StarCraft enthusiasts meet in RL

They walked through the doors of Room 2702 in the Marshall Student Center, pulled out their laptops and sat at tables.

Junior Jacob Williams stood at the lectern and played a YouTube video titled Banelings a spoof of Justin Biebers song Baby to the other students, to get them in the mood.

The students are members of the StarCraft Club at USF, a group dedicated to gathering students that play the popular computer game StarCraft II.

Developed by Blizzard entertainment in 2010, the award-winning sequel is set on a distant planet in the 26th century. The goal of the game is to command a group of exiled humans called the Terrans who are split between the rebels and the Dominion. While antagonist Jim Raynor is gathering resources to
strengthen his rebellion, a more nefarious ploy is brewing to combine the genetic material of the Protoss, a super-advanced species with vast mental capabilities, with the ruthless Zerg, an insect species striving to assimilate other species into their own.

But unlike the roles they play on screen, the worlds the 14 like-minded students come from are not so distant.

Nicole Witte, a graduate student majoring in medical sciences and a gold level Zerg, said she noticed a following of USF students across StarCraft chat forums and social media pages. But they lacked a place to meet physically.

In April 2012 she started the club, and every Tuesday the group meets to discuss strategies, view live streams of professional tournaments, plan social gatherings revolving around the game and prepare for future collegiate level tournaments.

Like most games, the online multiplayer section is what brings mass amounts of popularity and community competition. Each player picks one of the three species to control and uses his or her game knowledge and instinctive strategy skills to battle against another player from around the world for a chance at increasing their online rank.

The game is pretty much super-advanced chess, Jacob Williams, the organizations public relations representative, said. Its a combination of military strategy, advanced economics and unit control.

Sophomore history and social science education double-major Michael Wedebrock represented his net handle in a quick game in which he ousted a Zerg player and managed to improve his rank slightly, but nothing too extravagant.

Max Kline, a freshman majoring in engineering and a low-master level Terran, sat at the other end of the room, trying to ladder up and raise his rank by playing against a slightly higher ranked opponent.

Kline finished his 20-minute game victorious.

Since the 1980s and the inception of the Atari gaming system with classic games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, the social convention of e-sports, or competitive gaming, developed from a small following in arcades and corner stores.

Fast-forward 15 years after the internet boom and what started as a hobby on a 32-bit processor and a joystick spawned into a multi-billion dollar gaming industry with a following of professional gamers, sponsors, school clubs and even a dedicated news network that commentate competitions.

In South Korea, StarCraft has become a sort of sport players can get corporate sponsorships to play the game, and according to CNN, tournaments are broadcast on live TV. Some gamers even live at training centers to improve their skills.

The club hopes that more students will join them in their quest to gain enough of a following to compete in tournaments against other colleges.

We welcome all players to come out and join us from the hardcore enthusiasts to the casual player, Witte said.