I am just arrived home after the event, tired and happy. Our train took more than six hours to bring us home, and this gave me the time to think of the last days, the people I met, the games I watched. So here I am, writing what probably will take some hours to complete.

The place

For those who don’t know, Cebit is a big information technology expo, held every year in Hannover. There are tons of things to see, although most of them are attractive only if you fit the particular business. Most of the visitors are people sent from their companies to do social networking, advertisement or create business opportunities.

The Intel Extreme Master Area was slightly different in terms of content, demography, and look; less business oriented, more attractive to youth, with a disco-like inspired atmosphere. The space was organized with a big main stadium with seats right in the center. In front of that, there was a smaller tournament area, shaped at U, which visitor could circumnavigate and watch the players from behind their shoulders. Other stands with gaming areas and shows were spread on the left and right, with tightly clothed girls advertising Alienware, Intel or whatever brand they were working for, and with loud and brainless “what is in the box?” games where crowds of people would fight for a bad looking t-shirt or a key holder. Overall, the impact was a mix of crowdedness, noise and flashy lights.

The tournament

As you know the tournament started with some problems. The Lan server was unusable due to a 50 ping, which apparently was due to one of the last QL updates messing up with it. The decision was to play online, but the network was under DDoS attack, which made the lagometer a packetloss fest. The players were nervous as they did not want to play in those conditions, the referees were nervous as the tournament was already behind scheduling, and ESR was probably about to explode, fortunately saved by the heroic host going down once again.

Things went smoother later on, thanks to a couple of cycles of new firewalls vs. new attacks where the former managed to win. Anyhow, at that time the scheduling for the first day was spoiled and the mood was not really restored, though it seemed that the rough road was behind. Stermy’s case, however, is worth an explanation.

When I first arrived on Wednesday, Stermy was definitely upset. He had played and lost against Avek the first match and had the feeling the game was totally weird to play. Most at that time believed it was a matter of DDoS attacks and temporary network problems, but later on, when the firewalls were up and Stermy played his first map against Cooller, the Italian rose up totally pissed off and said he didn’t want to play anymore in those conditions. This was the beginning of a friction with the referees that lasted until the end of the group stage.

The technical problem was somehow unexplainable; after the firewalls everybody did not have any problem, everybody but Stermy. Moreover what he described seemed to pop up randomly, and the referees seemed unable to replicate it. Many different PC were tested unsuccessfully. Stermy would play any new configuration just to find out that the problem persisted. The debate became warmer while the time was passing and Stermy refused to play. The referees wanted the tournament to go on, and had no idea how to fix what they could not understand. On the other hand Stermy saw that problem as a big disadvantage which already cost him a match and a map, and since re-matching was not an option he wanted to make sure to play only when all technical problems were fixed.

On Thursday, Stermy was still struggling to get his configuration working. I tried to help him, and we recorded this video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-utBkzCg7r0 ), which shows the random fps drops he had. These would happen with a variable frequency, sometimes every ten seconds, sometimes only once every 3 minutes. He tried to change account, reload cfg, use other players’ cfg, switch again PC. Nothing really solved the problem.

The situation did not change until Thursday evening, when everybody had played most of his matches except Stermy. The referee approached him saying that there was no more time and he had to play. Stermy tried his last card by quickly setting up his stuff to play on a Windows 7 machine. This one improved the situation as the problem seemed to happen seldom. However, no mousefix was available. Long story short, Stermy played the remainder of Cooller’s match as well as the one against Rapha, losing both of them, and being dropped out of the playoff. He was totally frustrated, and the only consolation for him were friendly chats with Strenx and Spartie, the first one who had just lost all but one of his matches in group B, and the second one who probably channelled his frustration for not playing the finals by molesting a Calipt voodoo puppet hidden in his pockets. The only smile I saw in the Italian player’s face was when a blond young girl, apparently a reporter, approached him for an interview, and the two exchanged phone numbers setting up what Spartie would swear was a date.

