[Part one is here.]
I found myself in Moscow at the weekend, reporting on the Ural Steel 2012, a World of Tanks tournament with a top prize of $35,000. There were many tanks, as evidenced in part one of my adventures. But there was also lots of tense team-based drama. Being both unprepared and a terrible person, I found myself unable to liveblog the event as it happened. So, I just wrote down everything on paper which I would otherwise have scribed onto the vast scroll of the internet. God bless paper. For a more detailed rundown of results, best check Wargaming.
Presenting Ural Steel 2012: the as-liveblog
I am in a giant converted basketball court coated in Cyrillic text. The opening ceremony is soon about to begin. In the meantime, a sleazy sax song has segues into a thumping Eastern European dance anthem. Keeps the punters happy.
Opening ceremony now.
Two kids playing with toy tanks in front of a massive video screen. A black and white shot of the globe with ‘the 50s’ written on it.
Now ‘the 80s’ is up. The 90s. Each time a new pair of kids is revealed, playing with bigger and better toy tanks.
‘2012’ has appeared in big letters. A child has come out onto the stage, notable by his solitude. Where is his friend?
Oh right, he has a laptop. He’s opening the laptop now and pressing the power button.
Explosions! The big ‘2012’ disappears behind a blaze of tanks and war. The children vanish. Probably vapourised. The music rises. Two platoons of students holding flags of every country swan in and
march around the room. They stand on either side of the arena and look as majestic as possible.
The head of the Russian E-sports Federation is introduced to the stage. Big cheers. He says something in Russian and is applauded off.
Another guy comes on to give a short speech. It transpires he is from the company that is sponsoring the event, Uralvagonzavod, the largest main battle tank manufacturer in the world. Creepy.
The teams are introduced. The majority are Russian or Eastern European. There are also two Chinese teams, a Japanese team and a German team that people are keeping their eyes on. The Russians are the definite favourites, playing on home turf. But who knows, right?
The teams file away.
Press conference time! (See part one).
And back to the arena. Judging from these play-offs, a pro WoT game is mostly a weird stand-off. Nothing happens for ages, as tanks peep furtively around corners and judder back and forth, probing their opponents for weaknesses. Then suddenly one person will make an ill-fated advance or a risky break from cover and immediately both teams will round on each other in a stressful, panicky fire-fight that often lasts less than a minute.
All the finalists are through now. The first semi-final will feature two Russian teams, Red Rush: Unity and Vitrus Pro Aces. But first: an intermission.
Oh god. Four female dancers come out and writhe to techno. Cheers. The cameras in the stands flash furiously, like sheet lightening without the accompanying thunder.
But don’t worry girls. Because here is a pair of accordion playing men in army uniform. Fit. Their speedy music is only stopped from being a credible Soviet theme by the relentless house bass line.
I’m no longer watching an e-sports tournament. I’m watching Uralvision. A terrifying glimpse of all future music when the glorious revolution comes.
Okay, actually liking the accordions now.
Here come the teams. Sauntering in to a wondrous Slavic jig. It’s marvellous. I’m not even joking. Just lapping this up.
Aw, it’s over.
Oh no, it’s not. There’s a dance troupe. They’re pretty good. Russia’s got talent.
All right, finally the first semi-final is about to begin. The teams will face off on a desert map. The referees inspect each side. They look serious. Well, wouldn’t YOU? Again, it’s Red Rush:
Unity versus Vitrus Pro Aces.
And they’re off.
OH GOD a tank has been SHOT! Vitrus are a MAN DOWN. Red Rush: Unity have a lot of nippy fast tanks and a scary artillery unit. It likes to hide.
NOW VITRUS ARE TWO MEN DOWN. Oh my, this is exciting, isn’t it?
Vitrus lost ANOTHER. I’m so glad my pen is capable of caps lock. I can tell I’m going to need it a lot.
The round is over. Unity win that one. Many tanks died. There are five rounds per game and the first to three is the winner. No round will ever last longer than ten minutes and draws are frowned upon as being so dull that if they keep occurring then both teams will simply be disqualified. That means they’re forced to play aggressively.
The teams are flickering through their menus. Substituting one tank for another, changing layouts and consulting websites. The referee signals the beginning of the next round.
All the commentary is in Russian so I’m having to guess a lot from people reactions and the crowds cheers. I’ve had an easier time following Cricket.
I hate Cricket.
Next round starts. The tanks roll away from their respective bases.
Unity lost a tank. Now it is naught but a smoky husk. War is awful. Why do we fight? Is humanity not past this? When will kindness see victory over death?
