Editor: Tracy Benson (@NukuNukuDash)
Photographer: Darryl Linington
I will be honest, I am not fan of the Real Time Strategy genre. It’s not my cup of tea, mainly because I don’t think I’m talented enough at multitasking and micromanagement. Rather give me a gun and a mission and let me shoot stuff until I’ve won. So it was not without some trepidation that I attended the StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Invitational on Saturday.
Hosted jointly by Internet Solutions, Megarom Interactive and MSSA, and sponsored by various big names like AMD, PolarfluKe and of course, SteelSeries, the SC2HotS Invitational saw nine hand-picked South African gamers competing for a R35,000.00 prize pool. If that’s not impressive enough, the main event of the tournament was an official, MSSA accredited test match between South African Robert “PandaTank” Botha and Romanian Silvui ‘NightEnD’ Lazar – the first of its kind to be hosted on South African soil.
On Saturday morning, having negotiated the somewhat confusing parking (I’m bad with directions as well), gamers were welcomed into a really fancy purple entrance hall decked out in full Heart of the Swarm regalia, along with tables, couches and snacks. The venue was massive and, at first glance, it seemed a bit empty, until I found the packed 500 seater auditorium where all the action was taking place.
Starting in a round-robin knockout stage, I sat down to watch our nine gamers played on the main stage to the excited spectators, with everyone cheering them on – even though they couldn’t hear anything through the white noise headphones. Thankfully, shoutcasters Etienne “Celestial” Nel and Kyle “Congo” Wolmarans were there to help out the RTS n00bs like me in the crowd.
Between the games, there were TV crews, journalists and spectators milling around, watching the competitors play practice matches. I was seriously impressed with just how fast these guys are, and how easy they make it seem.
But, without a doubt, the best part of the day was the official test match between PandaTank (South Africa’s first GrandMaster) and NightEnD (also a Grandmaster rank). To be at an officially sanctioned test match like the one we witnessed was cool beyond belief. I honestly didn’t think it would be as exciting or dramatic as it turned out to be. After hearing from the main sponsors and standing for the national anthems of both countries, the action got underway.
Both PandaTank and NightEnD were playing Protoss, and had very similar strategies, with the same units and number of bases going up almost simultaneously. Both gamers were testing each other in the first round, and getting a feel for the other’s strategy. Although he put up an incredible fight, PandaTank was overwhelmed suddenly, and the game was over very quickly, giving NightEnD a 1-0 lead.
The second round saw both gamers give it their all. At an average of around 300 actions per minute, even the shoutcasters were having a hard time keeping up with the incredible pace. From my vantage point in front of PandaTank, I could barely see his hands moving, they just became a blur. After 40 minutes of frantic action, PandaTank looked away at just the wrong second, giving NightEnD all the opening he needed to take him down and win the match 2-0.
The rest of the afternoon and evening saw the finals of the earlier event, with NightEnD taking the grand prize of R20,000.00 and PandaTank taking the runner up prize of R10,000.00. Duncan ‘Skiblet’ Frickel, a 16 year old member of Bravado Gaming from Kwa-Zulu Natal, took third place and the R5,000.00 prize.
Overall, I can say I’ve definitely gained a new respect for both the RTS genre and South Africa’s professional gamers. It was fantastic to see the turnout of supporters and this event might have given South African eSports the boost it needs to get into the limelight.