The group stage ended with the long awaited match Cooller vs Rapha. This was late in the evening, when everybody but the players and the staff were forced out. I improvised myself as Stermy’s translator (lol?) to not being kicked as well. The atmosphere became really special. Most of the inner space of the building was dark and silent, and a group of about thirty people was tightly assembled around the tournament area, lightened by the bluish light of the screens. The two contenders were coincidently placed one in front of the others, at the corner of the area, where the stage fence created a small auditorium. Somehow, a group of Russians had managed to sneak in, forming a compact front of Cooller’s supporters. I was sitting on Rapha’s side with Fox on the left and Avek’s Manager on the right. The match was totally thrilling. Everybody was captured by the action, whose pace was set by the very close fights, the colourful shouts of Cooller (that Avek’s manager was kindly translating for me), and Rapha’s answer, soaked with determination and will to win. The match, the crowd, the atmosphere… this is something I won’t forget soon.

Friday was arguably the less interesting day. There were fewer matches to watch, and the area seemed even more crowded and noisy. Everything went quite quickly. Fox seemed not to care too much. He has always been quiet, connecting every now and then to his PC at home via VNC, to chat on irc or read ESR. He would then switch to QL without much of practice and play his match with Avek (which style-wise was probably a bad match-up for him) just to get back to his previous activities without showing much of a difference.
Rapha vs. Dahang was also weird. Dahang appeared nervous and shaking, while Rapha was simply mentally on spot, and overall there was not real pathos among the spectators.
From a spectator point of view, both matched seemed more like practice games, with the consequences of the loss privately handled by the poor guys, but where nobody else really seemed to care. Two matches that came and went like nothing, letting me wondering what happened to the special moments of the night before.

Saturday was a different story. The event started earlier in the morning, and the matchups were really interesting. Both semi-finals were played on stage, with a growing crowd of spectators loudly cheering for the beloved contenders. I found myself in the middle of the ESR guys (thanks Anarky), with Carmac and the US players right behind us. Avek vs. Cooller was so freaking amazing. Our side of the audience was Cooller oriented (I realized Carmac was there because of unexpected hand clapping), and I enjoyed the strong emotions the games gifted us. The only little pity is that it didn’t go to a fifth map, which would have been gorgeous. Needless to say, Rapha vs. Cypher wasn’t a lesser show. I guess a lot of people were cheering for Rapha to get the so long waited finals, so having him getting back from a two nil to victory was really the best we could hope for. I have to say that seeing Rapha live was quite impressive. His mental game seemed so strong. He was capable of making the right choices no matter what situation, punishing for anything the opponent did wrong. And at the same time he was very polite and professional, being an example in how to take winnings and losses. His in-game style may not be the most popular to spectate, but overall the way he behaved both in and out the game should be of lesson for many.

After the semi-finals, there was a bit of scheduling confusion. Due to some delay the decision was to show directly the final, but the ten minutes break became longer and longer. Another issue was the people walking right in front of the stage. This was due to the building being so crowded that the people interesting in crossing to the other building would pick that route as the fastest. The screens invited people to come and sit in front of the stage, but people interpreted that as an invitation to go there and stand, preventing the first rows of seated people from seeing the screen. Somehow things got better. At the time I thought it was a combination of the long break before the final that made the standing people either sit or go away. I also appreciated the intervention of Becks, which rose from his seat fully armed to go disperse a bunch of non transparent emo kids disturbing our sight. Anyways what happened was that people sat down (Edit: Thanks Chance!) and the final started.

I won’t comment too much as there isn’t much else to say except it was an exciting set, which could have easily gone the other way, or at least to a fifth map. Cooller took the loss extremely well, though I guess that having a number of kids with the press shirt and a camera 50cm away pointed to his face was a powerful rage-killer. I am not sad that Rapha won. He totally deserved it. Cooller did show amazing play either, proving once again how cool his style is. Awesome final indeed.

The people

During these four days I had the chance to meet with a lot of people. I won’t comment on all of them, but there are particular characters, or groups, that deserve some words.