There is a tank hiding in a bush.
Vitrus lost a guy. Oh no they’re in trouble. Lots of shooting happening.
Unity win AGAIN. Oh my heart. Such combat is terror among men. No words can express the guile of these e-athletes. The cunning. The strength. The nobility. The valour. The grace. The honour. The control. The poise. The power.
My leg is itchy.
Another round, another Vitrus tank blown sky-high by artillery. But they hit back, knocking out one of Unity’s players to many cheers. Their glee is short-lived as four Unity players round on the rascal in question as he tries to hide amid a rocky outcrop. They tear him apart.
Like a wolf pack.
Like a piranha shoal.
Like a gang of angry geese.
Oh GOD. It’s all gone WRONG. Chaos, with both teams suffering heavy losses, I think.
Vitrus win? They look well pleased. They’ve hit back just when it looked like they were gonna be knocked out. The score now is 2-1 to Unity.
A new round begins with madness. One of Vitrus’ tanks is flinging himself at the enemy, ramming him into oblivion. Eventually, their aggression wins through and they take the round making the score an even 2-2. I’ve asked some people and they say that in sports this is what’s known as a “comebaquè”. One round left and it’s the decider.
Vitrus are in very high spirits. They all get up from their PCs and huddle together, raising their arms in a Russian chant. Unity look concerned.
This is actually very tense. I make fun but these guys must have their hearts between their teeth. Good luck everyone.
Last round begins.
Unity’s artillery plus one other have gone back to the hiding-in-a-bush ploy. A classic tactic I am told. Meanwhile, photographers are taking close pictures of the team members. It must be pretty distracting and, considering the concentration on their faces, a very stressful and serious situation.
Everyone is being very cautious this round. No kills yet.
Never mind, it’s fine.
Unity have lost one to a sneaky chase-down. Then they strike back immediately. All the tanks come out of their bushes. IT’S WAR.
That’s it. After many explosions and some shouting from both sides, Unity won the round and the game. They will go on to the final where they will face an enemy yet to be decided. They look
overjoyed. Many cheers from the crowd.
Vitrus are putting their coats on. Ha ha. Losers.
The next semi final will be Red-Z Gra, the Russian clan-brothers of the team who just won, versus Odem Mortis, who as Germans are the only non-Russian team to reach the semis. There used to be teams from the US, Japan, Poland, China… But all were destroyed in the group stages because the Russians are best at tanks. Looking forward to seeing if the Germans can stand up to them. Europe’s last hope.
Until then, a twenty minute break. Let’s go exploring.
You have discovered PR manager. You have discovered Spiced Rum and apple juice. Your adventure starts here.
PR manager has asked me if I have any questions, if I’m unsure about anything that is going on, or need anything confusing cleared up.
I ask why they paint the trees white.
“It is for tree’s health. There is bug. Parasite.”
So the paint stops them eating the bark?
But then why only paint part of the tree? By that logic, why not paint the whole tree?
“That would look unnatural.”
Okay. Now that that sidequest is over, I’m back in the arena waiting for the second semi-final to begin. In the meantime they are holding a drawing competition to see who can make the best World of Warplanes logo. The winner is given a prize by women in military uniform. Well done, winner.
All right, the teams are out and the game has begun. It’s Red-Z Gra versus Odem Mortis.
Twenty seconds in and Red-Z Gra have already scored a kill. The offending warmonger raises his fist into the air to cheers and whoops.
Yes. Be proud, majestic tanker. You have killed this day.
The Germans land a vengeful kill. The only sound in the stadium is a solitary cheer from Luke the e-sportscaster, who is sitting next to me and diligently following every shell and tread, every hit and miss, feverishly updating something on his computer.
I take a sip of rum.
I ask Luke about the Germans. “They’re in a bad position,” he says. “But they’re not going to roll over.”
“Oh, no wait. Now they’re fucked.”
Red-Z Gra win the first round. It was a blood bath.
A digital blood bath.
Back to the menus. The audience are laughing about something the commentator has said about the match. I’m so infuriated. There is a joke about Germans and I am not in on it. This is unacceptable.
WHAT ARE ALL THESE RUSSIANS LAUGHING AT?
The second round begins. Another German dies. Another wild applause.
Yet another joyful kill for the motherland. Only this time it was accompanied by the death of the attacking party. They pointed their guns at each other and went to hell holding hands. It was a glorious death for all involved. Hail warfare.
By the time Odem Mortis respond they are already on the ropes again. They lose the second round. It’s become 2-0 now very quickly. Looking bad for Deutschland.
