Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Red Bull Gave Me Wings!

So, for those of you who haven't heard, I am now the coach of the MLG Pro team Turning Point (with the current roster of Walshy, Ninja, Naded, and Mikwen). As part of my initiation into the team, I was invited to join them at the recent Red Bull LAN in Santa Monica, California.

Before I delve into my experience and the technical aspects of what went on at the LAN, I would first like to give a huge thanks to the entire Red Bull Gaming (@redbullgaming) team, and especially to Nils (@nilsgranger), Sam (@slkeene), Audrey (@AudreyAdair), and Kevin (@kdoohan). Red Bull took care of nearly all our needs over the course of the weekend, and delivered an amazing experience.

I'll start off with a recap of my experience of the whole weekend, then switch over into a short (by my standards) explanation of the mechanics of the weekend.

But first...my trip. It started off with a plane to Los Angeles. I met Status Quo's coach, Diesel (@tylerhoyt) during my layover at Dallas/Ft. Worth. Next was LAX, where a shuttle service (provided by Red Bull) picked the two of us up, alongside my teammates Ninja (@Ninja_MLG) and Mikwen (@iMikwen) and several of the StarCraft 2 pros, including Destiny and Slush (I'm not sure who else was on board.) We checked into our hotel upon arrival. (Walshy (@Walshy304) and most of Status Quo were already there...Red Bull had taken them skydiving that day! LUCKY THEM!)

That night, we all gathered at a local bar called Barney's Beanery where dinner and everyone else awaited. I sat with Turning Point, getting past that awkward getting-to-know each other phase, and was approached by some of the Red Bull team, who were all very sociable and made me feel very welcome to be there (I was still nervous at this point!).

Friday morning, after breakfast, we headed to Red Bull Headquarters, where the very impressive set-up was waiting. A huge platform housed the eight XBoxes for Halo Reach while three stations were set up for StarCraft 2, with about 10? 12? computers total provided for the players, including two in an isolated booth.

Friday afternoon, the scrims began. It was my first time ever coaching, so I was a little wary at first. I was doing by best, but still easing my way into the process. I think I zoned out a few times, just focusing on one player at a time, a little unable to shake the fact that I was standing right behind pros playing Halo. Regardless, my team encouraged me and said I was doing fine. It helped build my confidence, but I still knew there was a lot I was missing. Overshield timers, especially.

Friday evening was the first night of streaming. I've never been a part of anything streamed before, so it was completely foreign to me, but everything was set up completely professionally. Red Bull attempted to keep everyone moving and focused on keeping everything flowing smoothly for players and fans alike. The cameras didn't really make me nervous, but I still felt like I wasn't doing my best as a coach.

Afterward, we headed back to the hotel. I checked the MLG forums from my phone and saw Snipedown had posted that it was the first time he had fun playing Halo in years. I knew this was a bad sign for the weekend to come, but I headed to bed. I was frickin' exhausted.

Saturday, breakfast again. I was the first one up, so I spent quite a bit of time talking to the guy who had been bringing the food to our lounge. We talked about several games from the past. Audley Enough, the guy providing our food every morning was a gamer (aren't we all?).

Back to Red Bull. Believe the Hype's day to pick gametypes. They picked mostly standard gametypes, apart from picking Countdown Flag twice in a row during their practice against Turning Point (because we won the first one in a nailbiting 5-4 fashion. The rematch went the other way.) I felt a lot more comfortable as a coach this day, and I think TP's performance on the day, for the most part, reflected my comfort.

Saturday evening, stream time. I don't remember many details from Saturday.

Sunday morning, more breakfast. I stayed down in the Red Bull lobby for quite a long time, not really wanting to stay in my hotel room. I mostly remained hidden behind the couch until I heard a familiar voice, though I did manage to startle a few StarCraft 2 players who came down for breakfast early (Should've scouted better, guys!)

Back to Red Bull. We had lunch waiting in the theatre, but once the theatre was down to just Halo players, Nils and Audrey brought in a surprise -- since it was Cloud's birthday, they had prepared some awesome cakes-on-a-stick that were shaped and decorated to look like XBox 360 controllers. Happy 20th, Scotty. After lunch, I remember seeing Bomber (of the Korean team StarTale) preparing to play LiquidTyler, and having just this amazing expression of pure joy on his face. He looked like a kid who'd just unwrapped a new toy on Christmas. It was so refreshing to see someone of such stature in the StarCraft II pro scene enjoying himself so much.

It was our day to pick games. We focused on our weakest gametypes and played phenomenally that afternoon. If I'm not mistaken, we won both our afternoon series before stream time, including our very first game of Zealot Team Slayer, due in part to Mikwen's reborn playstyle on the map, and partially due to my timing of the Evade power-up (I'm allowed to take SOME credit).

