And the crowded bar went wild -- cheering, stomping, clapping, chanting players' names, waving homemade signs and donning face masks of their favourite players. No, this wasn't Spain winning the EuroCup. This was Barcraft.
What is Barcraft? How about 70 20-something guys (and a handful of girls) spending eight hours on a Sunday bunched around a projector screen at Madrid's largest Irish pub to see who would be the next European champion of Starcraft II?
We know this sounds like a bit of a dudefest (alright, fine, it was a total dudefest), but in addition to being a great place to pick up nice (if slightly nerdy guys), Barcraft was a window into a fast-growing sport – and one that doesn’t deserve its couch-bound reputation.
See, Starcraft isn't some 8-bit video game. It's an "e-sport" in which players compete in a real-time online game, set on a far-off planet in the Milky Way of the 26th century, where they must rebuild civilization. When was the last EuroCup match where the fate of civilization depended on the outcome? To win you need great strategy and lightening-fast reflexes. Watching these pros in action and the rabid response from their loyal fans (think kinder, friendlier hooligans), there's no doubt it's the real deal.
On this night it was a civil war. The semifinal was brother vs. brother, and their supporters showed allegiance by wearing masks featuring Juan and Pedro's faces. Juan was victorious and moved on to the final with the French champion, Stephano.
Like any respectable live sporting event, Barcraft had all the trappings. Fans watched the action on the big screen and the leaderboard updated as players were knocked out. And there was both live tweeting from @BarCraftMAD and two pro-sport commentators providing play-by-play. That's right, play-by-play video-game commentary - Angry Birds this is not.
In the end, our Spanish hero fell, but we’re still counting this as a victory for e-sports in Spain. In other countries like the U.K., Germany, and Japan, gaming is more organized with cash prizes and sponsorships.
As crowds are starting to gather in Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia, it’s only a matter of time that this armchair activity is recognized for the pint-swilling, dripping-with-sweat sport it really is. We give it two (very calloused) thumbs up.
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Riggins