From Our Tank Correspondent, Part 1: Cats And Hats

By Brendan Caldwell on September 20th, 2012 at 10:00 pm.


We sent Brendan to the World Of Tanks convention in Russia. This is his report.

They sent me to Russia this time. They sent me. To Russia. I’m standing in the middle of Moscow because the call went out for people who would like to see some tanks. And being something of an expert in this field, the Hive Mind saw fit to put my name down on the passenger list. I’m here to cover Ural Steel, an international World of Tanks tournament with a total prize pool of $77,000. Before my trip I took the time to learn the Russian for numbers one, two, three, four and five, along with the word “koshka” which means “cat”. It’s probably indicative of my trip that the only extra things I will have learned by the time I leave are the phrases “fuck yes!”, “go fuck yourself” and “sorry”. But right now the sum of my usefulness in this city remains the ability to walk into a shop and demand anything ranging from one to five felines.

Some background. The Ural Steel is a competition in its infancy. Other officially endorsed cups have been raging among World of Tanks players for a while but this is The Big One, even if it’s only in its second year. Qualifying rounds have been and gone. Now the best fifteen teams from around the world have been invited to Russia to shoot frantically at each other in a grand sports hall usually dedicated to Moscow’s basketball team. The first place winner will gain a prize in the region of $35,000 as well as all that tanky, tanky prestige. Mmmmm. Second and third place winners get $21,000 and $14,000 respectively. For a full run down of the rules, go somewhere else. I don’t understand rules.


Of course, no Wargaming event would be complete without a trip to at least one tank museum. The day before the tournament proper (which is fully covered in part two), both the teams and the press are piled into buses and taken to Kubinka, a small town outside Moscow, where we are greeted by the world’s biggest collection of armoured vehicles (with the exception of tank collections held by, you know, actual armies). The museum is a sprawl of weedy grassland and grey hanger bays, each containing probably two-dozen to three-dozen tanks or armoured cars. A lot of the trees all have white paint on them for about five feet of their trunk. But this is just another mystery to be solved (again, see part two).

From the entrance I take a dander and discover a pack of wild children and warfare enthusiasts swamping a tank in the open, scrambling all over it like so many frantic freedom fighters. In the distance I can hear music. A mixture of hardy accordions and a man singing with military bravado. Some deep-voiced commissar belting out jingo-pop circa 1944. I follow the music to a new set of hangers, where I spot in the distance a frighteningly lengthy tank on train tracks. It has three main guns and seems impenetrable. More of a fortress than a vehicle, it looks like a submarine that has crawled out of the sea and grown wheels. The day they add this monster to World of Tanks will be a happy day indeed. I shudder and continue to follow the patriotic swell of music.

I pass by a souvenir stand. There is a Chinese correspondent who is there to follow the three Asian teams that have made it to the final. He buys a sheepskin hat with a communist emblem on it, an old replica of war generals’ winter gear. He will wear this hat for the rest of the trip.

Finally I discover the source of the music. An old-fashioned loudspeaker attached to a standalone white building. I walk around to the front and meet a rotund women looking miserable and smoking a cigarette. This is not unusual. Everyone in Russia smokes and nobody ever looks like they enjoy it.

“Davaj,” she says. Then repeats herself in English when I stand there looking helpless. “Come.”

She steps in one of the two doors to the building. As I go to follow she closes it behind her and wanders off. This is perplexing. I try the other door. Inside is a tuck shop. Sort of like the kind you used to get in schools, except with three brands of beer to choose from. I am happy. If I have to spend one more minute stuck inside this absurdist Soviet-era mural without a drink in my hand, I swear I am going to hijack one of these tanks and use it to run over every white-painted tree I can see.


Did you know: The Cossacks, a paramilitary force infamous for fighting against the Bolsheviks in pre-Soviet Russia, are seeing a revival in Moscow. Uniformed men with the power to confiscate alcohol from underage drinkers and stop crimes in progress, they are most comparable to Community Support Officers in Britain. Except, according to reports, a little bit more racist.

