It’s christmas day. Despite my intentions to wake up early today and see the sun rise and go for a morning run around the park, I stayed up until 3:30, watching the entire campaign of warcraft 3 play out again. I found all these memories arise, unbidden, from my subconscious, the more I subsumed myself into that world. I remember a moment where Tyrande sacrifices herself while using moonfall for us to escape. I remember defending against swarm after swarm of undead. I remember trying to play out a cinematic scene, like how a director would have intended. I think about how you might use a video game player as an actor, a video game as a set. I’m watching pro player streams of Warcraft 3, which I consider an ethnographic study in itself.. It’s a dead game, for all intents and purposes. It was released decades ago, so it’s more impressive that it still has ~3000 live watchers of a grand final game for a big league. It reminds me of playing super smash melee, where the pro players have been playing the game for almost entire lifetimes and are at this point, so intimate with the game mechanics that they feel like extensions of their bodies. The fact that the strategies are still evolving and pro players still changing in this ages-old game, is quite impressive. it’s a testament to the persistence of the human spirit. The prize pools are created by fan donations because no sponsors are jumping at the chance to support this out-of-date game.
In some way, playing these old games feels like poetry. The practice is an obscure one towards something that has little material value, but something that people feel called to regardless. I caught up on the latest in the pro gaming scene. It feels like watching an expired sport but one with a rich history. There’s decades of lore from the community and how gameplay has changed over the years, but there’s only a few thousand who will watch the championship streams live—the same fans who fund the prize money for these championship tournaments.
Some of these pro players have been playing professionally for over a decade. By now, you would expect them to have moved on from this game that no longer has the prestige it used to, towards something that can form more of a career for themselves. There’s no reason to stay the course unless it’s something that calls to them.
The vast community of Warcraft 3 players didn’t even play the game as it was designed. Rather, they played games made by other players—maps designed down to the details of custom skin models and assets and rules. From Mafia to RPGs to mini games, avid custom game makers created anything that you could imagine. All you had to do to play was to host a lobby and get other players to join. I used to spend days on end playing these games, jumping from one kind to another—each one its own adventure for me to get lost in.
I read an interview of Moon, a pro from South Korea who has been playing the game professionally for over 15 years. Having watched some of his games, it feels similar to reading an interview of an author after reading their book. Based on his style, I feel a degree of intimacy with him. I know how he multitasks, how his mouse flicks across the screen.
From Warcraft, so many of the genres of games that we know today emerged, all created by players using the in-game editor. From MOBA (League of Legends) to
Grubby matching up with a fan and them talking about how long they’ve been in the scene (and the fan watching him). 15 and 16 years respectively. They’re in their late 30s now but they have been spiritually and digitally connected for over half of their lives since they were teenagers.
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