Jun 112013 Tagged with , ,

Heart of the Swarm Launch Party! My “VIP for a day” experience at Blizzard HQ.

Hey Now!

Don’t care about my story being a VIP on blizzard campus, USA launch, and mingling with the “big boys?” Would you rather just look at the pretty photos? Click here for my imgur album of the event. I don’t blame you.

So how do I get invited to the Blizzard campus to hang out in the midst of this day long live-streaming bonanza? Back in February I woke up and found an email in my inbox from one Sean Plott. I was instantly confused as I consider Sean a friend, but not someone who I am in regular correspondence with. When I opened up the email I saw a long description of what was to be the community stream for the launch event. All of these hush hush details were being shared with me. The most exciting part was reading that I was being asked by Day[9]tv to be the representative of /r/starcraft for the launch stream. They were having videos submitted by teams, players, websites, animators, and leagues to play on stream. But they did not have any video content from the (second most) popular Starcraft site on the net. I was ecstatic with the opportunity and honor to work on putting something together for the stream.

After a few weeks of speaking to Sean, Cara, and /r/starcraft staff there was an idea in place to gather community video and splice it together into one uber-video. Everyone would be answering the same 6 questions, and with this I could show the diversity of the reddit user base. The stressful part of doing this was: A) the lack of time between the official announcement, being able to collect video, and the turn in deadline. B) Learning how to use Sony Vegas on the fly as I did not have someone to help me edit and view the video. C) The community reaction to the project. A was solved with a lot of pestering. I wish I could have done a better job with B, but I think it came out okay. C, for better or worse, never happened.

All in all it was one hell of a fun time, and a lot of work to push this video out in such a small time-frame. If you wish you can watch the /r/starcraft community video HERE!

The unforeseen benefit of doing this project was waking up to another email from Mr. Plott. This one was inviting me to be a VIP at Blizzard for the USA HotS launch party. March 11th I would be making the hour drive to Irvine to hang out on the Blizzard campus with other eSports figures, and then partying at the mall with everyone else who came to the launch. This is the story of that day.

1pm – 8pm Blizzard HQ 

March 11th. The day before Heart of the Swarm launches. I wake up with little sleep after playing way too much Sim City the night before. I turn on Twitch to see the start of the Europe launch party. Redeye is announcing and the crowd is going crazy. I watch a little bit while getting ready. Excited because today I will be visiting the Blizzard campus. I grab my camera and headed out the door. The drive from Ventura to Irvine is a good 60-90 minute adventure depending on traffic. Interstate 5 is often times a coin flip. Unfortunately I was stressed out as it looked like traffic was going to make me late.

I arrived at the meeting parking lot at around 1:15. The VIPs parked here and were getting on a shuttle buss down the street to Blizz HQ. We were gathered in a barren parking lot across the street from Taco Bell HQ and throwing distance to the Spectrum mall where the big party would be happening later. We got friendly under a tent and mingled with the lucky folks who won the free VIP package. Some folks even flew into LA after they got their VIP ticket. I was talking to Xeris, Gretorp, Shindags, and other fine fellow as the bus (that apparently was on Blizzard time) came to get us. When they loaded the first set of people onto the bus I had to stay behind because my name was not on “the list.” When the next bus rolled around all of that was cleared up. Getting on the bus anticipation built as I signed a non-disclosure and headed down the road.

Finally we were at the gates of Blizzard. Security was tight as we rolled into the compound. Walking off the bus I was greeted by friends and Mama[9]. After sorting out my lack-of-pass problem I went on a mini tour through some of the Blizzard buildings. Unfortunately it was not a Valve-esque tour. It was cool nonetheless to get to poke around a little bit. Papa Johns, Subway, and Red Bull were fueling a gathering outside. I happily gathered a plate of pizza and tried all of the new Red Bull. Red was the best, blue was icky, and silver tasted like gumballs.

I got to shake the hands of some people who I have only talked to online. It was a pleasure to talk to Chanman, Sixen, and many others. The best part of hanging out and enjoying the warm summer day was catching up with those who I already knew. Shindags attempted to start a game of Starcraft Risk. After reading the rules and realizing that there were no grown ups around, we all reconsidered. Clutch was off interviewing Arcturus Mengsk (well the voice actor) infront of the famous orc statue in the middle of the quad.

I decided to finally head inside to see how the stream was going. Day[9] and Husky already finished their first broadcast early in the morning. Now that Europe was ending they were starting their second, longer, run. They have been up for a long time to do this and looked a tad tired.

The broadcast room was a desk for the hosts, two cameras and lights on them. Behind them was a team of 5-6 people running the stream and all of its assets. The back of the room had computers set up to play HotS multiplayer. The rest of the room consisted of chairs and a projector to show what was being pushed to stream. The audience was doing a stellar job and everyone was excited to be there.

Along with GHOSTCLAW I was the only other real shooter taking pictures at the party. All be it there was not a lot to capture. “Real” media was showing up and taking pictures too. This one lady committed the biggest sin of them all by shooting the casters, while they were live, with a flash on. Someone should have sent her to eSports jail. Aside from the awesome clips that were community submitted and playing on stream; some cool interviews happened at the desk. Kevin Knocke reading poems and Mike Morhaime being interviewed were just a few of the high points.

I decided to sit down and play some games of HotS. I launched a game and 5 minutes in I hear Day[9] start to intro what is to be the video that I created for /r/starcraft. He melts my heart with this awesome shout out in the lead-up to showing the video. I was way too distracted to be playing this game, and before I knew it I was floating 2k minerals. I believe the video came off really well. I felt a sigh of relief and happiness breeze over me.

