World Cyber Games US Open
On the last Saturday in May, I played in the World Cyber Games US Open. The tournament was held at the Samsung Experience – Samsung’s concept and showcase store – in New York City. The World Cyber Games (WCG) is an international video game competition, this year featuring 14 games. It’s like the Olympics of video games; players qualify to represent their countries and then face off at the international final, this year to be held in Cologne, Germany. The US Open is part of the WCG’s United States qualification process. The top two finishers from the Open got prizes ($700 for first, $300 for second) and qualified for the national finals, to be held some time this fall. There, they’ll compete against eight other players, who will qualify in regional events this summer, for a spot on Team USA and a chance to take home the big prizes – last year’s Age3 winner, iamgrunt, won $12,000, and previous top prizes have topped $20,000 – at the Grand Final (more info on the WCG USA qualification process here).
I arrived at the Samsung Experience around 9 am on Saturday morning, about an hour and a half before check-in for the tournament. I came early to hang out with Raghav, you’d know him as Parfait on ESO, whom I had met at two WCG events last year. We got some coffee and chatted about our trips into the city, some games we’d played recently on ESO, and strategy ideas for the tournament. We were both planning on playing Germans, so we tossed around ideas for German against Japan, the civilization we thought others might be playing, and for German against German “mirror” match-ups.
After checking in to the tournament, I waited for the okay to set up at the computers and met the other competition. Anima_ (Matt), aka __Sephiroth__, and Wormwood (Chris) filled out the four-person field. I had met both players at last year’s WCG US finals, where Anima_ had finished second and Wormwood fifth (Parfait had grabbed first. The third place finisher, _H2O, wasn’t able to come to the Open. I placed fourth). All four of us Age3 players talked for a while and took pictures before the tournament started. Both Matt and Chris are very nice guys and it’s always cool to talk people in person whom you interact with on ESO and the community forums.
Video games played in person and on a competitive level, often called e-sports, mimic traditional sports in a few ways. You’ll sometimes have a audience while playing, there’s noise to distract you, and unfamiliar environs to navigate through, in particular a different computer set-up than you’re used at home. (StarCraft in Korea garners massive crowds and its own television channels. Not so in the US, but many of the games at the US Open, especially First Person Shooters, which are easier to follow without the viewer knowing a lot about the game, have spectators (Halo 3 is even featured on the ESPN website). A few people watched the Age3 matches.) You are encouraged, sometimes required, to bring your own “peripherals” to WCG tournaments. While mice and keyboards are often provided, players bring their own mice, mouse pads, keyboards, and headphones to tournaments. It can be tricky to get yourself comfortable. At last year’s final’s _H2O used two chairs stacked on top of each other to compensate for the difference in desk height between the tournament’s tables and his at home. This year, Matt sat with one leg under his body to deal with a similar problem. While these adjustments might seem minor, being in a position you’re used to and using the settings you use at home are crucial to being focused and playing well.
(Halo 3 players)
Our computers were set up along a long table in the middle of the store. There were four other games being played at this table, StarCraft, Command and Conquer 3, WarCraft III, and Fifa 2008 (for Xbox 360), with four competitors to a game. Two Age players sat on each side of the table. I was on the same side of the table as Chris and a StarCraft player sat between us. Another StarCraft players sat to my other side. This way, a player doesn’t sit right next to another player, and his monitor, whom he might play in the tournament.
We were given about half an hour to set up our hardware and install drivers, change our hotkeys, make our Home Cities (we’re allowed to set our Home Cities as high as we want), and build our decks. Immediately we noticed that the tournament administrators made a big mistake. They hadn’t installed The War Chiefs. Not only could we not play any of the three Native civilizations – a blow to Wormwood who is very good with Aztec, although luckily Raghav, Matt and I hadn’t planned to use Native civilizations – but two of the WCG official maps, California and Painted Desert were not available (the other WCG maps are New England, Great Plains, Himalayas, Saguenay, and Yukon).
At about 11:30, the tournament started. The format was a series of best of three matches, in a double elimination bracket. This meant that in order to be bumped from the tournament, you’d have to two matches, with two losses in each. The first round match-ups were Parfait against Wormwood and Anima_ against me. Parfait won two straight games against Wormwood. I watched the tail end of one, in which Wormwood shipped the two funes card (Japan’s Colonial Age warship) into one of the middle lakes on New England, but only one of the funes showed up! (This usually occurs when you don’t put the Home City flag far enough from the shore.) When something like this happens online, it’s easier to shrug off, but it can be incredibly frustrating when money and trips are on the line.