The Party Pros: Spartie, Strenx and Stermy! Spartie was possibly the pro I knew less about, and ended up being quite a character! I can’t say why, but I think he is the funniest guy I met there; maybe because of his look, or his smile, or his party mood attitude. We did not talk too much, but he was just casting a happy aura wherever he was. My girlfriend and I ended up spending a bit of time with him, Stermy, Strenx, and the winning CS teams (fnatic and na’vi) to a Bier-hall place where they did eat. The overall mood was quite energised; people would start dancing on the chairs, singing etc. Strenx and I were close enough to chat briefly. He was keeping a low profile which showed a much better character than what he usually look with quake. Stermy was finally on a good mood, so we could chat about the years in Los Angeles, where he used to pretend to be a UCLA student to sneak in to the university structures and the students’ parties. It was a good couple of hours, which added a bit of depth to my understanding of the three guys.

Chance won the “friendliest award”! While during the event most of the pros were just answering possible questions interacting for a brief time before getting back to their business, he seemed really interested in the people around. I made the longest conversation with him, and he really turned out like a nice friendly guy. I asked him about his new guide and gave him a bit of feedback, so I hope to read more on that in the future. His help with the standing crowd was priceless. He definitely has two new fans here.

Unexpected character: Cooller’s brother! When we arrived on Wednesday there was this tall Russian guy moving around Cooller’s location. He was wearing a shiny suit, a dark expression in his face, talking with rough gun bursts of English that would freeze your spinal bones no matter how kindly he was trying to be. Somehow he and my girlfriend broke the ice (he initially thought she and I were brother’s too) and he turned out to be a really nice guy, which was there to support his brother as best as possible, fighting for him when needed. Right before the finals we went to the food booth. Somehow one of the two girls serving there was slower than the other, and Cooller and his brother picked that line. The brother was so pissed that when his turn arrived, he became even darker and colder. The poor creature tried her best, but there was no redemption possible. I felt I met a new hero representing Russia there!

Avek’s manager. I met him the first day and saw he was close to both Avek and Cypher. We ended up having interesting discussions, about Avek, about ESReality, and Quake Live in general. One thing which was nice to hear is that he had recently chatted with ESL about QL as a choice for them, and apparently they said that it was doing very well, that supporting the game fitted the business model, and that they were happy to continue with it. If confirmed, these are good news for everybody, I guess.

ESR guys. I won’t name them because I would forget somebody. It was nice to give a face to the nickname, and I am sorry we could not interact more. I guess that the combo of being scattered all over Hannover, of my girlfriend sickness, and of the cold did not help in getting the proper evening meet up we all wanted, but I’m happy I could meet with you guys during the event. A hand clap to all who where there!

Highlights

These are small highlights of the event that somehow got stuck in my head.
- Cooller vs. Rapha in the group stage
- Cooller’s brother
- Nukm ESReality t-shirt
- The brief chat with 2GD during the first day where I was thinking "wtf, how tall is he?!?" just to realize that the inside of the tournament stage was almost one foot above ground.
- Chance smile when taking a map to Cooller in the group stage match. Cooller was gone in enrage, completely red, with thick veins visible on his neck, punching the table and shouting who knows what in Russian. Chance saw his reaction, and turned away to hide a reserved funny laugh, which suggested he was quite happy to be out of range of the Russian wrath.
- Toxic return? On Friday I was spectating Cypher (who did not have to play that day as he was first in group B) playing Toxjq (the swe toxic). It was just a practice match over a bunch of maps, but he looked really really solid. Stay tuned with this, because it could be very interesting.

Conclusions

This was a great experience. I don’t know how people felt from home (still have to read a thousand messages), but being there and see all that happened was really something. I wish to thank Carmac for making this happen, Rondrian and Xou for not kicking me out when they should have, 2GD for being the gentleman he is and for his casting, the ESR guys for being there and cheering for Cooller, and of course my girfriend for bringing me there. Best Christmas present ever!

Edit: photo gallery here: https://www.esreality.com/?a=post&id=1849222