Game of Drones: StarCraft II politics

Fighting elections with video games - we speak to man behind a political StarCraft tournament.
Game of Drones: Starcraft II politics
Game of Drones: Starcraft II politics © Blizzard Entertainment
By Philippa Warr

On April 13, Sweden's political parties took to the maps of StarCraft II in a struggle for digital supremacy and bragging rights in the ultimate rematch. The PolitikerStarcraft tournament first took place in 2010 in the run up to the Swedish general election. Back then, victory went to the Liberal Party who scored first place in the gaming contest as well as a sort-of first place at the polls as part of a four-party coalition government. With another general election looming, Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist resurrected PolitikerStarcraft, challenging each party in parliament, as well as the Feminist Initiative and the Pirate Party, to field a worthy StarCraft II contender.

Naturally, Red Bull got in touch with Lundkvist to find out more, starting with "Why on earth StarCraft?"

"I chose StarCraft for two reasons," he explains. "The first one is the fact that it is the game I am into. I do not watch other eSport games. The second is that during that time [2010] eSports was pretty much StarCraft."

The 2010 version of PolitikerStarcraft was a challenge issued by the Pirate Party to the other Swedish political parties. It began life as "just a neat idea which I decided to act upon" but then expanded a little in terms of its political relevance. "We then gave it a little attention and a political message (lower value-added tax on games) and then uploaded the replays - commentated - on Youtube," says Lundkvist.

But the low production values of the 2010 contest bothered Lundkvist. "The first tournament had a dreadful production with myself as commentator," he admits. "Since then I wanted to return to it and do it properly. So I contacted Tor Claesson and Christopher Palm aka Living on the Ladder about it two years ago and asked if they would be up for casting it. They loved the idea and all we needed was a timetable. The upcoming 'super' election where we have elections both for the European Parliament and our own Parliament was ideal."

Although Lundqvist is himself a member of the Pirate Party, he temporarily set aside his own political allegiance to organise the 2014 contest. As he explained at the time, "letting a party arrange an event for the other nine [parties] isn’t a good idea. I also think the event will be more appreciated if there isn’t any obvious party allegiance behind."

In terms of the quality of the representatives, Lundkvist actually wasn't surprised to find competent players taking part. Yep - some of the nation’s representatives are also handy Protoss players. "Sure, they were good and some of them even have eSports careers aside from politics but I did not expect anything less. It is only logical that people who are into eSports and StarCraft and thus mostly good at it volunteer to play for their parties."

It was the finals which Lundkvist found the most entertaining. "The Green Party put up a really valiant struggle, especially in the third game where I thought Vänsterpartiet [the Left Party] would lose at several points. His Baneling detonations was absolutely beautiful." In the end though, it was the Left that won - whether that’ll prove true at the elections in September remains to be seen however.

PolitikerStarcraft © Blizzard Entertainment

Politically speaking, "the most anticipated game was the Left Party who faced their arch rivals the Sweden Democrats." This was actually the first pairing of the tournament and pitted the Left's Prospect against the Sweden Democrats' Zaki. "It was truly a grudge match between the right and the left and it did not leave anybody disappointed."

According to Lundkvist, all of the ten parties invited to take part wanted to participate, however only eight made it to the tournament. "In the end, the Christian Democrats failed to secure a player and the Feminist Initiative player had to decline due to other commitments."

We ask why the Christian Democrats were unable to find a StarCraft player in their ranks. Lundkvist explains that while he doesn't believe political affiliation matters particularly when it comes to gaming, "I do however believe they put less effort into finding a player thinking it [was] all a big gimmick. In that they were not alone. We had to extend the time for registration and send quite a few reminders to all of the parties before a player was registered for participation."

© Blizzard Entertainment

Lundkvist is also not rushing to imbue the PolitikerStarcraft tournament with the power to predict election winners, despite the sort-of success of 2010. "Folkpartiet won last time with Mathias Sundin playing. He is now a replacement for a spot in Parliament. They are part of a coalition, The Alliance, who won the last election.”

"The Alliance is led by Nya Moderaterna which is the largest party and the leaders of the coalition and thus 2010's real winners. Moderaterna did however secure the second place in the 2010 tournament so I suppose it has some bearing. We shall see after the election how much Vänsterpartiet's micro and drone rushes gains them in the ballot box."

PolitikerStarcraft © Blizzard Entertainment

We ask whether Lundqvist thinks politicians in general have an understanding of gaming and eSports or whether it's still an area in need of improvement.

"They certainly need to improve it," says Lundqvist. "For many politicians gaming is just a handy scapegoat when your social and school policies fall flat. It also has annoying repercussions for eSports athletes who cannot enter Sweden on an athlete visa."

The visa issue and the idea to lower value-added tax on games (which is what the 2010 tournament sought to highlight) are the areas Lundqvist feels are most important for the short term but that gambling revenues are also a potential flash point. "In the long term, I think politicians will have to face the discussion that there may be eSport organisations who also want a share of the profit from Sweden's gambling monopoly; money that traditionally is largely donated to youth sport organisations."

These are interesting issues but the fact that PolitikerStarcraft is perhaps viewed by the parties as a gimmick means it may well not have the power to raise or address them. When we ask about whether the tournament has had an impact on political debate or discussion, Lundkvist says bluntly, "not very much."

Although one of Sweden's nationwide tabloid newspapers live-streamed the event on their website, the majority of the coverage of PolitikerStarcraft has come from outside the country. "Coverage has mostly been from international media," says Lundkvist. "Googling [my] name - as one does - became a lot more interesting, especially when you find your name in Russian and French online magazines."

In terms of whether PolitikerStarcraft is a uniquely Swedish event or whether we could perhaps see Dota 2 editions of Question Time in the UK or World of Tanks style presidential debate in the US, Lundqvist sees the tournament as the result of positive attitudes rather than digital aptitude.

"I think it could happen in any country where somebody just thinks 'Let's do this' and then goes on to do it. That's the vital part, not some measurement of how deep into eSports or computers or something a country is."

Who’s going to take up the challenge before we next go to the polls?

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