After a lunch consisting of authentic WWII rations made from an old Soviet army recipe (ingredients: oats, unspecified poultry, something else) we are led to a field, where a functioning tank is waiting to give us a demonstration. It rolls around for a bit and people are cheekily allowed to ride on its back. After this, it’s time to go back to the hotel. Tomorrow is the big day. I expect everyone to be in the hotel bar, blowing all their rubles on vodka and veal stroganoff. But almost every team is somewhere else, preparing or getting a good night’s rest. The few teams that are in the bar are huddled around laptops, discussing strategy and tank line-ups. They look at me with suspicion when I try to grab a glance at their computer screens.

Embedded in one of the US teams is a British journalist called Luke, who is an e-sports caster and an old hand at World of Tanks. He talks at approximately 100 ‘wow’s per hour and spent the whole flight to Moscow speaking to one of the American team members about the strengths and weaknesses of the T-34, T-62-A and a billion other T-something-somethings. Hearing them was like listening to a conversation held completely in Hexadecimal and it was both fascinating and a wholly frightening experience. As a lover of games I ought not to be surprised that the depth of conversation you can have about World of Tanks turns out to be as Mariana-Trench-deep as any conversation about football or rugby.


And especially now, the day before the finals, there is a sense of enthusiasm to discussions between the ‘tankers’ left in the bar that could easily convert someone’s opinion of e-sports. Most video game fans will respond to the concept of e-sports with a distant but tolerant “sure, why not?” Show them the spirit and earnestness of these guys and that response would likely become a more supportive “yes, of course.”

Outside on the patio, I discover the Wargaming crew and a cadre of foreign journos taking things somewhat less seriously. The combined forces of vodka, whiskey and tequila have occupied the table, forming a little skyline of half-drunk bottles. The night continues. No tanks are mentioned.

Did you know: In Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for the past 18 years, they have a saying which, roughly translated, means: ‘Only a sharpshooter can save our country.’

I wake up wearing a hangover and, soon enough, a shirt. I can do this now. No more fucking about. Engage journo mode.

I reach the stadium, a buzzing b-ball court with a huge WoT set-up installed. Two rows of computers sit distantly from one another, like in some Cold War stand-off. For the purpose of context and illustration, a huge model tank sits behind one of these tables. As the opening ceremony begins, the press seats are full of laptops and mobile phones. People tweeting and filing copy. My phone won’t connect to the wireless but I won’t let this stop me. I get out my notebook. I will liveblog this monstrosity, even if it means I have to do it on paper.


But you’ll have to wait to see that. First, we are taken into a press conference where, for some reason, people have genuine questions to ask.

We are led to a room with snacks and whiskey. Every press member is given a red sheepskin hat to wear. I try it on but it isn’t my style. The Chinese correspondent from yesterday becomes torn. He takes off the hat he bought at Kubinka the day before and looks at both the old and new. After a moment he puts on the red one. Then he places the Kubinka hat on top. He squeezes them on tight so they don’t fall, now wearing two hats in a stack. He remains like this for the rest of the day.

Two hats.

I knew you would approve.

The press conference begins. Andrew Yarantsau, VP of Global Operations for Wargaming, is here to talk about World of Tanks.

He is asked if they intend to fuse the universes of World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Battleships in a way similar to EVE: Online and Dust 514.


“At the moment, all the games are developing as separate projects because the gameplay on Warplanes is different from Tanks gameplay and different from Battleships gameplay as well. It’s really hard. All online games find it hard to balance those kind of vehicles. For example, World War II was won because the Allies and Soviet Union achieved global domination of the sky. That’s it. If you have the sky, you can win the whole battle. I think it explains why we wouldn’t want to have a ‘World of Warfare’ where all three types of vehicle can fight each other. That’s almost impossible. Because you could hit any target from the airplane and just run away. But this idea is still circling in the company all the time and we have huge plans at the moment. Probably some [crossover] elements we will see.”

