I love playing Starcraft 2, I love competing, after another taste of action at DH Bucharest I yearned for more, I needed more, I wanted to be able to attend another tournament but alas, eSports isn't really big here in Romania. It's hard to find anything, be it small online events or even small local LANs, everyone is just too focused on MoBAs or HS and CS over here, thus I quietly made peace with the thought I probably would have to settle with just laddering and small online events until next DH.
However one day on Skype, after going through a lot of random discussions, mixed in with the usual random calling out action and qq regarding either maps or the races (every team has that, right, right?), the topic settled on a small tournament that was to take place in England. Suddenly the question was asked, "Destructicon, why don't you come?".
At first I wasn't quite sure what to say, there were some conflicting thoughts going through my head, from the feeling I wasn't ready to compete abroad, the fear that I'd lose in the first round, to the uncertainty if I'd have the funds to go all the way, to the intense desire to say "fuck it" and go anyway.
So I chose the neutral response, "If everyone is going, I'll come as well". I honestly thought that would probably be the end of it, but then the talks kept going, the excitement kept building up and more guys where confirming their participation. Thus I finally also agreed to come.
As soon as my mind was made up I started to also plan ahead everything, passport, tickets, booking, transportation, all done weeks in advance just to be safe.
This event would mark a lot of firsts for me, the first time I got to see my friends and former team mates in real life, the first time I'd be traveling abroad to compete and, the first time I'd ever traveled alone. Strangely, I didn't feel very anxious, all the worry was just about getting everything ready in time, the actual thought of traveling excited me greatly.
Thus after getting most of my things ready I settled into the practice regime and slowly but surely the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months until finally it was time, the day of departure had arrived.
And so on a quiet little weekend between 18-20, in the small town of Kettering, England, a tournament took place for, SC2, CS, LoL and Hearthstone, its name was epic.THIRTEEN part of the epicLAN series and this is the story of my adventures there.
I wake up eagerly and check my clock, it is 3:30 AM. I think to myself "Too soon!" and burry my face back into my pillow, trying to catch another half hour sleep. Alas sleep had already left me. I toss and turn for a couple of minutes until I finally decide its time, I get up, wash lightly, get dressed, line my pockets with the essentials and then double check if everything is in order.
My uncle is there to drive me to the airport, we arrive a full hour and a half before I need to depart, just to be safe. Now came the part I was most worried about, navigating the airport. Fortunately, as I was soon to discover, airports are made quite idiot proof now a days, with tons of indicators everywhere giving you hits of where you need to go next, and information bureaus in case you might somehow get lost.
Thus I made my way through all the check-ins, metal detectors, check points and so forth, and of course mixed in was the mandatory long and useless delay somewhere along the way, just to keep things interesting.
The flight was short and smooth and, despite taking off 25 minutes late we arrived exactly on time, gotta love good piloting. In general I just love flying, especially the takeoff and landing, it feels so serene and peaceful for me and its made better by having a seat by the window and admiring the beautiful sea of clouds that the plane soars over.
After getting off the plane I also dodge a rather long queue trough the first checkpoint, mostly due to me having the new electronic passport, technology for the win!
http://imgur.com/kly9k2T Mix and Me
http://imgur.com/h1L20GG Mix and Revolution
What followed was a series of small meet ups as I make contact with my friends Revolution, Mix, Jamseykins and a lot of time killing in between traveling from one place to another, from Luton to Kettering and finally Kettering convention center.
Along the way I got to admire the British towns and countryside and I was quite impressed. Romania has this rugged, savage and chaotic feel to it, in contrast England felt orderly, clean and pristine.
Finally there at Kettering we also meet up with another buddy, PoultryPouch, and given that we had arrive really early, we settle into some team bonding, in the form of word games, some passes and a bit of drinking.
Here is a small look of the venue.
Once the doors to us players opened at 4 PM we all rush trough and start setting up.
The Gaming Area
No games where scheduled to be played on the 17th, so we had the entire rest of the day to ourselves. We spend it by resting, getting some much needed hot meals and cold drinks all the while talking, laughing and getting to know each other better, at around 6 PM the last of the crew arrive, Aicy and Grimzzy and, with all the crew together we snap the following photos.
http://imgur.com/ht3AXiz From left to right, Grimzzy, Pouch, Destructicon (Me), Aicy, Jamsey and Mix
http://imgur.com/Vez32Sn Left to right, top Pouch, Jamsey, Aicy, Grimzzy, bot, Revolution and Mix
As the sun set our spirits where high and we move into the mess hall to listen to some music and chill. What followed was probably my craziest moment at the LAN, up till now I've sort of jokingly been bragging about my legendary dancing skills so, when the time was right my friends pushed me onwards to show my skills.