That evening was more streaming, and more watching Snipedown win games (okay, Believe the Hype were all playing well... but Snipedown was just... well, you remember 2008? Yeah, he's back.)

Again, I don't remember many of the precise details during the streaming portions (as it was very hustly-bustly) but I had a blast during all of it. I felt my coaching was the weakest during this evening. I blame fatigue. And Best Man.

Afterward, back to hotel, rested up for my long flights back. Connected in Chicago-O'Hare with Diesel and Ninja. Talked to Diesel a lot about the title update and potential settings while waiting on our flight from LAX to arrive and got some advice on how to improve my coaching a bit come event time. Chicago was very beautiful from above at night, but the plane was cold and tiny. Then finally, home!

And now on to the less mundane details!

Although past Red Bull LANs have been strictly for Halo teams (such as the most recent one, in New York, with Turning Point, Status Quo, and Warriors) this time, Red Bull brought along the legendary Day9 and a group of StarCraft 2 stars to give them an opportunity to practice in their awesome environment.

If you follow MLG at all, you know that typically, Halo teams use LANs to prepare and practice for the upcoming event. Red Bull decided to facilitate this and give each of the three teams present their own "day" to focus on whatever gametypes they wished prior to the beginning of each evening's streaming of the LAN (at which point, the teams would play games out like a regular series).

Turning Point, for example, believed Zealot and Countdown Team Slayer variants to be their weaker gametypes, so they made sure to play those in each of their afternoon matches in order to try to hammer out the kinks in their gameplay on their designated day, Sunday. It was a rather nice change of pace from the regular LANs, where teams just play out a full eleven game series versus one another, on one of each gametype, and expect the best.

If you read my last blog about Practice, you'll know which method I believe to be better. If you didn't read my last blog about Practice... you should. ;)

For StarCraft 2, Day9 and Red Bull gave the players an even better method of practice than just outright playing -- each day focused on specific matchups. For example, Day 1, I believe, was TvT and ZvP, while Day 2 was PvP and ZvT, and Day 3 was PvT and ZvZ. (I may be slightly mixed up on those...also the players took liberties with those).

In addition to this, players were given the opportunity to tell their designated practice partner what they wished to work on. If, for example, Sheth (shout out!) thought he had a weakness to Cannon Rushes from Protoss, then while he was practicing ZvP, his Protoss opponent would cannon rush him. This would allow him to practice countering his hypothetical Achilles heel. If a player wanted to focus on his overall gameplay and macromanagement, his opponent was barred from any sort of cheese or all-in type play.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the LAN was the addition of the physiologist team, who took blood and urine samples of participating players (those participating in the physiological study, that is...it was entirely optional) -- to test markers like the hemoglobin in the blood and the urine's specific gravity -- to weigh a player's hydration against their own self-judgment of how they played that day. Additionally, the players wore a heart rate monitor and their heart rate was tracked over the course of the day.

This was the first time (at least, as far as this physiology team knew) that such variables have been tested for gamers, and is yet another step toward recognition of competitive gaming as a true sport, as diet and nutrition come into play regarding a gamer's performance. Who knows, this could lead to stricter regimen for gamers who wish to focus and perform better over the course of a tournament.

During all of this, Red Bull provided those who wanted to see the performance of these players (whether they be fans of Halo, StarCraft, or both) with several streams, including selectable streams for every single Halo player (and I believe there were a total of three available StarCraft 2 streams, but I am not entirely sure). And of course, there was also a main stream featuring updates and commentary from Day9 and DMAQ.

If you wish to see what went on at the Red Bull LAN, go to http://www.twitch.tv/redbullgaming for rebroadcasts of the main stream. And you can find stat breakdowns for all the players at http://www.redbullusa.com/LAN

Many thanks, again, to Red Bull for this amazing experience, and Walshy, Ninja, Mikwen, and Naded (@Naded_MLG) for the opportunity to coach them on team Turning Point. Also, a thanks to Master Theory's founder, Anubis, who initially helped me with setting up Audley Enough, which Audley Enough helped get me the exposure that led to me ending up with Turning Point! Shout out to all the StarCraft 2 players, Diesel, all of Status Quo and Believe the Hype, to anyone who pitched in for the streaming of the LAN, and to the masseuses who worked very hard this past weekend!

I look forward to representing Turning Point well in ten days at MLG Orlando! And if you have Twitter, you should follow all of the awesome people I mentioned over the course of this blog, and me, @TiberiusAudley. Because I said so.

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