Cheering can be heard from the stadium. Someone is being blown up or something. Any more questions?

Yarantsau is asked what Wargaming is doing to appeal to the Asian market.

“We have many nice features to develop. For example we are working right now on the Chinese tank tree because we want to achieve more on the Chinese market. On the other hand we have to develop ‘observer mode’ [for e-sports purposes]. We would like to choose both but you can’t ask developer teams to develop everything at one time, they go step by step, task by task. For observer mode it requires a lot of improvements to the technology.”

The Chinese correspondent adjusts his hats and takes some notes.

Did you know: Many of the ‘authentic’ Cold War souvenirs sold in Russia are mass manufactured in Chinese factories before being shipped over to supply sellers in tourist destinations.

Finally, Yarantsau is asked if there any plans for consoles, to which he replies that so long as Sony and Microsoft make it slow and difficult to apply frequent patches to a game, they will stay clear of consoles.


“The console market is very nice and attractive, right, because there are really no MMOs and the user base is quite huge. Millions of players without MMOs, it’s a nice piece to have. In MMOs it’s very important to have a fast reaction time to something. But if you’re going to a big company like Sony or Microsoft, the approval time for [updates] is always so, so long. So you can’t change the game immediately. Wargaming is not a unique company in making mistakes. Everybody is making mistakes. Sometimes you balance the vehicles… inappropriately and you have to listen to feedback from the community and if you see pressure from the player side then you have to fix that problem immediately. Otherwise, they will leave.”

But he adds that if that problem is ever removed, Wargaming will “be there.”

“If big companies like Microsoft and Sony can ease the life of developers with this, then no problem – we will be there. But so far the politics and technology is slightly different. If it changes we will be there, of course. It’s a very good market, many players are connected on consoles but, yes, there are some obstacles.”

Press conference ends. The attendants manning the snack tables are quickly overwhelmed. Then we make our way back to the stands to watch the last of the group stages before the semi-finals begin. The Ural Steel tournament is under way and the most exciting part of the trip is yet to come.

Tanks. I am ready for you.

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58 Comments »

  1. SouperSteve0 says:

    That Chinese correspondent must be very good at TF2, such an adept mastery of hats is nigh unbelievable.

  2. roz says:

    People play World Of Tanks?

    • Palindrome says:

      WoT holds the world MMO record for the most players connected simultaneously (105,000) so its safe to say that a handful of people play it.

      • Moraven says:

        Its a MMO?

        And no one is online connected to the same shard/environment other than each battle. Really, the setup is similar to LoL, which has millions.

      • Cinek says:

        WoW isn’t an MMO so it cannot hold any record in MMO category.

        lol, People these days think that every game with larger multiplayer is automatically MMO. Soon everyone will think that every game from 1st person perspective is FPS!

        • Jerakin says:

          I will just go out on a limb and guess that you mean WoT and not WoW.

          MMO, is by it’s definition just a game with a “large multiplayer”. Massively multiplayer online. There are a sub categories for MMO though, as in MMORPG, MMOFPS and so on.

          A game that is just played in first person but don’t include a shooting element will never be called a FPS. If they do, they will be as wrong as you. Saying that WoT isn’t a MMO.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        You all ignored the spam. That makes me smile. Its sort of like in the middle of a polite coffee morning and suddenly senile grandma announces at the top of her voice that she “has a hairy fou fou” and then breaks wind. After a pause, the conversation resumes like nothing ever happened.

      • HotKey says:

        It has CCU of 105k only in Europe, in Russia for example it is more than 450k and in China CCU is very high too if you sum all the regions that will be over 800k. So yes, a handful ppl plays tanks=)

  3. airmikee says:

    I couldn’t care any less about the game, but this:

    Before my trip I took the time to learn the Russian for numbers one, two, three, four and five, along with the word “koshka” which means “cat”. It’s probably indicative of my trip that the only extra things I will have learned by the time I leave are the phrases “fuck yes!”, “go fuck yourself” and “sorry”. But right now the sum of my usefulness in this city remains the ability to walk into a shop and demand anything ranging from one to five felines.

    had me laughing so hard I nearly peed my pants.

