My Barcraft Experience
There were a few looks of confusion inside Pluckers Wing Bar at the University of Texas as patrons expecting to watch baseball and basketball were treated to a new sport, StarCraft II. While the majority of the restaurant was packed in with fans of eSports, there were still a few people walking in who were not ready for what they saw. I was able to attend two of these events for the MLG Winter Championship and the more recent IPL4, to get a feel for the experience and learn from observers and the manager of how they feel about the barcraft phenomenon.
I’ll start by prefacing that I attended both of these events by myself. Since these were going to be my first barcrafts I was very apprehensive about how this would turn out, especially being on my own. My apprehension quickly turned to excitement the moment I got close to the bar and heard the cheers of fans erupting after one of the matches. I walked in, took a seat at the bar, ordered a beer, sat back, and soaked in the experience. It was amazing! MLG, IPL, and Pluckers were able to replicate the same experience you would get from watching Sunday Night Football, complete with a drunken crowd cheering for their favorite players, commentators giving the play by play, statistical reports, and the always present “better-than-the-pros” fan who feels the need to express exactly what each pro should have done to win each game. There was a strong sense of camaraderie throughout the bar; I saw multiple conversations being had in large groups by complete strangers about strategies for different races, their favorite players, what ladder they play in, and what equipment they use. Andrew Lee, producer of Star Nation, was offering free drinks just for showing up while raffling off free items for the fans: t-shirts, mouse pads, and a SteelSeries keyboard. There was a type of energy or buzz that I think only comes from the feeling that we are all a part of this new and exciting venture into eSports, which we are helping to shape and create... or maybe I had just had one too many Fireman 4s at that point.
In between some of the matches, I interviewed a few of the people at the bar to get their opinions on what was taking place. Glenn Vargas, a student at the University of Texas, was there to watch the Rangers game being played, which was only being shown on one television at Pluckers. He had heard of StarCraft II, but wasn’t able to follow the game – to him, “it looked like a bunch of bugs or insects fighting each other.” When asked if he saw any similarities with eSports and traditional sports, he couldn’t see the connection, mainly for the reason that he felt this type of sport was not in the pop culture and that, since it was just a niche, “it’s a subculture that watches… possibly like a cult, not in a bad meaning, but a cult following.”
Another patron of the bar, Taylor Cannon, had similar answers, stating that “it’s too hard to follow and too fast to understand what is going on.” Interestingly, all the people who were not watching StarCraft that I spoke to gave the same answer when asked- why they like traditional sports so much: they all grew up watching and playing traditional sports as children. When asked if they watched and played StarCraft growing up, none of them had. This gives me hope for the future of eSports; with so much growth in internet media and the exposure to tournaments and gameplay, I can definitely see a larger majority of today’s youth becoming interested in professional gaming.
Max Carbajal was attending his second barcraft that he’d been to at Pluckers. Max, a Terran player, has been playing StarCraft since he was 11, and he enjoys coming to barcrafts mainly because it gives him an opportunity to discuss the game and be more social with other players while spectating matches, rather than sitting at home and watching. Contrasting from what the others had said, Max does feel that events like barcrafts are going to continue to grow. “It’s great to see events like this to help the game take off as a sport and to become popular in the national scene.” He went on to comment about eSports compared to traditional sports, saying, “it’s not quite as physical, but more mental and takes more dexterity and quickness of thought.”
Barcrafting is certainly helping bring esports fans together to break the stereotype of gamers being anti-social. It’s also helping local businesses and restaurants thrive during times when business can be slow. Munson Stodder IV, the manager of the Pluckers Wing Bar, had nothing but positive feedback to give about the people attending and hosting the barcrafts. He has even gone as far as to upgrade the infrastructure of the restaurant with a faster internet connection and the ability to watch in HD. Munson has also talked with other managers letting them know about the huge turnouts that he has experienced for each event. For the MLG Winter Championship, Munson reported close to 200 people attending. And during IPL4, which happened during Easter Sunday, he was amazed that over 100 people showed up to attend. Other Austin bars, like 3rd Base, were used to put on barcrafts, but were met with negative feedback from the viewers. Fans who attended that barcraft event expressed their frustration with the setup – 3rd Base had only a few televisions actually showing StarCraft and their wait service was not as good as the service at Pluckers. Munson’s willingness and initiative to help host barcraft events for gamers has certainly helped secure his Pluckers restaurant as the place of choice for barcraft in Austin. My only critique was that the TV in the bathroom that was integrated into the mirror was not set to display the matches, so I didn’t know what was happening while I was washing my hands.
If you are a fan of eSports and want to be a part of a great forum where you can enjoy a beer and something we are all passionate about, find a barcraft near you. You’re helping to grow our sport and helping local business as well. Here are some websites to check for one near you.
Written by Bill 'di0nysus' Kernan