaedong who goes on the offensive early and Flash who repels it perfectly, having every answer and taking a "gg" in under 10 minutes.
By the time the third map starts, every ounce of swagger on the broadcast seems to be completely gone. The player named 'God' is a nervous boy biting his nails, the Legend Killer is an overdressed nerd purposely ignoring the world outside his mind and the iconic caster duo is now just a pair of fans, barely stopping themselves from squealing in excitement, but the action is enthralling all the same.
Seemingly everything falls in place for a magical series and after two more breathtaking games the result is sitting at 2-2. For one last time that evening the two nerds -- one looking ever so withdrawn from the world and the other with eye twitching and mouth cram full of water -- disappear into the game lobby, becoming fierce warriors again, before one inevitably emerged as the winner.
Less than 20 minutes later, the Tyrant had fallen, but not before showing the world he's still got it in him to challenge his ultimate rival, regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps after he's had several more months of practice he'll come back stronger and victorious; however, now it was Flash who went on to the finals.
After two exciting games he took over the series, defeating fellow Terran Sea 3-1. There was no record breaking viewership for this series, no Twitter fanfare either, only a couple retweets here and there. The biggest fans of Brood War and Flash got had gone back to their daily routine as the magic of the moment had seemingly depleted. The venue was packed, but neither that nor the rumors for a team league created another round of buzz in the social media, outside of places on the internet specifically dedicated to the game.
In the end, I'm left wondering if the Brood War scene has indeed been revived and if there is really a resurgence, even if only in Korea. Sea didn't get dropped into the crowd on an industrial lift and Flash didn't arrive at the venue on a plane, but nonetheless the rooms were always packed and tens of thousands of people watched even the group stage matches in which neither of the TBLS played.
What's more reassuring is that, to my knowledge, a lot of players' personal streams are popular and they can still earn a living for playing the game they’ve devoted a considerable portion of their lives. Still, I can't help but feel as if this is the golden era of Brood War returning, but it’s a little bit older, a little bit rustier, with silvery hair -- uncertain future past the immediate one, but nonetheless returning.
But what do I know, eh? I just got here and others have been aboard the same hype train for more than seventeen years. One thing I know for sure is that the magic allure of the game is still strong enough for me and ASL's second season earned Brood War at least one more follower.
Photo credits: Afreeca.
About the author:
Hello readers! I go by the ID RadoN and probably similarly to many of you, I’ve been playing video games for years. My introduction to esports happened in 2009 and ever since, I’ve been following different titles within the industry. Other games I currently follow are Overwatch, CS:GO, LoL, QL with the occasional SFV and DOTA2. If you wish to provide feedback, support and follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on gaming and esports, follow me at @RadoNonfire on twitter.
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