Barcraft III: Cheers and Zerglings at the Paragon

Men and women have been going to bars to watch sports since the beginning of TV time. But e-sports? Aren't we supposed to be couped up in bedrooms, two feet from monitors watching crappy streams? No, says Barcraft! We watch Starcraft in bars, the way sport is supposed to be watched. We drink and be merry!

I have very little idea of what is going on.

The air is charged, electrified, filled with the sounds of conversation, shouting, cheers, jeers, excited chatter, and laughter; above it all, the unaccountably calm voices of sports commentators, amplified to an astounding degree, and yet only just audible above the din of the crowd. But this isn’t just any raucous sports bar on a Grand Finals night; this is the Paragon Hotel, in Circular Quay, and the game we have all gathered to watch is Starcraft 2 – the GSL Hot6ix Season 1 Finals, to be precise. This... is Barcraft.

It’s the third iteration of Barcraft in Sydney, and the atmosphere is unbelievable. This room is packed, wall to wall with people standing, sitting, leaning on things, anything to get a good view. Downstairs a few of the wall-mounted televisions are still showing more traditional fare – rugby, racing, track events - and the people down there seem somewhat bemused by the booming voices coming over the hotel’s PA system that are so damn excited about build orders and Korean rivalries. But up here the crowd is watching, rapt, even if half of them probably can’t hear what is actually going on.

Australian Pro League staffers running the event cut through the crowd with a sense of purpose, while black-suited bar staff pick their way carefully around – most of them balancing plates, and glasses, and extremely confused expressions. Fluro glowsticks gleam in the semi-gloom; the lighting is dark, dim, and perfect for this kind of affair. Everybody is watching the televisions. The bar line is ridiculously long.

I don’t know a thing about competitive Starcraft, but you can get a rough approximation through the reactions of the crowd. Something incomprehensible happens on-screen and the crowd roars and gasps like a wounded beast. Punters all around me are making predictions, pointing at the screen, watching, staring, clapping and cheering. They know the language, they can read the game. An outburst of applause – why? Swearing, groans – Stargates, says someone, satisfied that everybody around him understands the impact of that single word. Hydralisks have just come into play, someone else yells across the room.

“Genius has got this in the bag,” someone behind me mutters to his friend; he’s talking about Jung Min Soo, a Korean Protoss player for team MvP and one half of this night’s grand finals. His opponent for the night is DongRaeGu, or DRG, real name Park Soo Hoo, playing Zerg. Despite the overheard comment, DRG is the clear crowd favourite; the applause and cheers that went up when he first entered the arena was damn near overwhelming.

A newcomer nudges someone nearby. “Has it already started?” he asks, breathlessly. Throughout the night, people never stop streaming up the staircase, though whether they’re all recent entrants or just trying to find a better place to watch the game is up for debate. Five hundred people RSVP’d beforehand on the event’s Facebook page, but a quick eyeball of the room makes the number seem closer to… let’s say six hundred, seven hundred, maybe more.

“D-R-G! D-R-G!” someone yells, and soon the entire room has picked up the chant, if only for a few moments; his opponent has conceded this particular match, and the crowd breaks into applause. It’s a strange sight, to see people calmly eating their steak-and-chips as alien creatures writhe and die before them, but in the grand scheme of things it’s probably about as weird as sport.

Professional-looking photographers roam the floor, snapping pictures of excited patrons who pose and toast the cameras; a bright white light occasionally bursts out of the corner of a room, where a camera crew seems to be camped out next to a grand piano. Nearby is a staff table, where a prize pool of some kind has been set up, drawing a steady stream of line-goers.

A friend comes back from the bar clutching two drinks; one cider (mine) and one Queen of Blades, a delicious-tasting mix of spiced rum, liqueur, bitters, lime and apple juice. Moments later, a tray of shots are delivered to the table of organisers and staffers before me –a mix of Red Bull and Agwa, or Stimpacks. Intrigued, I scramble for a cocktail menu, a high-quality cardboard design that offers drinks with intriguing names like Creep, Vespene Gas and Spirit of Tassadar. It’s not difficult to see who in the crowd has ordered either the Immortal or the Mothership, two drinks that glow a bright neon blue.

“You can hear this from MacDonalds!” a smartly-dressed girl tells me, laughing. “Everybody’s wondering what’s going on.” The crowd here conforms somewhat to the stereotypes – largely young, geeky-looking males – but it’s not as hard as you’d expect to find some other members of the crowd. A table of older 30-something looking men whom you’d more expect to see watching football games are trading insights into Protoss strategies, while a party of girls getting drinks at the bar whoop and holler as a Zerg strikeforce is neatly decimated.

Lag strikes momentarily; internet scuttlebutt put the viewers on one restream at over 50,000 viewers worldwide, so it was no surprise that a few technical hiccups occurred here and there. The game cuts back into smooth play, and the crowd gasps, draws its collective breath, and explodes in cheers and applause once more. DRG has clawed his way back to 2-2 against his opponent Genius, somebody tells me excitedly. Phones are produced here and there, their electric glow cutting through the darkness, tweets and texts and status updates going out across the ether.

This feels completely surreal. I’m leaning against a railing, sipping cider, as all around me hundreds of fans cheer and gasp and yell, the televisions showing Starcraft 2 coverage that rivals ESPN or Fox Sports in production values. Sweeping camera shots, professionally animated logos, extensively detailed statistic screens, and more; even simply entering the arena involved explosive pyrotechnics and personalised theme music for each of the competitors, something more in line with WWE than competitive gaming.

Sponsorship is a huge part of the scene, professionally speaking, and it’s not surprising to see advertising plastered everywhere; from gamer-endorsed celebrity ads on the stream to the massive welcome banner, where the Barcraft Sydney logo was nearly buried beneath a sea of sponsor logos. Even the free glowsticks being passed around the room are branded with a Kingston RAM insignia. I snap one in half and wave it around half-heartedly for a bit as the room explodes once more.