Whoops. I missed the last round because I was talking to people. Sorry. Guess who won.
(The Russians. 3-0).
So, Red-Z Gra are going through. It’s brother versus brother now in a horrible clan-off. How exciting – or how predictable – depending on your attitude to Russians. There will follow a third-place play-off in another room upstairs. But I’m bunking that in favour of a wander. Back soon.
Found members of Red-Z Gra smoking happily outside. Journalism go!
RPS: Prostite (sorry), do any of you speak English?
Red-Z member: Little, little.
RPS: I’m from the UK. I’m a journalist.
Red-Z: Journalist? No. Player.
RPS: What? No, me.
Red-Z: Oh. You journalist.
RPS: Da, da. Do you speak enough English for an interview?
Red-Z: Final, yes. We are final.
RPS: Yes. Is there anyone in the Red clan who speaks English by any chance?
Red-Z: Russian, Russian.
RPS: Okay, no worries. Prostite.
Back inside they are having a paper plane making competition during the interim. They make planes. They throw them. The applause is deafening.
There’s no rum left in the press room. Does Bushmills go with apple juice?
Went up to the top of the seating area to take a picture. Found the window to the electronic control room. Looked through to see a solitary old guy with a bushy moustache, looked about 70 years old, lifting a dumbbell in his right arm.
Just a bit of colour for you there.
A raffle now while they prepare for the final. A whole lot of fun. Prizes to be won.
Okay! The final has begun. First round is go. The tension is palpable. It’s a battle of brothers. It’s Cain versus Abel. Solid versus Liquid. Chuckle versus Chuckle. DRAMA.
Red-Z Gra have lost a man. He was blown up :(
The applause is very muted and brief this time when someone is destroyed. I can’t tell if this is the audience being respectful of the players’ concentration or if they are just tired.
Ohhhhhh, something happened. I missed it. Probably a tank died.
Whaaat. A massive war-bastard of a tank just gave chase to a tiny armoured car thing with a microscopic gun. The David tank ran for his life into a narrow canyon while Goliath trundled slowly after him. David got trapped in a dead end while Goliath got ever closer, missing all his shots by metres. Eventually, the big fella got bored with being peppered by David’s peashooter and simply tried to ram the cornered car to death. But he didn’t see the little guy’s friends lying in wait down the canyon. Boom. Artillery barrage away. For a second it seems like Davey has been saved. But
Goliath drives in close just before the shell lands and takes both of them out in a blaze of fury.
It’s 1-0 to Red: Rush Unity here in Moscow, folks! Tanks are dying. Stay tuned!
Why are you still here?
The map this match, by the way, is a gorgeous countryside. Complete with tiny hamlets and woodland to hide in. It makes for very conservative play, I’m told.
While I was writing that, something strange was happening. There’s confusion about something.
A draw. The second round ended in a draw after Red-Z Gra played uber-defensively in their home base. Many frowns all round.
A break between rounds. The players sit back and reflect. Possibly on all the people they have killed. “No!” says PR manager. “There are no people in tanks. Just machine.” I do not believe them.
There are people in there. I’ve heard their screams.
Third round is go. This time the tanks meet in battle outside their bases and Unity pick off Gra’s guys in the gorge again. It quickly becomes 2-0 to Unity. There’s a real feeling of fatalism now in the stadium, folks, a real feeling of finality.
Although that just might be because this is the final.
The fourth round begins. After a few casualties on either side a tense stalemate occurs by one of the map’s settlements. Three of Unity’s tanks have lined up behind a building, covered from artillery. Just around the corner a duo from Gra are waiting in the road for them to pop their heads out.
Oh no! Somehow the Gra tanks have been flanked. A small tank has appeared behind them and is pestering them with fire. They turn their turrets to shoot back and quickly destroy him. But it’s just a decoy. In the two whole seconds it takes for Gra’s guys to turn their guns back around two of Unity’s tanks have rushed around the corner and fired heavily on the enemy pair. Both of Gra’s babies blow up.
The last surviving members of Red-Z Gra have been hunted down and cut to pieces. That’s it. Red: Rush Unity have won first place. They’ll be going away with $35,000 and a bunch of Other Stuff. In the mean time the third place play-off with the German team Odem Mortis and the Russian Vitrus Pro Aces ended in the German’s defeat. Every single prize this year has gone to a Russian-based team.
The motherland prevails.
Thank you for tuning into the Ural Steel 2012 as-liveblog. I have been your helpful host, Brendan Caldwell.
Someone get me out of here.
Back to hotel.