i45: An Experience Not Soon Forgotten

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I’ll be honest – the mixture of emotions I felt when I was first asked to headline the Starcraft II casting at the U.K.’s largest LAN event was nothing like what you would hear in a press release. The typical “I am thrilled to be casting…” spiel just wouldn’t have cut it, because I was feeling equal parts thrill, excitement, nervousness, responsibility, and a ton of butterflies in the old gamer stomach. While I had been to and even cast at a U.K. LAN tournament before (see my blog posts on the EGL4 – Day 1 and Day 2) it was never really in any official capacity and I had to date enjoyed both the regular practice and chilled out environment that came with casting online from home.

Multiplay’s Insomnia 45, then, was a natural progression and a chance to step up my game in the face of a lot of unknowns – but before I got there, that’s all I really knew. I had train tickets booked and a suitcase packed, and that was about it. I’m really pleased, therefore, to share a little of what turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life with you here and a few of the little stories over the weekend that perhaps weren’t seen so much on-stream.

Arriving in Telford on the Friday afternoon an hour later than expected after a few interesting train interchanges, my nervousness in meeting a co-caster I had never met before only increased when I entered our hotel room to see that we had a double bed and a sofa-bed. I left my luggage in the room and charged my almost-dead smartphone for a few minutes to keep it alive a little longer. Upon hopping over to the conference centre and meeting the i45 staff and Martijn, I discovered to my relief that he was a very laid back and pleasant guy (we ended up flipping a coin for who got which bed, haha).

We spent the early evening making sure the stream would be set up for the Saturday and generally getting used to our surroundings at the tournament. We were in the caster’s room which was separate from the tournament hall and with a dedicated desk space for us to cast. The room was also shared, however, with casters from all the other games which was initially worrying as we could basically all hear each other casting! There was a running joke that the casters would try to out-shout each other over the weekend to see how many simultaneous streams we could be heard on, but thankfully everyone was extremely nice and we even made random guest appearances on the other streams every so often after games were complete – the Team Fortress 2 casters in particular were a joy to hang out with.

Despite the time being 10:30pm with an early (that’s before 2pm to all you non-gamers) start the next day, I suggested to Martijn that we head out to have dinner and a chat, to which he agreed. Hotel reception then directed us to an American diner that was about twenty minutes’ walk away but through a network of roads that almost had us lost on several occasions. Confirmation of this happened when we were feeling very good about ourselves for helping a lady towards her hotel…until we passed the hotel in question ten minutes later and realised we had sent her in the opposite direction. Er, whoops!

After this realisation, my smartphone was used to confirm the rest of the route to the restaurant, except there was only 3% battery left on it because I hadn’t charged it for very long when initially in the hotel room. We eventually found the restaurant with 1% battery left on my phone, and then discovered that we were eligible to receive a discount on our food bill if we could produce a voucher obtained via my phone. With about a minute’s worth of battery life remaining, I don’t think the world has ever seen fingers on a touch screen quite so fast – but said voucher was successfully obtained. Let this be a lesson to always keep your phone charged as you never know when it could come in handy!

Dinner was both hearty and hilarious, with Martijn and I exchanging stories about casting, eSports and life in general. We finished up at around midnight and began the (fuller and much slower) walk back to the hotel while simultaneously discovering that dessert (Martijn was sensible enough not to order dessert, this bit’s purely me) was probably an overextension of my body’s opinion on being generally comfortable.

And then, lo and behold – we spot the most glorious road sign. Missed on our initial walk to the restaurant because of our eyes being fixed on our smartphone maps, we find the perfect place to set up a Starcraft team house. Considering what we were there to do, what an awesome coincidence!

For an idea of just how ‘clutch’ my phone-charging was earlier – not only did it get us to the restaurant and just about get us a discount while we were there, the battery died on the phone just as I was going to take a photo of this road sign, so the above photo was taken with Martijn’s camera. You couldn’t have scripted it better!

The sign was also just off a roundabout, so what you don’t see from this photo is that Martijn jumped in and out of traffic three or four times before successfully capturing this shot. Likewise, my photo of him involved dodging not one but two articulated lorries, and trying to work out if several family cars were being honest with their indicator signals. Let’s be honest, though – totally worth it, right?

Completely exhausted when we finally got back to the hotel, we quickly went to sleep in preparation for a long day of casting the next day.