Videos of the dancing and singing, awesomeness over 9000 possibly NSFW
After about a hour of that we settle down back in the player area and wind down slowly to the prospect of a nice long night sleep. And now the problem hit me full on, while at Luton I had forgotten to grab a sleeping bag and none of my friends were able to supply me with one. So I had to sleep on the chairs. I quickly accept my fate and lie down on my back in the pharaoh pose and try to meditate my way into sleep. Then the second larger problem struck me harder than an asteroid on collision course with a planet, a massive tooth ache...
I'm not sure how I managed to pass the night, but here I was at 7 AM, awake mostly before anyone else. I ask around for a nearby pharmacy and then make my there on foot. On my way I again am treated to a picturesque beauty of a English town, the red brick houses, red tiles, small fences with little gardens near almost every house, so quiet, so clean, so peaceful.
I arrive at the small shop and get myself some painkillers and well as stock up on apples, bananas and oranges to last me the next few days. I head back and arrive before anyone is awake, I settle at my PC and start enjoying my breakfast while browsing TL and reddit.
Sometime later a familiar face to the UK scene had arrived, Ourk. Initially I hadn't recognized him, but then judging by how familiar all my team mates were with him + the obvious writing on his team shirt I was sure. I go over and shake his hand, introduce myself.
The admin bids us over and explains the rules. There would be two groups of 8 and 7 players respectively (no 16th player signed up for the SC2 tournament), BO3 series with vetoes, massive round robin, that feeds into double elim brackets. Now with everything set, we all shake hands, sit down and man our battle stations http://imgur.com/aEE7ZUL
I draw the toughest group, all 8 players, some of my team mates, really strong players as well as Ourk. The top 4 made it to the next stage, but I was slightly worried I might not even make it. I quickly banish such thoughts from my head and just focus on playing my best.
The day drags on, some wins some losses with just one small break at 12:30 for lunch. The games are diverse, a wide variety of cheeses and macro games with both bio and mech on my part.
http://imgur.com/9CMOdWz The guys studying a replay.
Keyboard views of the crew guys.
My first challenge would be another terran in my group. He played a good mech game and took a game off Aicy while nearly closing out the next. I'm usually not worried about playing vs mech, but I wasn't quite able to adjust to LAN settings, despite playing with my own keyboard and mouse the desk and chairs felt so alien that I might as well have been using completely different gear.
I study my opponent and notice he doesn't really do early scout, thus I formulate a plan for the series, cheese to gain either a decisive lead or win early. My choice of strategies where 8/8/8 and double rax reaper rush. The vetoes go my way, first map King Sejoing, I proxy and get in completely uncounted, I do tons of damage, but don't end the game. Fine by me, I transition into cloak banshee and CC behind it all, I continue harassing, keeping my opponent pinned while macroing, finally I have enough to break him.
Second game was over much quicker, two rax reaper snowballs very quickly, especially with careful micro to ensure no losses and thus I clinch the series.
My next opponent would be much tougher, Ourk is a really good player and for epicLan he chose to play Protoss, there aren't many cheeses you can pull off against Protoss and I know I don't have many chances straight up against a former pro in a macro game, so I mentally settle on the thought of just playing my best.
First game I lose to a 1 base proxy tempest, talk about getting off to a rocky start. Next game would be on Catallena, with not much to lose I channeled the spirit of Heart and, went 2 rax reaper, again, this time into 4 rax. Ourk apparently was intent on going a 1 base colossus drop, fortunately reapers cheese hits faster, I was able to get in and do a lot of economic damage. I quickly realize that I wouldn't be able to end the game just with reapers, due to the colossus, thus I decided to use my economic advantage to expand. The colossus harass comes and passes, I manage to stabilize and we skirmish a bit on the map. I suffer lots of army losses but manage to destroy all his colossus, also due to my drop harass I manage to scout the switch into chargelot archon, WM production starts for me as well as a 3rd.
Suddenly all hell breaks loose, Ourk dodges my minefield and heads towards my base while I do a massive drop into his main to persuade him to come back home, well that doesn't work and a sort of pseudo base race ensues. I destroy the main Nexus, unpower the main infrastructure, back home I lose my nat CC but still have my 3rd and a lot of production that I float to safety + about 15 WM.
