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World of Barcraft

World of Barcraft

Entering a pub on match day can be a daunting task when you're immediately confronted with a small horde of people yelling at a screen just above your head. However, the experience takes a turn for the surreal when you turn to see that this particular small horde isn't watching a football or rugby game, but the MLG Providence Tournament - a series of professional Starcraft 2 matches.

On 19 November, we went along to the Assembly House in North London's Kentish Town to join the London Barcraft team. This group of volunteers work to bring Starcraft fans across the UK together to see their favoured eSport broadcast on a 91in screen in the same baying, whooping and cheering environment you would expect when watching conventional sports.

London Barcraft started out with around ten people huddled around a small screen, but with each successive event the movement has doubled in size. The culmination of this is the most recent gathering at the Assembly House, where 200 people came to watch the game and discuss the new splinter groups forming in Swansea and Manchester.

'The best thing is that someone who doesn't know what's going on can still watch it,' said organiser Adam Varney, who think eSports are about to hit the mainstream. 'It may look silly, but there are some really epic moments.' He added that the team is planning many more events in the future, and that it's currently taking over the whole bar and setting up an extra screen for next week's Dreamhack tournament.

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Barcraft has gained a lot of interest from sponsors such as Alienware, and has even had support from Blizzard's community representatives, who promoted the event through their official channels. Adam attributes most of his success to Team Dignitas however; a professional Starcraft 2 team that supplied goodies for giveaways and much-needed contacts. Throughout the evening the organisers raffled-off signed pictures of professional players and team shirts from Team Dignitas.

After a few minor technical issues early on in the evening, the audience very quickly got into the matches. Talking to the crowd, it was clear that they all had different levels of knowledge about the eSports scene and the game in general, from dedicated followers to those who were seeing professional matches for the first time. Barry Coco, for example, had never touched a PC before being introduced to Starcraft 2 by a friend, and was hooked by the level of strategy and skill required.

'I love my sports, from football to MMA, so this is just like another sport I'm getting in to,' he said. 'It's a lot like chess, but more interesting to watch.'

Ollie Adams, another spectator, was particularly keen to get as many of his friends playing Starcraft 2 as possible when it was released. 'Playing on your own, you forget that there's a community,' he said, pointing out how events such as Barcraft really help to highlight the social side of gaming.

Walking around the other half of the bar that wasn't occupied by those cheering at the zerglings, it was clear that there was a sense of confusion, but no hostility of any kind. Alan Matthews, someone who doesn't play computer games at all, said: 'It's bizarre and we did wonder what they were doing, but the guy behind the bar explained it to us. It looks like they're having fun.'

'The thing that would put me off games is that I'm an outgoing person and I've always seen games as very insular, but something like this is great,' said another patron, Debbie Knight.

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As for the experience itself, although London Barcraft says it wants to promote more of a convention atmosphere rather than that of a sports event, the atmosphere felt similar to any sport event at the pub. The crowd was definitely involved in the action, and seeing the high-level play was exciting if you knew what was going on.

However, we aren't convinced that you can tell what's going on if you don't know anything about the game, and the format of the tournament occasionally made it difficult to get truly invested. When a match can last anywhere between five minutes and an hour, the flow can get disrupted easily, especially as not all the matches are consistently engaging. Then again, you can say that about most sports.

What Barcraft does, though, is prove that it's fun to be a part of eSports, and they're also easy to pick up, which is essential for an event such as this. A lot of the more dedicated fans have favourite players, but even those new to the game can root for their favourite race. The crowd really gets behind certain players too, and the roars as banelings barrelled into clusters of marines, or as players executed mind blowing rapid micromanagement, were as deafening as they were surreal.

Although the general consensus in the room was that eSports are a long way off from going fully mainstream, they might be closer than you would think - Barcraft itself certainly isn't going to disappear any time soon by the looks of it.

'This,' said volunteer organiser Javier Lee when we asked him why he helped out, gesturing to the baying crowds. 'It's just incredible.'

Find out more about Barcraft via the official Barcraft Facebook page.

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