In my first game against Anima_, he completely surprised me with his strategy and won easily. In most German mirror matches, players build mostly crossbowmen early, with a few pikes to counter shipped uhlans, and occasionally build a stable and push with uhlans first. Instead of this more traditional route, Anima_ built 10 pikemen first, which quickly caught up to my crossbowmen, and allowed his uhlans to close in on them early, while his pikes had their way with my uhlans. This early maneuver won the game for him as I wasn’t able to combat the major army advantage he had after losing the first battle so badly.
In the second game, he built both a barracks and a stable at the start of the second age and pushed again with early pikemen. I was more prepared this time but was confounded in an early battle by an outside-of-the-game blunder. Someone on the other side of the table had knocked over their keyboard onto the basic keyboard which was originally attached to my computer, which I had neglected to unplug. The dropped keyboard hit the windows key on the second keyboard and I was tabbed out of the game! Sitting there viewing the desktop, I wasn’t able to micromanage against Anima_’s strong push and the second game was lost. Similar to the shipped-fune bug, this is the kind of thing at a prize-tournament that can be very aggravating. Although I was certainly frustrated by what happened, I tried to focus on my upcoming matches, knowing that I still had a shot at the prizes (I also promptly unplugged that other keyboard!).
One thing with which all players at LAN tournaments have to contend is the wait time between matches. In order for the tournament to last the whole day, so that spectators can come in at any time and see games being played, matches are spaced out, resulting in plenty of down-time. During one of these roughly hour-long breaks between rounds, I watched some StarCraft matches. Although I don’t know enough about StarCraft to really understand what’s going on in a competitive match, it’s still fun to watch the top players go after each other, their fingers fluttering on their keyboards and mouses. Top American StarCraft players usually maintain an Actions per Minute (APM) rate of between 150 and 250, peaking at 300 (Korean pros often operate in the 300-400 range!). One StarCraft match lasted an hour and fifteen minutes! By the end, one of the players was still maintaining an APM of over 200. Assuming his APM was around 220 for the whole match, he performed over 16,500 actions in that game!
In the second round, I faced off against Wormwood in the losers bracket, while Parfait played Anima_ in the winners bracket. My games against Wormwood, my German against his Japan, went a lot more smoothly than those against Anima_. When playing German against Japan, the main key is using your crossbowmen to hit and run against his ashigaru musketeers. When you play online, inevitably with a certain amount of lag, this is tricky as your crossbowmen don’t react as quickly as you’d like and the ashigarus can catch up to them more easily. Playing on LAN, however, lag is minimal, if not non-existent, so this match-up becomes a fair deal easier to win. I took this round against Wormwood in two games, although he unfortunately suffered from the shipped-fune bug again on New England. Parfait also beat Anima_ in two games, handling his early pikemen better than I had in their first game, and then applying very good pressure against Anima_’s well executed Fast Fortress in the second.
The results of the second round knocked Wormwood from the tournament and set up a rematch between Anima_ and me, with at least second place, meaning an assured $300 and paid travel to and hotel at the national final, on the line. The WCG format requires both players to pick one map from the WCG map pool as their “home map” in each round. Because Anima_ had played so aggressively in the first two games, I picked a more defensive map, Saguenay, while he picked a wide-open one, Great Plains, ideal for aggressive play. His map was first and I was able to fend off his early push, again taking advantage of an easier-to-manage hit-and-run tactic to pick off his pikemen. After gaining that advantage I was able to corner him with uhlans and win the game. On Saguenay I played defensively, building in my base, while he forward built. Again he went for pikemen early, while I focused more on economy, shipping the three settler wagon card before the nine crossbowmen card. Because of a large patch of trees (common on Saguenay) in front of my base, he couldn’t effectively push early, and I was able to beat him with my settler wagon and fattened-sheep boosted economy.
The finals were then set: Parfait against me. I’m sorry to report that they weren’t very close. The first game, on Great Plains, I surprised him badly and was able to knock back his initial push with early uhlans. I made a mistake a little later in sending cards however, choosing five uhlans instead of 700 wood, when I really needed to set up my economy to produce crossbowmen instead of pushing with more uhlans. He took advantage of this and beat my uhlan-heavy army. The second game he won easily, placing a forward tower next to our barracks, which each of us had built right next to the other’s. This caused some indecision on my part that Parfait swiftly took advantage of and bested my army, grabbing first place in the tournament.
Even though I didn’t get first, I had a lot of fun playing in the tournament and seeing my fellow Age3 players again. I hope you enjoyed reading this and will post any questions or comments that you have. =)
You can see the recorded games of the tournament here. They don’t have my games against Wormwood, but otherwise all of the games are there. You can also take a look at the bracket form the tournament here.