Google, Zynga, Microsoft, and Amazon Compete in Charity Starcraft Tournament

Last month Associate Editor Patrick Miller brought you the scoop on the After Hours Gaming League, an extramural Starcraft II league with players from big tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Things have been heating up since then, and the intrepid reporters at GamePro have the latest update.

On the August 19, four teams will compete in the finals of the After Hours Gaming League, a charity Starcraft tournament. However, these teams are not composed of professional gamers, or even the top-ranked amateurs, but instead employees of four Silicon Valley technology companies-- Microsoft, Google, Zynga and Amazon.

For the past nine weeks, eight of the biggest technology firms in the Bay Area have been competing in a Starcraft tournament, organized by Sean “Day[9]” Plott, a professional Starcraft player and commentator. Materially and practically, there's little at stake. There is no cash prize -- instead Day[9].tv (Plott's webchannel) will donate $5000 to the charity of the winner's choice.

Starting out with a field of eight, the teams have been whittled down to a final four. Tonight, Google and Amazon will compete for third place while Zynga and Microsoft square off in the finals. Each of these four teams have spent months in training and preparation, endlessly studying strategies, practicing builds, watching replays of professional games -- all in addition to their jobs at leading technology companies. This may seem strange, but all of this is just the latest chapter in the story of “eSports."

Starcraft 2010 Montage by LaxxSC

Starcraft and eSports

The story of competitive gaming has always been tied to the story of Starcraft. From its genesis and troubled development out from under the shadow of Warcraft in the late 90s, to the smashing success of the long-awaited sequel, Wings of Liberty, gamers have always enjoyed Stacraft's unique blend of speed, dexterity, and strategy.

Starcraft's competitive gaming scene came to distinguish itself not only by the skill and ferocity of its participants, but the scale and scope of its cultural impact. In Korea, Starcraft is an institution, where the best practice 14 hours a day, receive corporate sponsorships and six figure salaries, compete in stadiums, and star in confusing, yet distinctly unsettling advertisements.

Outside of Korea, however, for years the professional Starcraft scene fell short of the rabid enthusiasm induced by events such as the annual World Cyber Games, and from superstar players such as BoxeR and Bisu. Nevertheless, the strong, grassroots competitive scene in Europe and North America, fostered on Battle.net and supported by online communities such as TeamLiquid would produce its own legends and superstars. Equally integral to the rapid development of Starcraft as an eSport were its personalities and commentators (commonly called “shoutcasters”, or simply “casters”) that grew from the ranks of its high-level players, names such as Husky, TotalHalibut, DJWheat, Diggity, Anaris, and of course, the Plotts: Nick “Tasteless” and his younger brother Sean “Day[9]”, who after facing each other in an emotional match at the 2005 World Cyber Games in Singapore, would each go on to become professional shoutcasters.

“Funday Monday”, where Day[9] gives you some of Starcraft's greatest misses.

A Silicon Valley Tournament

Founded in cooperation with Eric Burkhart, Day[9].tv is one of the most popular Starcraft channels. Their own peculiar, charismatic combination of exuberant geekery, critical insight, and tenacity makes for excellent watching. Above all else though, what rings clear with every cast is their sheer, crazy love of the game and all its nuances, quirks, complexities, and frustrations. This is a sentiment impossible to ignoreYet, the scope of Day[9].tv's personal mission goes beyond the channel's tagline: “Be A Better Gamer”. Since 2009, Day[9] (that is, Sean himself) has grown into Starcraft's premier ambassador/mad prophet, tirelessly working to bring the Gospel of eSports out the basement and into to the wider world.

Having successfully hosted an in-game Starcraft tournament at Facebook, members of the Palo Alto-based social media company suggested to Day[9] the idea of a new tournament-- this time between Silicon Valley technology firms. In lieu of a purse, the teams would compete tournament-style to raise money for the charity of their choice. It was an instant hit.

Bitter corporate rivalries usually confined to earnings reports and patent lawsuits would be settled with now be settled with Thermal Lances, 8-pool rushes, and Siege Tanks. These qualities of risk management, creative decision-making, and frenetic multitasking that had allowed these professionals to excel at the workplace would be tested through competitive Starcraft. Here they had found in Starcraft the natural outlet for the zealous one-upmanship and high-powered nerdery that made Silicon Valley great. Eight teams of “engineers and entrepreneurs”, over seventy players total, would come forward to do battle: Amazon, Twitter, Google, Dropbox, Zynga, Microsoft, Yelp, and Facebook.

Seven weeks and more than 2 million views later (between Blip.tv and Day[9].tv's coverage), the semifinals began. Unbeaten throughout the round-robin, Microsoft continued its dominance, sweeping Amazon 4-0. However, social gaming developer Zynga surprised everyone, upsetting then No. 2 Google, 4-1. So far, the teams have competed from their respective company headquarters over Battle.net; they have yet to face each other in person. Tonight in the Finals, they will finally meet.

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