It’s matchpoint for DRG as he leads 3-2, but – as I hear someone the next table over tell his friend – it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. “Down in front!” someone yells, even though from pretty much anywhere in the room you can always see at least three screens. Rock music blares, the competitors settle into their booths. The map is Crossfire SE, and everything’s about to get real.

Unable to follow what’s happening on-screen, I end up relying on the constant torrent of information being offered by the crowd. A pitched battle between forces dissolves into a series of minor skirmishes; an attempt to flank and destroy a Protoss army occupied by a forest of spinecrawlers is only just barely avoided. Finally, DRG annihilates a final Protoss push (“Blink out of the game, Genius!” someone yells) and the room goes completely mad. “D-R-G! D-R-G! D-R-G! D-R-G!”

Eventually, even as the crowd slowly empties out into the streets, and the televisions return to more normal bar fare, a hint of the night’s atmosphere remains in the air. Groups of people are still clustered around here and there – prizewinners carrying PC hardware, friends just looking to chat over drinks, and the exhausted but happy event organisers working out what to do for the next Sydney Barcraft. Can it get even bigger than this?

I don’t doubt it.

Barcraft Sydney for the GSL Hot6ix Finals was held on Saturday, March 3rd, at the Paragon Hotel in Circular Quay. Simultaneous Barcraft events were held world-wide. For more details on upcoming Sydney Barcraft events, check in with the AusProLeague.


Comments

    Probably the only bigger sausage fest you could have would be at a gay bar.

      lol good call

      I don't know. Plenty of women go to gay bar's to be able to have a fun time out without fear of being hit on.
      Then there are the fag-hags and those thinking the can "turn" the men.
      I would say that gay bars would likely have more women then this. :)

      Not as much of as 'sausage fest' as you might think... obviously the majority of people there were male, but in the group of friends I was there with, there were 6 girls, including myself, and most of us play the game too, ie we're not just there tagging along with boyfriends...

    the reason why most people go to bars is to get pissed, then hope to get laid.
    Sorry kotaku, you got this one wrong.

      No, you got this wrong friend, a bar is a place to socially interact with one another while having fun. Being that you comment on getting pissed and hope to get laid is kinda sad on your part.

        They're not mutually exclusive. You're both right.

          I tend to put people in 2 categories.
          1 - Those who go drinking in bars as an excuse to be with friends.
          2 - Those who use friends as an excuse to go drinking in bars.

          I wonder if they will do other games, just so long as it's not halo or counter-strike; I've had enough with dickheads in bars without them being on the TVs too..

    It sure as hell beats a trivia night.

    I think this is a great idea, and would love to see this become more accepted as the norm, and with more games as well...but until then, I think it's going to continue to be a bit awkward.

    I'd love to go to a Barcraft in Canberra! I think this is a great idea and see no reason for feeling awkward for attending one such event.

    Going to a Barcraft requires the right attitude, I mean, sausage fest yeah; but you didn't go to watch the last Rambo movie and were expecting a romantic comedy either ;)

    I must be getting real old as closer inspection of those photos reveals a lot of people that look way too young to be in a bar.
    Certainly a great idea but I will leave it to the younger games.

      For what it's worth, we were all checked for I.D. on entrance. Most of us were university students so I guess a few of the attendees were just over 18.

        Heh yeah I know you all would be over 18 but the older we get the younger 18 year olds look. If that makes sense.

          Yeah I have to agree. the "kids" in the first picture look as if they are about 16. Maybe its just the crowd or the fact that i normally hang out with my fellow footy team members.

    Excellent write up, Haters gonna Hate. why u reading an article on e-sports just to bag it? pretty pathetic

    I can't wait to go to a BarCraft, I think it's such a brilliant idea! In Korea guys like DRG are on par with AFL and NRL stars here and all the females involved are just as aware of the sport as men. Female gamers make up over a third of the gaming community these days, you'd be surprised at how many chicks were just as into it as the guys. I love StarCraft and cant wait to slam down a Stimpack and hopefully watch the BOSS Toss take another GSL.

    This is exactly the same as going to the bar with the boys to watch the UFC or footy...
    I didn't even know there has been so many barcrafts already, I'll probably drag my gf to the next one as none of my mates play SC2.

    OMG OMG OMG I didn't notice before when I was checking this article on my phone, but I'M IN THE FIRST PHOTO.
    I made front page of Kotaku! YESSSSSSSSSSSSS
    (I'm the guy wearing the grey hoodie with red logo on the sleeve btw)

    Maybe it's just me but second photo, guy with white shirt, insanely long neck.

    "I don’t know a thing about competitive Starcraft"

    You got that right. Half the 'facts' mentioned in the first paragraph were complete bullshit. Do your fact-checking, this is organised by various gaming societies from the big 3 Sydney universities: USYD, UNSW and UTS. Not league staff. It later blossomed to be a generalised 'fans come along' thing and this isn't the first time.

      Actually, you are the one who is incorrect. This was entirely run and organised by the Australian Pro League and its Staff and always has been since Sydney BarCraft #1 (see : http://ausproleague.com/).

      You may be getting confused as it was advertised over the Sydney Collegiate StarCraft Facebook page, as well as during University O-Weeks. Main reason for the cross-promotion is the executive body of the Australian Pro League is comprised of the executive body of the Societies from UNSW and USYD.

      Frankly, I would have been amazed if the event hadn't been sponsored by the people whose logo was plastered all over the menus, the banner, and on the t-shirts of the staff that I spoke to, both in person and via e-mail later.

    This is an awesome write-up, good job! I love BarCraft :)

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