By Woody “soso” Favinger
You know that feeling of watching a sporting event with dozens of other fans, the shared enthusiasm and camaraderie that just isn’t there when you’re watching it on your own? It’s the reason we have Super Bowl parties (well that and because it makes for a good excuse to drink beer and eat obscene amounts of buffalo wings). There’s just something about sharing the experience of watching a game together, whether it’s with your friends or with complete strangers at a bar. It’s the euphoric thrill of high-fiving everyone around you when your team scores, or the joy of celebrating a victory by hugging the random dude who you met five minutes ago as if you’d been life-long friends. The only thing you have in common is a love of The Game. But really, isn’t that all you need?
Until Sunday night, watching StarCraft wasn’t at all like watching other sports for me. I enjoyed the games but I mostly just watched them alone in my apartment, I didn’t have anyone to share the experience with. Sometimes my wife watched with me, but for her watching StarCraft meant sitting next to me while I watched StarCraft and she watched “Keeping up with the Kardashians” on her laptop. When something crazy happened, like TLO doing a six rax rush, or IdrA using mass neural parasite to hold off an army of thors, my wife’s reaction was about as enthusiastic as my reaction when she told me that Lamar Odom and Khloe actually made a surprisingly cute couple. Even though we were technically in the same room while StarCraft was being broadcast, to say we were watching the game together would be like saying you and the pilot are flying the plane together when you’re en route from Boston to Seattle. Yes, you’re both on the plane, but one of you is actively piloting the aircraft while the other is reading, listening to an iPod and doing everything in your power to forget the fact that you’re crammed like a sardine into a sadistically small seat for the six hours.
But on Sunday night, I watched StarCraft in a whole new way, at a bar, with dozens of other fans, like it was any other sport.
The Chao Bistro in Seattle has been having regular StarCraft nights for several weeks now. Every Wednesday and Sunday evening, they broadcast the NASL in high definition on half the TVs in the bar. It started as just a fun experiment. Oskar, who began frequenting the bar while house-sitting around the corner, got to know Hyung, the owner, and they quickly discovered a mutual love for StarCraft. They decided to try broadcasting the NASL one night a week just to see if there was any interest, expecting maybe 10-20 people to show up. Oskar made a quick post on reddit about the event, and figured mostly just his SC buddies would show up. They never expected the throng -- nay, gaggle -- of StarCraft fans who would swarm the bar.
Over 120 people showed up the first night of the broadcast, all there to watch the NASL. They packed into the StarCraft room in the back half of the bar and began overflowing into the front half. This posed a bit of a problem since a big section of the front room still had scaffolding up where Hyung had hired someone to paint a mural. Nonetheless, he was overwhelmed and overjoyed with the turnout. “I was expecting maybe ten people would show up,” he told me, “I couldn’t believe it when people just kept pouring in. It was insane.” Amongst the insanity, the wife of the mural painter eventually jumped behind the bar in order to help keep up with all the orders that were coming in. She wasn’t a bartender, but I guess it’s sort of like when you need to pull probes in order to fend off an attack. It might not be their job, but they rise to the occasion in order to save your base.
Since then, Oskar has been broadcasting the NASL at Chao Bistro every Wednesday and Sunday night. Hyung upgraded the bar’s internet connection to improve the stream quality, and he created a StarCraft themed menu, offering specials like Fried Zerglings (they taste like chicken) and the Nuclear Launch (shot of sake dropped into a beer). The crowd has calmed down to a more reasonable 30-40 fans -- still plenty to fill the back room and create an incredible atmosphere, but no so many that the wait staff has to spam metaphoric stim packs just to keep up with the drink orders.
On StarCraft nights, Hyung walks around from table to table, getting to know everyone on a first name basis, making recommendations from the menu (the kobe beef sliders are phenomenal by the way), and talking about the upcoming matches – he’s a huge Boxer fan. For him StarCraft nights are more than just a great way to bring in some extra business, they’re a fun opportunity to hang out with other fans, shoot the breeze, and enjoy the games. “I might own a bar, but I’m a geek on the inside,” Hyung explains. And during the games, he’s cheering right along with everyone else. When Boxer 2-0’d IdrA to secure the number one spot in division five, he ran up to me with his fist pumping in the air and a huge grin on his face, “I told you, Boxer’s the man!”
Oskar and Hyung have created something special at Chao Bistro. It’s an environment that brings the viewer experience to a whole new level. Hearing an entire room full of StarCraft fans erupt when a group of marines gets vaporized by banelings is something you simply can’t get when you watch the game by yourself. They might be the same players competing in the same matches, but at BarCraft, you get to share the epic battles and amazing games with everyone around you. And with the playoffs and finals coming up, there isn’t any other way I’d want to experience the games. Like with any sport, it’s just a bunch of strangers who all share a love of The Game, but this time The Game is StarCraft.
LINKS AND INFORMATION:
Chao Bistro: http://chaobistro.com/
Address: 1200 E. Pike Street, Seattle, WA
NASL Broadcast: Wednesday/Sunday starting at 6:00pm*
*Schedule may expand in order to broadcast as much of the playoffs/finals as possible. The latest information can be found at http://www.reddit.com/r/barcraft