IdrA vs HuK - The rivalry that could have been
The Rivalry That Could Have Been.
24 years ago, a young Brazilian by the name of Ayrton Senna was acquired by the McLaren team to compete in Formula 1 alongside the already established two-time world champion, Frenchman Alain Prost. The two drivers were very different: Senna was extremely talented and hungry for success; he drove with a ruthless passion that most would (and often did) call dangerous, a "victory or nothing" kind of guy. Prost on the other hand was nicknamed "The Professor". He was intelligent, calculating, and deliberate in everything he did. If he couldn't win a race he would instead drive defensively and place well to score points towards the championship. The one thing the two drivers had in common was that they were very, very good at what they did. Too good, it would turn out, for their own team to handle.
A rivalry of legendary proportions rapidly grew as the two competitors fought for the championship. Insults were traded at press-conferences, there were shady backstage politics, but more importantly, near-misses and high-speed accidents were ocurring on the track. In the deciding race for the '89 championship, the two McLaren cars collided as Prost blocked an attempted pass by his teammate Senna, taking both cars off the track and resulting in Prost winning the championship. McLaren could do nothing to stop their own drivers from going at each other. The following year, with Prost now driving for Ferrari, the championship once again came down to a deciding race, this time with Prost in need of the victory. He got off to a good start, overtaking Senna as they came towards the first corner. But Senna refused to back down and the two collided again, at 160 mph (260 km/h). Luckily both walked away from their wrecks unscathed, and this time Senna was awarded the championship. Amid the controversy, Senna said, "When there's a gap, you either commit yourself as a professional racing driver that is designed to win races, or you come second, or you come third, or come fifth, and I'm not designed to come third, fourth, or fifth. I race to win, and if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you're no longer a racing driver."
This rivalry did fantastic things for Formula 1; it was so marketable, so filled with emotion, so alive. It was all those things that Formula 1 as a motorsport inherently was not. Machines with this-and-that much horsepower going around a track can seem cold, predictable, and frankly rather uninteresting without the human element. But as the human drama took center stage, the industry was able to flourish because of it.
Now, eSports has had tons of rivalries throughout the years spanning various competitive games, and attempts to recount them all would be futile. But one of the most prominent from the past year was the StarCraft II rivalry between the current teammates HuK and IdrA from Evil Geniuses. Most of you will remember how, during early 2011 while HuK played for Team Liquid, IdrA would often comment on how little respect he had for HuKs play. To summarize the denied handshakes, middle-finger salutes, and trash talk in one quote:
"He's a piece of trash who wouldn't win any games if he didn't play Protoss."
The tension was real, and fans loved it. The rivalry also spawned one of the most memorable matches of the year when HuK, at a clear disadvantage, summoned an army of fake Void Rays to trick IdrA into believing that he instead was far behind, and it worked. It was great entertainment, highly suspenseful, and very human. People were watching to see which character in this drama would win; the actual game itself was secondary. But in a way, the rivalry also managed to reflect the growing StarCraft II audience at that time, with many of the old school Brood War fans choosing to root for the "Bad Boy" IdrA since they knew that he could back up his talk with raw skill and past accomplishments, while most of the new fans chose to root for HuK, the smiling and more likable up-and-coming star. Everyone had a character to invest in and side with. But in mid-August of 2011, it became official: EG had purchased HuK, and the two rivals would become teammates. The once vibrant rivalry died almost immediately.
Part of me wishes that they would have been more like Prost and Senna and wreck each others equipment while burning the team down from the inside. What glorious entertainment it would have been. Unfortunately, being reasonable is not nearly as entertaining as the opposite, and as a result we have been robbed of one of the few true main-stage rivalries of the past year.
But the StarCraft II purists out there, of which there are plenty, do complain when the community at large chooses to focus on "drama" instead of the game. The trivial "he said/she said" scenarios are wholly unrelated and merely distracting from the strategical depth and beauty of the game itself. All of that is true. And from time to time the community, like an angsty teenager, will hate itself in agreement for its own gossipy nature. However, without that eagerness to embrace some drama, we would risk losing the magical ingredient for engaging entertainment: the human element.
Motorsports, much like eSports in general, have issues with conveying emotion during a competition. The drivers are locked up tight and covered from head to toe in protective gear, much too occupied with piloting a high speed machine to bother with celebrating a fast lap. Such luxuries of emotional display are left to other sports with goals, touchdowns, or home runs who all feature breaks in their play. Likewise, most eSports tend to follow the same pattern, where the competitors are much too focused on their own tasks to have any time for a show of emotion. This is a grave disadvantage in the quest to expand our audience. Gearheads may still be able to appreciate the technical data of one engine versus another, much like StarCraft II purists can appreciate flawless macro, but these people already know what to look for; the newly introduced viewers who are shaping their initial impressions of the spectacle in front of them do not. That's where the global language of emotion comes into play, something everyone can relate to regardless of prior knowledge, and nothing brings forth emotion in sports better then a well-presented rivalry.
From the outside, Formula 1 has often seemed to be very hard to relate to for one who has little-to-no interest in cars or machines in general. That was the case with me until I saw the documentary "Senna", which highlights the rivalry described in the opening of this article. And you know what? I think I may actually have been missing out on something rather fascinating. Just like I am completely convinced that many people around us are missing out on the really exciting stuff going on in eSports nowadays. Most people are just as blind towards eSports today as I was to Formula 1 earlier. But a heated rivalry opened the door for me to appreciate something that I otherwise didn’t care for at all.
There is beauty and entertainment to be found in the strategic depth of our favorite eSport titles. And I want to share that wonder with as many people in my surrounding as possible. But sharing it effectively was so much easier when there was a well presented rivalry to point to, back when HuK and Idra didn't like each other. So, here's to hoping that we will see more top tier rivalries across all our competitive games, for the good and growth of eSports.
Written by Joel 'Offsajdh' Hakalax