Non Sequitur Fridays

The Simulated Warfare of Starcraft

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Jim Bancroft is an Engineer at Wistia.

Those who know me also know that I am an avid fan of the New England Patriots. Football is one of the few sports that I didn't get to play as a kid, and as an adult it really intrigues me. From the times of gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome, humans have been entertained by simulated war.

Many of the terms and practices in football exemplify this. Quarterbacks are sometimes referred to as field generals, the defensive tactic of blitzing definitely comes from a German tactic used in World War 2, and the offensive and defensive lines are reminiscent of how pretty much every war before the 20th century was carried out.

Now, don't get me wrong: war itself is horrible and I'm not trying to suggest that anything about war itself is entertaining! But there's something undeniable about human psychology that makes many of us love to watch and even participate in a *simulated* war. That's why people watch and play sports.

In even more modern times, another place where people have been playing out simulated wars is in video games. There are many different types of games out there, but one of my long-time favorite genres is the real time strategy game. The quintessential RTS is Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft series.

The latest iteration of the game (Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm) just came out, and let me tell you - it's awesome! In my opinion, Blizzard is one of very few companies that consistently deliver sequels with great improvements over their predecessors.

In all of the Starcraft games, you play as one of three different races. Terrans are your standard run-of-the-mill futuristic humans with a good mix of ground infantry, vehicles such as tanks, and starships. The Zerg are a biological race that act in a swarm-like manner, spreading across the battleground in an uncontrollable infestation. Finally, the Protoss are an ancient race of aliens with psionic powers and very advanced technology.

Having three different races with three distinct sets of units and buildings (which you control from an isometric perspective) allows for a great number of different strategies and many, many hours of very entertaining gameplay.

Sun Tzu said "all warfare is based on deception," and the key to Starcraft is certainly lots of deception. Just as in traditional sports like football, a trick play at the right time can turn the tide of a game, so too, in Starcraft, if you can fake your opponent out you can gain a strong edge that will seal the win.

Recently, I have discovered the joy of watching Starcraft in addition to playing. This is not a new phenomenon - it's been going on in South Korea for years - but it's new to me and that's why I'm writing about it! In South Korea, apparently Starcraft is so big that it gets televised just like we do in the U.S. for football (or baseball, basketball, hockey, etc.).

Sun Tzu said "all warfare is based on deception," and the key to Starcraft is certainly lots of deception.

Anyway, I've been into this for a little over half a year now, and it definitely seems to be picking up steam worldwide. The fact that there are actually people out there who play video games professionally for a living still kind of blows my mind, but after watching a few games I started to realize that these guys are really good.

Many of them train ten or more hours per day, and the best in the world will average around 350 actions per minute. Think about that for a second: 350 actions per minute over the course of a half-hour game! Sometimes, during really intense battles, they will spike up to over 500 APM, and those are just downright exhilarating! When that's happening there might be 50 to 100 units on the screen at once, with each one of them seemingly controlled by a different player - until you realize that it's just one person doing all this stuff!

My prediction is that as the social stigma of gaming wears off here in the U.S., we will see Starcraft 2 and other eSports games go mainstream. The commentators are getting better. The tournament prizes are getting bigger. Some leagues even let you play along in a fantasy format, just like in other sports. Some things about eSports are even way ahead of their traditional counterparts, like the distribution models.

Admittedly, I am quite biased in this area, but let's face it: online video beats the heck out of traditional TV in almost every way. For ad-supported leagues, the ads play between games so the action is never interrupted. Most events can be watched either live or later at your convenience. And let's not forget that when you see a new strategy that you want to try out you can always fire up the game and get into the action first hand!

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