Once my economy and infrastructure is stabilized I head out for the killing blow, a couple of engagements, kitting and mine hits later Ourk GG's out. I let off a massive fit pump and a very loud "hell yeah, I just beat Ourk", my team mates all start bursting into laughter.
Unfortunately the Cinderella story wasn't meant to last and I got destroyed in the last game by a Phoenix Colossus build that I got to impatient in dealing with. At this point though I didn't care much I had just gone through a huge adrenaline rush and I was super happy and high on life.
I manage to defeat the rest of the opponents in my group and clinch 4th place behind Ourk and my team mates. With the day's games over we all decided it was time for something special, team football!
At this point I remember that not only do I suck at football, but I also have only long pants. After a couple of minute of playing goalkeeper Ourk encourages me to come into the field and take a more active role. Given that I can't dribble or shoot to save my life I decided against taking a front row role and moved into the defensive line, where my abilities to just mess up everybody would prove invaluable in our eventual victory.
One hour later, dripping in sweat and tired as hell we all walk out of the sports room and make our way to the showers. We treat ourselves to a nice couple of pizzas and spend the rest of the day recovering by slacking and watching TI4 or DH Valencia, all the while talking and joking some more. In this time me and Ourk also become good friends we hand out a bit with the crew talking about life in Romania, our hardships as well as what made me decide to come all the way to England to compete, we have tons of fun.
This time, painkillers + crashing on a team mate's mattress meant I did manage to catch a couple of decent hours of sleep, I was feeling fresh and lively, but, there was one problem, it was 5 AM...
I decide to pass the time by laddering, warming up and preping for my next game. I was going to play Jamseykins and was in for a tough TvZ, I decided I would use hellbat oriented builds, but unfortunately I wasn't getting any zergs on ladder that day.
Eventually breakfast comes and passes, people wake up and by 11AM we are ready to start the next set of games. Despite my best efforts to harass I wasn't able to do much damage and James's superior multi-tasking and mechanics quickly take over and I fall farther and farther behind with each engagement until I just lose.
I fall into the losers bracket where I'd face another terran next. I decided I'd go for pressure builds, include one game as mech and fall back on Catallena should shit hit the fan.
First game my marine, hellion elevator does very little damage and my follow up banshee does even less, I fall far behind and to make matters worse a good siege up position from my opponent means I need to sack tons of SCVs just to survive, battered and bruised I survive but am forced to GG later after my opponent's macro kicks in.
Second game is Catallena and I decide to go for broke, 2 rax reaper, again, I manage to get in and do tons of damage, and imediately the thoughts rush into my head, "how can I lose now?" fortunately the answer came in quickly "banshees", so I build a ebay, exactly on 5:45, turret as soon as the bay finishes and then switch some of my raxes to build a tech lab and reactor. I'm able to greet the banshee with a good number of marines + the turret and my opponent is forced to GG.
Last game I go for my reliable gas first banshee. My opponent decides to go for a fast expand into a drop of sorts, utilizing mines initially for defense and then later on in the drops. Trough some good micro I manage to not lose my banshees while doing respectable damage at the nat and I also minimize damage in my main.
During all of this I was also macroing decently, had gotten my nat CC up, a engi bay, more raxes and also built up a decent marine, tank banshee force. I realized I could move out and force a lift on my opponents nat to further gain a economic lead and, if he had a tank I could quickly snipe it with a banshee. To my surprise I arrive and find very little resistence, due to having gone double WM drop my opponent's first tank only just poped, and I was quick to destroy it with my banshees. Smelling blood I quickly advance from nat into the main and siege up, he pulls SCVs in a desperate attempt to hold but it's not enough, GG, the dream still lives!
Next up I was going to face Aicy, one of my friends whom I had already fought once in the group stage, unfortunately the first game I lose rather quickly to a roach, ling bane all-in. Deciding against playing the predictable 2 rax reaper I had done so far I decide to head into a more standard game. I go hellion banshee, manage to get into the nat and toast a lot of drones, but my macro behind this was poor, despite having turrets my ground army is too little to handle the following ling counter and I'm forced to tap out. My tournament run had ended.
To my surprise and delight though my performance netted me a top 6 spot, which was already way better than I had ever expected. I shake hands with Aicy, congratulate him and settle down to spectator mode. While my run was over, my team mates where still battling it out tooth and nail making it deeper and deeper, the joy was mixed in with some sadness and tears as some of our runs where cut short.
Eventually though, Ourk prevailed, having gone all the way to the winners bracket final and where he eventually faced and defeated our very own Mix in the final. While defeat almost always bitter, Mix has a lot to look forward to, he grabbed 2nd place prize and at 16 he still has all the time in the world to improve and the potential to make it far.
