What StarCraft and the saxophone have in common

Christian Brown is a pretty good person to talk to about dedication. “I spend five or six hours, sometimes more if I have more time,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t want to do it at all but other times I’ll really want to do it.”

The son of two Vancouver Symphony Orchestra players, he spent time at Capilano University before deciding to pursue music, accepting a scholarship to Humber College where he works on his skills as an alto-sax player. He is also an avid gamer, which makes him a perfect candidate to help answer why musical dedication is considered positive, while video game prowess is not.

“I find that when I play video games I can pretty much just turn my brain off, sit down and have a good time,” says Brown. “When I’m practicing I’m a lot more mentally involved. But I mean practicing can be fun too and I guess the goal of it is to get to the level where you can kind of play not having to think about what you’re doing, kind of the same way you would with video games.”

But with the advent of online multiplayer, competition has increased exponentially. While the hardest opponent to face in 1994 was your older brother in your living room, now it is a Korean gamer who reads Sun Tzu and plays several hours a day. If you are serious about being good, you have to train, not simply play.

Greg Fields, better known by his gamer name IdrA is an example of what it takes to be successful in current competitive gaming. Only 20 years old, IdrA declined a scholarship to study theoretical physics, choosing instead to move to South Korea and train for StarCraft. At this point, StarCraft has ceased to be a game, one where you can “turn your brain off,” as Brown says. Instead, it is congruous to the hard work and dedication needed for an aspiring sax player to increase his skills. “He’s putting in the hours,” continues Brown. “It sounds kind of like the same thing as the way I practice. He’ll push through and do it anyways, even if he’s not necessarily having a good time.”

Despite this, there are obviously stereotypes against gamers and gaming in general. If you asked two people what they did and they answered “music” and “StarCraft,” you’d assume the first person was doing something positive, while the second was simply preparing for a lifetime of carpal tunnel syndrome. If the musician was a hack and the StarCraft gamer made his living off of it, many people would still carry the same assumptions.

“I guess people don’t really know about video gamers,” says Brown. “At least people can relate to music – they can turn it on and listen to it – but when someone tells you they’re a video gamer, a lot of people don’t have anything to relate to it, and they just think it’s stupid, because they don’t know what its about.”

Perhaps the major reason video games are perceived with such indignity in North America, is that in Asia there are already full fledged video game leagues and tournaments, drawing thousands of fans and providing many players fame, plenty of money and even girls.

South Korea is actually home to three StarCraft leagues and has three channels dedicated to gaming, similar to the plethora of sports channels on our own networks. The top few pros earn big salaries – up to $200,000 not including sponsorships or prize money. An article on ComputerandVideoGames.com describes a televised match in Korea.

“About 200 fans are crowded into an e-sports stadium in a central Seoul shopping mall. Almost all of them are female. Aged from mid teens to mid-20s, many of these fans have brought flowers, cuddly toys and boxes of Dunkin' Donuts to give to their favourite stars. They shriek and cheer when the two teams walk on stage. In South Korea, pro gaming has attained the status of rock and roll.”

The dedication required to reach this level is astounding, and trumps the time spent by Brown and his more widely accepted trade of saxophone. “The gamers practice StarCraft 13 hours a day ... they do little else but eat, sleep and practice. They do this six or seven days a week.”

When will this extraordinary effort be recognized outside of Korean StarCraft fans? It’s a little matter of time. As more people experience and cherish video game culture, whether it be StarCraft, Mario or Call of Duty, the more accepting people will be of gaming and the dedication required, legitimizing the “practice” of video games the same way people look upon training for basketball, or the trumpet. Although this day is long in the future, it will happen. Who knows, maybe if you play another hour of Call of Duty, you’ll be a pro gamer some day. Push yourself!

//Mac Fairbairn
Opinions Editor

//Illustration by Miles Chic

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com