  4. AmateurScience says:

    When I was in Mali last year I noticed they’d painted all the tree trunks white like that on the main road up to the university campus. No-one seemed to know why either. Most strange.

    • caddyB says:

      As far as I know it’s to prevent some kind of insect from infesting the trunk. At least, that’s what my grandpa told me.

    • megazver says:

      They’re painted with lime. The reasons are:

      a) to prevent insects from fucking with the trees.
      b) to kill off the insects that have already burrowed into the bark.

      And the main reason:

      c) Trees, believe it or not, get sunburned and then the bark bursts when the temperature drops. The lime deflects the light and saves the tree from any bark problems.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Thats great, for the first 6 feet thats painted. What about the rest of the tree? Do the bugs and sun have a fear of heights?

        • JBantha says:

          Above that sun isn’t a problem and bugs don’t climb beyond the lime.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            What about the bugs with wings and the trees that aren’t very leafy? I’m still concerned about the ones that are scared of heights. The bugs I mean. If you pick one up, thats like being 200 foot up. For a human.

    • JBantha says:

      Well, they’re are not actually painted with paint, but with lime (at least “lime” is the name Google gave me when I translate “cal” from the Spanish), sometimes mixed with paint.
      And yes, it works as an agent to repel kinds of bugs and stuff.
      At least here in Costa Rica this is a more and more unusual practice since the use of chemical repellents has been winning terrain in the repellent branch of the agricultural market. So there.

    • dE says:

      Nah. It’s painted over because it’s hard to remove the bloodstains from the live human pinball games – Tank Edition.

  5. eks says:

    Totally jealous you got to go to Russia to see real tanks, look forward to reading part 2.

    Is it normal for the press to be served alcohol? The idea of serving “snacks and whiskey” seems strange for some reason.

    • felisc says:

      If anything this kind of snacks helps me picturing hunter s thompson being at this event.

  6. felisc says:

    I enjoyed reading that!

  7. GernauMorat says:

    Is the tree thing to do with keeping insects off? I seem to remember them doing that where I grew up in Spain.

  8. stahlwerk says:

    No, I didn’t know that, Brendan, tanks!

  9. Astroman says:

    Any one know if the artillery can still see and hear through the fog of war?

    I really want to love this game but rage quit after getting killed within the first 20 seconds by a tier V arty that can shoot any where on the map.

    • Palindrome says:

      They can’t. Artillery can only see what someone else in their team sees (or tracers but thats only really useful against other artillery). Artillery is also really inaccurate and takes quite a lot of skill to use effectively. Basically if you keep moving and/or avoid really obvious cover you will be safe from arty.

      One shots arty kills ued to annoy me as well until I started to play arty and found out how hard they are to do.

      • Astroman says:

        Yeah, I was an artillery, SU-5. I drove up to a bush about 10 feet away from spawn and fired a shot at an enemy T-50 scouting the middle of the map, then blew up 2 seconds later. I assume the enemy hummel saw my tracer.

        I guess I overreacted but it’s still totally unfair to have short range artys and artys that can hit anywhere on the map. There are only so many bushes and small stones to hide behind. Since you can see and hear cannons fire through the fog of war you can wipe out the other team’s artillery quite easily. I’ve done it my self, just not with in the first 20 seconds.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          Taht long range of artilery doesn’t come cheap. The more range/power you have the longer is your reload. Higher tier SPGs actualy can barely fire 2 shots per minute. Compared to that your SU-5 is a machinegun. So it balances out.
          Also you are supposed to often relocate precisely to avoit counter-artilery fire.