Ourk had to leave early, he packed up his stuff rather quickly and we helped him carry his stuff away, we shook hands and go on our ways.
After runs had ended we all wind down to another quiet night of pizza, drinking and tournament watching while also celebrating our conquests.
Cheers where particularly loud as we witnessed Sacscri win his first ever tournament, I guess that's what you get with a mostly zerg team, on the other streams though tragedy, at least for me as I saw team DK struggle further and Vici, to my dismay just making it farther, well at least Newbee was going strong.
Unbeknown to me this would be another frantic day. First order of business was packing up all our stuff. Once that was done we quickly discover that taxis wouldn't be driving until after our train was leaving for Kettering, thus we had to get going rather quickly. We arrive to the station on time but couldn't stop moving, my own coach to Stansted airport was leaving in 20 minutes. After seeing Mix off Revolution helped me catch my buss, we shook hands and parted, for the first time I was again alone, and again I was in for a long and rough night.
My toothache hadn't subsided one bit, the agony being kept back only by painkillers, however I was also running low on those, to book a cheaper flight I chose to leave on Monday morning, which meant I'd have to spend the rest of the day and all night in the airport. After a short journey I arrive at Stansted, given how I had tons of time to kill I wander around a lot, find a small market and grab another bunch of painkillers.
I manage to find a small cafe and settle down to for the day, the news and TV shows did wonders to keep me up until I was ready for dinner. However after eating I couldn't take it anymore, darkness slowly but inevitably enveloped my vision and smothered my will.
I wake up 3 hours later, having slept decently, soon enough departures would open. I make my way trough and in no time I was at the gates, the process of embarking was a lot quicker than last time, I could hardly wait to grab some more sleep on the plane.
Finally on 11:30 my plane touches down right on time, I soon meet up with my uncle and in the sweltering heat of Romanian summer we return home, where I proceed to fight the urge to fall asleep right until midnight, then I hit the sack and didn't wake up till 11 AM the next day.
Thoughts and reflections
Despite all the chaos of traveling, the lack of sleep and the constant pain, I loved it all. My only other tournament experience till then had been Dreamhack Bucharest twice, while DH was huge, extremely well organized and strict on their time, epicLan was a smaller, more intimate affair with a bit of a more flexible schedule. I wouldn't say one style has an advantage over another, but it was definitely nice to get to feel both and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The BO3 8 man round robin group was also massive fun from my point of view as an amateur. My biggest worry at tournaments so far would be getting eliminated early and not getting to play many games or interact with players, epicLan fixed that by giving us tons of games to play. By extension double elimination is also a lot more fun, having a second life and being given the opportunity to pull out an upset, no matter how small is a godsend.
The English are ton of fun, I'm not sure if I've seen a more cheerful group of people, and I'm not sure if it was just the epicLan crew, the people that attended or something else, but my experience in interacting with them was extremely positive, they where funny, open and extremely open to the my quirky weird personality, which was a big boon to me.
Last but definitely not least, and the thing that made it all worthwhile, and probably the thing that really made epicLan stick out, was the company of my friends. So far at tournaments, despite having friend and family there to root and cheer for me I was always alone as a competitor, I didn't have someone to fall back on, to talk to, get advice.
Being there with my team the sense of camaraderie took on a whole new form, we were right next to each other, analyzing the competitors, talking strategy and encouraging ourselves constantly. When someone was in trouble we would be right behind them, pumping them up, when someone was down we would try to give them space or cheer them up, and when someone succeeded we all cheered together.
And not only that, when we really got to know each other outside the game we had so much fun, it's true, we don't always get along perfectly, but who does, the clash of personalities as well as the discovering of all our quirkily little eccentricities, the poking friendly fun and the accepting of all our differences was part of the experience and probably what brought us closer together.
Overall the experience was a rich one for me, so much so that what happened before epicLan and what happened after feels like totally different temporal shifts, as if time stood still for a moment on those faithful days at Kettering convention center and everything that happened before that was a distant memory, while now everything that is to happen is a nebulous bright cloud of infinite possibilities.
For now, my hunger is sated, I had a lot of fun and I'm ready to settle in for a while. But I know one thing for sure, I do want more in the future, I not only want to attend more tournaments but I, again, want to feel that wonderful feeling of having a team to back you up, to pick you up when you are down, to cheer for you when you succeed, and to laugh with you, and sometimes at you, when you fail. Until then I settle back into ladder, planning my next adventure and remembering the awesome ones I've had so far!