“Go hang yourself in your pit of shame!” shouted the player, casting a dark look in the direction of an opponent who had devastated one of his bases in a classic Reaver drop. It was halfway through the opening round of the University of Chicago’s StarCraft Club’s fall tournament, and a group of about fifteen predominantly Asian students were gathered in room 130 of the UofC’s Harper Memorial Library to test each other’s finesse at Zergling rushes and air assaults. Their online tag names included “Proteus_,” “hofodomo” and “eyefragment”; the maps they were playing on varied from “Blue Storm” and “Othello” to “NeoMedua” and “Loser choose next.” For three hours last Saturday, I witnessed this group engage in some of the fiercest computerized combat I’ve ever seen, a fifteen-man melee from which only one would emerge victorious.
After warming up by watching a YouTube clip of a professional StarCraft match in Korea (which included NASCAResque uniforms for the stone-faced gamers) and overseeing the first round from the war room itself, I moved to a spectator area set up in Harper 140. There, while enjoying samosas and pizza but, strangely, no Korean food, a twenty-strong audience watched replays of the matches and speculated as to the overall outcome of the tournament. Famed YouTube commentator Cholera, a fourth-year Harvard undergraduate, put in an eagerly anticipated appearance by narrating the onscreen struggle in a fashion that could best be described as “strangely gripping.” After listening to three hours of avid discussion of the various tactics and strategies at work in a game of StarCraft–“Psi storm, rush in, good game” was how I heard one option described for the Protoss–I could almost understand why so many Americans and an entire East Asian nation have chosen to devote themselves to mastering its secrets.
By 7pm, the tournament had ended in a victory for first-year player “Debonaire” and center stage shifted to an online match between Chicago’s team and that of Washington University in St. Louis. Chicago won 3-1, thus earning itself a place in the special Valhalla that awaits all university StarCraft teams.