StarCraft With a Smile

A new league in Chicago attracts a casual kind of player who want socializing with their StarCraft.

Chicago's League of StarCraft

Shortly after their weekly matches end, software engineer Devin McIntyre and a handful of others in his league stroll to Chief O’Neills, a nearby pub in Chicago, to share a drink and conversations about their game. They’re not unlike countless other twentysomethings who spend scheduled weeknights playing in a softball league or pick-up basketball at the local YMCA, with one major difference – their game of choice is StarCraft II.

Welcome to the League of StarCraft, a newly-formed recreational eSports league consisting of 12 players that meets through mid-December at the Ignite Gaming Lounge in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

It’s a chilly Wednesday night at Ignite, and the players all sit around a large circular shaped table with monitors and keyboards equidistant from each other like spokes on a wheel. League members play a quick best of three match against a scheduled opponent.

The idea of the league, said Ignite event coordinator/community manager Megan "Silvare" Voidray is to serve a different kind of StarCraft player than the usual.

“We’ve had StarCraft tournaments for the past two years and it’s usually these Grand Master level kids who come in and dominate,” said Voidray. “At one point, I sat there thinking, I wish there was something for us players who are lower level players.”

Shortly after that, Voidray brainstormed the League of StarCraft, a more casual league aimed at people over the age of 21 who saw StarCraft as a hobby than an obsession.

“We wanted to get people who have jobs, have busy lives, but love StarCraft.”

For McIntyre, who plays under the name “Smile,” it’s a refreshing change from playing games online, where opposing players can often be jerks – or as more often is the case, there’s almost no social interaction.

“It’s nice to be in a situation where there’s people to talk to after the game and there’s no hostility,” said McIntyre. “It’s like I lost, whatever, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

The stakes are low – the prize pool for winning the eight week league is only $100 -- but that was intentional move to keep high ranked players from being tempting to sneak in with a smurf account.

“I was worried that someone was going to try to sneak in, so I tried to screen the league as much as possible,” said Voidray.

Chicago's League of StarCraft

The just-for-fun feel also means participants can experiment and don’t feel much pressure to win. McIntyre, a former Platinum level considers himself a Terran but accidentally chose Protoss and has stuck with it because – well, why not?

League of StarCraft member Wesley “Uesuri” Julian's passion for the game has prompted him to get tickets for Red Bull Battle Grounds later this month. He has no intentions to become a professional gamer himself, but likes to play the game competitively, especially after watching streams of pro tournaments.

“I’m never going to be as good as the top pros and I can’t use some of their strategies because they’re very high level, but I might look at their hotkeys or beginning build order," said Julian.

“It’s not much different than watching Monday Night Football than wanting play flag football with your friends."

So far, the League of StarCraft has proven more popular than Voidray expected. She initially didn't know if anyone would sign up after she posted a notice on Team Liquid's website. Now there's already a waiting list of people wanting to enroll for next season.

To watch the pros play StarCraft in person, click here to buy tickets for Red Bull Battle Grounds in New York.