We were set up with stream details and overlays on Saturday morning, and Martijn performed some impressive last-minute miracles with contacts at TeamLiquid to get the event listed properly as well as with TheGunRun to get the stream delay set up properly – many thanks to all concerned! Given the sheer scale of the tournament hall I was actually surprised the admins were able to find all the players and get everything running smoothly, but that is exactly what they did to their tremendous credit.

The live casting had begun for day one, and despite being trolled by the chat early on to mispronounce Martijn’s name for a while (well played, you cheeky bastards – hahaha) things were going swimmingly indeed. Dinner the previous evening was definitely a good idea as we conversed with fluency and looked like anything but a combination that hadn’t cast with each other before! It was both exciting and enjoyable in equal measure.

Group play on day one came and went quickly, mainly because there were so many games being cast that we didn’t realise until about 3:30pm that we hadn’t been able to get a bite to eat yet! Even the games that weren’t at the absolute tip-top level were still very closely contested and provided real excitement to the stream, showing that you don’t need to have two top GM’s slugging it out to produce a nail-biting game of Starcraft. Things went quite well for us, and we spent Saturday evening having dinner at the venue so we could be close to the hotel.

Oh – that, and the pub quiz! Insomnia events are famous for their pub quiz events and i45 was no exception to the rule. The entirety of the event converged onto the main stage at roughly 9pm to take part in one of the most enjoyable evenings out I’ve had in quite a while. As I write this there are no edited official clips from the pub quiz yet, but here’s one taken by one of the participants on a phone stuck on YouTube to give you an idea of the atmosphere. A few songs may have been played in the warm-up to the event but this one appeared to generate the largest volume:

The production team (Team name ‘Smashing Pasties’, obviously) didn’t quite make it into the top three and the cash prizes but fun was had by all, especially with the quizmaster on stage continuously getting trolled by both the production crew and crowd alike. We just about managed to stumble back to our respective hotels between 2 and 3 in the morning. :-) Speaking of trolling, here are a few gems that were on-screen during the pub quiz…

The pub quiz winners receiving their cash prize on stage

The double elimination bracket started on Sunday (after insufficient sleep, of course!) with some impressive results, most notably Lau going on a strong run before finally being taken out by BlinG, and JonnyRecco unexpectedly falling to the lower bracket but having a strong run once he got there. Games were of high quality and at times extremely close, resulting in time flying a lot faster than expected. The stream eventually finished at about 8:30pm after which we would then be reappearing on the main stage for the Grand Final – where top seed BlinG took on Fargo.

The actual final was delayed until 11pm due to the League of Legends final overrunning (and it was an extremely tense final game as well!). I could confidently say before the final that I wasn’t nervous but a 45-minute wait while watching the previous game’s final gave me just enough time to realise just how large the stage seemed, haha. Thankfully as we started and the sound-checks were completed, A-Spec began the player introductions and we were flying into the first game before we knew it. All nervousness disappeared and I began to really enjoy being able to cast in front of a live crowd – audience interaction became that much more real and every cheer and gasp could be heard as BlinG swept Fargo to take a long awaited i-series title! He had been waiting for this for some time and completely deserved the win with a dominating performance, dropping only a single map the entire weekend.

Proof that Archons are more imbalanced than MULEs.

The celebrations did not stop on stage, however. The prizegiving ceremony concluded but the party was just beginning for a lot of the Starcraft folk, as the bar area became packed until well after the bar itself shut at 2am. It’s worth noting that it was around this time I may have done a little bit of hustling and challenged our undefeated Protoss player to a little 1v1 on the advice of GGAndyPandy, who for the record destroys me at the game. Little did I know that Team Dignitas already had a camera set up for the occasion after hearing about the potential challenge, and it appeared this video was circulating around TeamLiquid and Reddit in no time.

Well, somebody had to beat BlinG this weekend!

Myself with AndyPandy, my DDR sparring partner over the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at i45 and cannot wait to attend another i-series event in the near future, hopefully i46 at the end of August. It was the most enjoyable gaming weekend I’ve ever had and I look forward to trying to top this at the next event I attend! Many thanks to everyone that made the event so fantastic – Kharne, A-Spec, the production crew and staff, all the organisers and admins, D-eSports and Team Dignitas for their excellent tournament coverage (and in the case of the latter, tournament winning!), Team GG for a wonderful social weekend, and Martijn for generally being excellent and a great guy to work with. There are so many more people that I keep thinking of to add to this list – let me know if I’ve missed anyone out. It was a fantastic event and I hope to see you all again soon!

From left: Geo, A-Spec, Kharne, myself

Some select Starcraft II VoDs from i45:

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