          • Palindrome says:

            Exactly. Every single time that you fire a round, move. You don’t have to go far but you will live a lot longer. Some arty players (like me) will spend the first 3-4 mins of a match actively seeking out enemy shell tracers and if I see enemy arty I usually kill it.

            Always move and pick somewhere less obvious as a firing position.

    • Moraven says:

      Arty has to be within radio range of their own teams radio to be able to see what they see. If you are one of the first to get spotted in the battle you will get targeted first a lot.

      Usually I will either try to look at where their artillery might be and spot for tracers of their shells or I will focus down a lane and be pre targeted and hope something is in my arc of fire that isnt behind cover, to avoid having to turn and reaim.

    • yurusei says:

      Don’t push down trees, break fences, crash through buildings, or squash cars. Drive like a tank gentleman and arty won’t see you until their teammates see you.

  10. McDan says:

    Excellent stuff, can’t wait for the (almost) live blogging of tank fights. Makes me wish I’d stayed embedded in WOT, I was quite the player some time ago.

  11. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Awesome! By the way, what’s that tank in the third picture?

    • 4th Dimension says:

      No tank per say. It’s probably an armored train. A TankTrain you might say.

  12. Valhuen says:

    Tanks in photos:

    Pic 1 (R to L): T-34/76 1940 (can only see small corner, an educated guess), T-34/76 1941, T-34/85, IS-2, ISU-152, T-26, furthest hard to tell, but guessing a BT-7 by the turret and front track guard.

    Pic 3 is the WWII armored train rail cruiser initially known as MBV-2 type Stremitelniy, completed in 1938, it served on the Leningrad front. In 1943 it’s original T-28 76mm low velocity guns were swapped out with 76mm higher velocity guns from the early T-34 while keeping the T-28 turret.

    Pic 6 facing forward is a T-72, far left partial is a T-62, engineering vehicle (?) behind T-72 cannot identify off-hand.

  13. Eightball says:

    The Cossacks are an ethnic/cultural group and while the majority fought against the Bolsheviks there were some who fought for the Reds.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      They were even given a promeinent place in the first Victory Parade after the WWII, as a recognition for their contribution in defending USSR

  14. Samolety says:

    I named my kitten Koshka…
    I want to go to Russia…
    Tanks? Oh yeah, those.

  15. pistolhamster says:

    That was a really well written report. Thanks, enjoyed.

  16. GarfildMonmutskii says:

    Great. Somebody from RPS came to Russia even to Moscow and I don’t know about it. It’s like superstars arrive in your town and you don’t know about it. Since there isn’t any major games developed there. So game journalists don’t bother to visit the city.

  17. DogKiller says:

    I’ve always wanted to buy one of those surplus Soviet vehicles you sometimes see getting shopped around, so I could have my own world of tanks in my back garden. I could put a computer in it and pretend.

  18. Mitch says:

    This game really needs a historical battle mode where each side can only pick a tank from one specific country. Like Germany versus Russia. And even better: Only real tanks that actually saw action in the battlefield before WWII ended in 1945 should be allowed, and perhaps the prototypes to close some gaps in the tier tree.

    I guess balancing would be a problem, but the atmosphere would really be so much better. And perhaps there would be some rivalry between the nations. I guess this is the reason why there is no such game mode.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Considering that thir forums are allready full of crybabies crying about how German tanks are underpowered I doubt they would be much happier if they had to face KV-1 (lvl 5 heavy) in PzIII or lower.

      Reality is unfair and unbalanced, so you would need for example to give the Soviet team for the year 1944 three times as many tanks/players than German one.

  19. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Y U NO PIC OF TWO HAT MAN, I DEMAND TWO HAT MAN.

    EDIT: Ok I found him

  20. Waswat says:

    “In MMOs it’s very important to have a fast reaction time to something. But if you’re going to a big company like Sony or Microsoft, the approval time for [updates] is always so, so long. So you can’t change the game immediately.”
    Hmm, I find it weird they are blaming microsoft and sony for something they are doing themselves. The development cycle of Wargaming is extremely slow.