“Starcraft is famously -brutally- unforgiving. There are no teammates to blame, win rates are incredibly close, and any luck-based play can be countered by scouting well. Every loss is a humbling reminder of your own inadequacies.

I plug in my mouse and keyboard for what has to be the tenth time, trying in vain to make my headphones work once more. The familiar menu music blasts into my skull just as the admin arrives, and I wave him off. I load up Marine Split Challenge yet again, cringing at every misclick.

Unlike in Korea, eSports in North America is an individualistic affair. Casual gamers and professionals alike play at home instead of in local PC cafes. Team houses here are exceedingly rare, and most fail within a year. With the player base being so disparate and there being fewer LANs than in Europe, most teammates below the professional level may never meet in person.

I finally get the lobby invite. I do my best to veto everything besides Coda and Terraform as usual.

“Ready?”

“gogo” I reply.

        The countdown timer begins. Each second drags painfully by. I think I’ll coin the term “Loading Screen Remorse,” for the sudden vivid recollection of every hour that I didn’t spend practicing.

        On October 10th, thirty-two competitors and a handful of spectators gathered in Philadelphia, the first trickling in at the ungodly hour of 8:30 AM. I don’t know of any other situation with the same guilty pleasure of trying to connect people’s in-game names to their faces without actually asking.

Well over half the players were Grandmasters, and nine frequented the Top 16. Cheesadelphia 1 was almost certainly the most stacked independently-organized NA tournament since release. For almost all of us, it was our largest offline event.

“glgl”

        “gl hf”

        I’m playing in the corner booth, off-stream and largely ignored. Everyone is immersed within their own games or busy preparing for their next one. I hear muted groans and cheers from the spectators as two of the favorites play each other. I obsessively select and deselect my workers, anything to get my mind on the game at hand.

        Most of the players were good, but hadn’t quite managed to break out into public eye- the sort you’d only know from mutual friends or the ladder. Aside from my own team and NoRegreT, I hadn’t interacted with anyone else there before, other than exchanging a few lines of text online.

I kept my reaper at the watch tower long enough to see a handful of speedlings coming across the map, and ran back to my base. I left a depot down, planning to trap what seemed to be a scouting attempt. I let out a sigh as thirty zerglings and six banelings burst into my main base.Guardians movie

                Coming in, it was unclear exactly who was favored. Bails, the most accomplished of us, was streaming much less than usual. NoRegreT was streaming almost exclusively the beta. No one knew just how inactive Silky was. EJK was only meching against Protoss. CharSiuBao readily admitted to not playing for three months. Creature, Lucky, PureLegacy, and I were all highly ranked but inexperienced offline. PsychO had been playing on another server, and MygraiN had been putting up good results lately.

With some hellion micro and a new wall I managed to hold the attack, but was down to five SCVs. I immediately counter-attacked with my hellions in desperation, only to see a few more lings run into my tattered worker line. I killed both queens, many lings, and a few drones, but still had less than ten workers of my own. I cycled between both of the Zerg’s bases, sniping whatever I could with a few low-health hellions.

Fast-paced tournaments feel really weird when you aren’t used to them. Every match is far more important than a ladder game, so win or lose, there’s this drive to calm down and think the game through. The problem is, until you’re eliminated or take home the prize, there’s always another match waiting. Even worse, when your game finishes before that of your next opponent, you have to be ready to go on a moment’s notice so you just sit there, unable to either relax or prepare more.

        I scanned the spire, landed my third base, and built turrets, not sure how far behind I was. A muta ball began to harass my base, but exploded to some hidden widow mines. I began dropping, killing off the building 4th base and a few workers, but losing quite a few units of my own.

Midway through the tournament, I completely lost track of how my teammates were doing, who I might play next, or when I could eat. I grinded out series after series, trying to outrun my lack of sleep.

Without the anonymity of the internet, everyone turned out to be really nice. There were no rage quits, no refused handshakes, and no Naniwa in general. Eliminated players gathered around the stream display, talking and laughing together as they cheered on their friends. By the time I got knocked out I was so tired that it almost wasn’t a disappointment.

        I did my best to hold back the creep spread and began looking towards a 4th of my own. A scouting marine caught a big +2/+2 muta/ling/bane all in coming towards my 3rd. I positioned my army behind my wall just as the Zerg hit. Solid mine hits evaporated the banelings, and my marines cleaned up the mutalisks for the GG.

Bails ended up taking first after winning the second best-of-five series against NoRegreT, showing the class and adaptability of a multi-time WCS Challenger. Bails won by taking a 3-0 in the second set after losing 3-1 initially. Silky took 3rd after a close loss to NoRegreT, and EJK beat Crayon to finish 4th. My team had hoped for a stronger finish, but ultimately weren’t too disappointed due to the unexpected level of competition. I ended tie-5th, Creature ended tie-7th, Psycho and Lucky finished at tie-9th, Qualia and xKawaiian got tie-13th, and Rengen and Jamileon finished tie-17th.

        I pulled off my headset, shaking from adrenaline and Red Bull. My teammate gave me a thumbs up when he saw the victory screen, but everyone else was looking at their own computers. I had managed to claw my way out of a pit, but there was still a mountain range to climb.”

– Jay “Raze” Whipple

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