Professional gaming is nothing new, but it is slowly coming out of its niche shell. Leading the way is StarCraft II, a game that is perhaps the most current example of competitive gaming at its peak. Last weekend I headed to Blizzard Entertainment’s South East Asia/Australia and New Zealand Invitational Tournament to see the region’s top eight players battle it out.
The Invitational Tournament saw the top eight players of the region invited to a showdown organised by the developers themselves. The stakes? A $13,000 prize pool and tickets for the top two spots to play on the world stage at BlizzCon as representatives for their country.
With the event being streamed live to spectators all over the world, to say that the pressure was on would have been an understatement.
Of the eight players invited, six were Australian – a testament to the growth of local talent. Speaking to the competitors, it was obvious that Andrew “mOOnGLaDe” Pender was tipped as the favourite to take it out. The Brisbane native alone holds more international experience than his rivals and has secured some impressive wins over the course of his professional gaming career. Despite his success, he was wary of the possible challenges he could meet.
"I'm feeling confident… but I'm also feeling cautious,” he said.
New Zealander Thomas Sung Jun "xGKing.JazBas" Cho and Thailand native Thanapol "RedArchon" Kuachart were both flown in for the event and also tipped as opponents to keep an eye on. The remaining five competitors were Australian representatives - Timothy "nGen.MaFia" Lei He, Daniel "TADeth" Haynes, David "TARossi" Rossi, Zi Ray "nGen.Light" Wang and Yojun "YoonYJ" Yun.
Sydney-sider nGen.MaFia was also a strong favourite of the day who ended up placing third. Prior to playing, he felt that "everybody had an equal chance" to do well.
Party animal YoonYJ, who has been noted in the past for his carefree attitude at events, admitted to being "slightly hungover" - a stark contrast to TADeth, who said that getting proper rest was "one of the most important things. If you come to an event and you're feeling under the weather, it's likely you're not going to perform well".
His clan-mate TARossi was a "little nervous" about his first match-up, which happened to be against long-time rival, nGen.Light.
Final results saw mOOnGLaDe take out first place and JazBas in second place in a match-up that ended 2-1. Watching the final game from the commentary room really enforced the intensity of the final matches for both players and spectators.
Even after losing to his opponent, JazBas was happy to receive second place as he spoke humbly of his victory.
"I didn't expect to get this far at all, I'm really stoked… and I beat mOOnGLaDe for the first time ever! I am really, really happy,” he said.
Post-final, mOOnGLaDe was "incredibly relieved" and elaborated that he "had confidence but it was always very scary. Every opponent was very good".
Both players will be representing their countries on the world stage at BlizzCon later this year. We wish them the best of luck, and many Good Games!
Kotaku would like to thank Zorine for attending the tournament on our behalf and convincing some of Australia's top StarCraft II players to do Blue Steel for the camera.