I spent most of the rest of the day outside mingling with more people. Some people confused me for the head of /r/starcraft. Others thanked me for the redesign of the site. All things that I had to deny and give proper credit for. Before I knew it the sun was setting and everyone was starting to pack up to get on the bus that would take us to the mall. As we gathered out things and shuffled around we all received goodie bags from Blizzard. A Starcraft 1 music cd, book, thundersticks, marine figure, and poster all graced our bags. We also learned that when we got back to our car we would get our own signed collectors edition of the game.

Very satisfied with my day I drove back to the mall to see the “real” party. Not knowing that there was still a solid 8 hours of time left before I would be heading home.

8pm – 3am Irvine Spectrum Mall. The “big” party

Getting off the bus I immediately met up with some friends who unfortunately had a problem getting into the VIP event. I dropped my bags and headed for the heart of the mall to see the stage and people. This massive titantron was playing a (pre recorded) state of the game right in front of a ferris wheel. Close to a thousand people were huddled together in a standing room only space. They would remain standing there for about 4 hours while taking in the show to come.

The crowd was diverse. Every age group and race was in attendance. Mothers standing at the very front of the stage all along enjoying the show while picking up the game for her kids. College kids carpooling from all over so cal. Grandfathers, and even Dads bonding with their brood.

With there not being much to do aside from watching the show; I went to the bar (aka restaurant) to mingle more with the likes of Chanman, Odee, the NASL crew, and Blizzard employees. We talked for hours about teams, leagues, pop culture, and everything in between. 10:30 rolled around and we decided to get back out to the crowd. More people have shown up and Suppy was just getting ready to play Vibe in a best of 1 of 3. I took my place by the stage and spend the rest of the show using my camera, while dodging theirs.

The crowd was hyped as the games were played in a very fun and exciting manner. Lots of chatter and banelings were shared. The crowd was fixated on the games. Except for Clutch who has an uncanny ability to find cameras that are pointed at him.

The games ended and the clock was drawing ever closer to midnight.

The last bit of time was filled with interviews and throwing gifts to the crowd. Chris Sigaty, Carbot, and Robert Clotworthy all took to the stage and threw some sick gear to the audience.

Day[9] threw some more things into the crowd before him and husky tempted the audience with the collectors edition of HotS.

The crowd was counting down the seconds to midnight. I watched the stage hands give the players and husky confetti guns as I got ready for what was going to be an epic series of photographs and memories. When the clock hit 0 everyone was going crazy. People were jumping up and down and cheering. Confetti shot through the air as the stage lights went bonkers. Finally HotS was here.

K[9] Said good night to the stream and brought what was a full day of world wide streaming to a close. However things were not done for those in attendance. When the cameras went off the duo stood at the end of the stage and explained how distribution was going to work, how awesome the event was, and how there was still more stuff to toss into the crowd.

The players aided in a lot of the throwing. Mousepads flew left, right, and center. MC tried to fly his far. Polt decided to hand his to a young kid in the front row. Suppy’s flew crooked, eventually tumbling end-over-end and hitting some poor soul in the face.

As they tossed; raffle tickets were drawn to give away processors, video cards, cases, laptops, the works. The people in attendance were showered with gifts. As I walked away a Blizzard dev who I recognized from traveling to Shanghai with him handed me a collectors edition of the game and said thank you. I don’t even know his name, just his face, but you made my day that much better. Thank you. Again. <3

As the sea of people started to thin people were picking up their game. Everyone had a ticket that corresponded to the order they paid for the game in. 1 to 960. You could either take your game and get home, or stick around and get your whatever signed by all of the devs / personalities. This process took a lot longer than I expected it too. I felt sorry for Clutch, Husky, Chris, and others who were sitting there for three hours signing and greeting non stop. It seemed as everyone really enjoyed being able to interact with the team like this. Smiles were the most prevalent thing on this cold late night. When you exited the signing station you were gifted a HotS poster and asked to sign a cardboard HotS display for the team to take back to the offices.

I had to duck out around 1 am to take the bus back to the parking lot. I rode alone as I missed the memo that most people went to get their car earlier. Upon getting back to where I started this adventure the day before I was greeted by the Day[9]tv crew in the back of a windowless van. They were packing up and I was one of the last people to stop by to get their HotS collector edition. I love that gang and happily talked to them for a little bit before I headed back to the mall to say goodbye to fiends there.

After all the good byes I got sucked into chatting with Clutch and Vibe as they continued signing things. I think they were only around #750 at the time. Sitting at the table I got recognized by a few people and was asked to also sign their box. Boy did I feel both shocked and ecstatic, but unworthy to ink my name on this box with the devs. A few of the devs also called me by name. I had copious amounts of joy.

We chatted until the last copy was signed and then picked our tired bodies up and headed to the parking lot. The crew was still breaking down the stage, and the Blizzard team was happy to be headed home. After the last few hugs were dealt out I got in my car and made the hour drive back home to my bed. Which I promptly passed out in with a huge smile on my face.

It truly was a day that I am going to remember the rest of my life. I really have to thank Day[9], Blizzard, and TL for the event. After driving the hour back home at 3am I passed out only to get right up and play the HotS campaign.

I am looking to a very exciting 2013 in Starcraft and eSports. I am going to keep networking and attending as many events as I can. I love doing event photography and live reporting, but in reality I am not the best at it. Here’s hoping for more opportunities working in the future.

If you would like to keep up to date with everything I am doing you can follow me on twitter @leafeator. Thanks and I wuv you guys~ <3emimg class=”aligncenter” alt=”” src=”http://i.imgur.com/jVpPy2al.jpg” width=”640″ height=”427″ /