The parking lot of Fry's Electronics in Fountain Valley last night looked ready for a rock concert. Nearly half of it was cordoned off, in front of a stage scaffolded with lights, amps and a big ole' screen behind it. This wasn't just any fan event for midnight release of Starcraft II. Rather, it was the event–officially sanctioned by Irvine's Blizzard Entertainment, guest starring the company's top brass.
But the three-hour run-up to the release of the hotly awaited sequel to 1998's Starcraft was strangely subdued. Something was missing. Like, where were the costumes?
“That's what I'm asking!” laughed Dominique Sharpe, who along with a friend, constituted half of the only geek-masquerade-ready duo in the parking lot. Sharpe, in a skin-tight suit, hauling a big gun and sporting red locks, was dressed as Sarah Kerrigan, the good-girl-eventually-turned-evil-alien from the first game.
Turns out, though, that she didn't even really know who she was (cos-)playing. Blizzard had hired her to parade around in costume, and her friend–dressed as badass space-cowboy hero Jim Raynor–works for Blizzard as his dayjob. Sharpe's a model, not a gamer, though she has been known to touch a Playstation from time to time. “This is for computers, right?” she whispered to me, gesturing to the Starcraft match taking place on the screen above the stage.
What gives? If you were to judge by its portrayal in the mainstream media–OC Weekly included–gaming culture would seem to exist mainly to give photographers an opportunity to snap shots of Ph.D. candidates dressed as strange, buxom characters. But last night, the most popular costume we saw was standard issue computer nerd: cargo shorts or unnervingly expensive-looking jeans below button-down plaids or gaudy Affliction-style tees.
Next to the stage, a guy with the word STARCRAFT painted on his face seemed to offer hope. But JJ Lee, too, worked for Blizzard and already had a copy of the game. The paint on his face was left over from the supply he used while rooting on teams in the World Cup. And his devotion to Starcraft, he said, came from where he grew up: Korea. “LA has the Lakers, Korea has Starcraft,” Lee explained.
From the stage, Blizzard art director Sam Didier
even ribbed the crowd on this point. “This is reminiscent of two years ago when Starcraft II
was announced in Korea,” he said. “But that crowd was a little bit noisier and more raucous.”
The thousand or so kids lined up haphazardly in the white-chain queue in front of the stage weren't there for pageantry. They were there, of course, for the game. And so they listened attentively during an interminable Q&A session with Blizzard's top developers. They jumped on each other's shoulders and took off their shirts to be selected to play in one of the exhibition matches on stage. They oohed and hooted and laughed derisively at the appropriate moments while watching those games, which were narrated by a microphone-wearing boy-girl duo who brought with them plenty of ESPN-worthy jargon. “David's going for the expansion,” observed official commentator Robert Simpson
at one point, referring to one of the players. “Okay, this is not
a cheese strategy.” Maybe you can't imagine the chuckles that went up.
Turns out, dressing up is more of a thing for fans of Blizzard's flagship, World of Warcraft, Lee says. Starcraft, while huge, is a little less mainstream, and the community it has created appears to be secondary to the actual experience of playing the game.
Besides, many of the people there had a hangover of sorts. In the line for autographs from developers in the Frye's after midnight, Mission Viejo's Ken Tran scoffed when I asked him why neither he–who had camped outside of the store a full 12 hours earlier–nor anyone elese had bothered to dressed up. “It's not Comic-Con,” he pointed out. “And that was just last weekend.”