Last weekend the UK Team, made up of four of the top Quake II players from the UK, took on the creme de la creme of France at the LAN Arena 3 party in Paris. The result? 5-0 to the Brits!
We managed to track down three of the four UK players earlier this week and talked to them about the Paris event and professional gaming in general...
Introducing The Band
Luke Coulter is a member of UNR, one of the UK's top Quake II clans, and has a great reputation as a Quake II dueller as well. He won the UKCCL Xmas Frenzy duel contest last year, and was also runner up at the UK LAN Party and EuroQuake contests.
In real life he is a first year student at Glasgow University, way up in the snowy wastelands of Scotland (or something like that), where he is studying Computing Science. Alex aka Shigeru is a 16 year old, and still at school. LAN Arena 3 was his first big Quake tournament, and he is probably the least well known of the four team members.
He still performed well in Paris though, and is currently a member of Clan CFH, another high flying UK Quake 2 clan. Love him or hate him, James "Billox" Page is one of the best known Quakers in the UK, mostly thanks to his 56 to -1 pasting by Thresh at last year's Quakeadelica. He was also a member of the winning team at the UKPCGC earlier this year, and is a member of Clan Eat Electric Death.
In real life he is "an HTML monkey", although he's thinking about going back to university to learn programming. Unfortunately we weren't able to track down Blokey in time for this interview.
What we do know though is that he is one of the top Quake II players in the country, having racked up victories at EuroQuake and the UK LAN Party in both Free For All and Duel matches. Like Luke, he is also a member of high-flying Clan UNR.
So how did they all get involved in the Quake scene?
"I played Quake World a little, but I was extremely shit", Luke admitted. "I only bound myself some strafe keys about two weeks before Quake 2 came out. As soon as I played Quake 2 though it kinda grabbed me, and hasn't let go since!"
"I've been a member of Clan Unreal since the first week of Quake 2. Tasan, Yakumo and I met on Suicide's lithium server, and we've been going ever since then."
Meanwhile Shigeru was discovering the joys of online gaming...
"I got into Quake 2 via the Globalnet newsgroups, joined Clan CFH after a few weeks of playing, this was around April 1998. We were quite content playing one friendly a week .. for about a month, and then we joined the UKCCL."
The UKCCL is probably the longest running Quake 2 league in the UK, and most of the top clans still play in it. Luke's UNR have pretty much dominated the league since its formation, but CFH are up there in the top division as well...
"We fluked our way to division 1 by way of other clans pulling out", Shigeru says modestly. "And we're still in it. One season we might even win it :)."
Billox had a more unusual entry to the Quake scene... "I used to fly flight sims online before even Quakeworld. I discovered Quake 2 by accident really, whilst messing about with my connection and using it as a tool to accurately measure the quality of my modem connection."
He had an early introduction to pro-gaming in the form of last year's Quakeadelica, an event run by Wireplay. Billox came out as the UK champion, leading to a painful showdown with American champion Thresh...
And so to Paris...
"Paris, hmm, bit like London except it was full of French people", Shigeru noted. "And it had a worse, yes worse, underground system than London."
Which is scary, but true. Luckily the event itself was much more appealing than the smell of the Paris Metro though...
"Paris was great fun", Luke told us, before putting in a swift plug for our sponsors. "Many thanks to the guys over at Heat.net for putting up the cash! Without them it wouldn't have been possible for us to go kick French ass."
Nicely done. But what about the event itself?
"As far as venue and setup went, LAN Arena 3 was probably the best organised LAN I've been to. It was a pity we had to fix the network ourselves after 6 hours of asking for help, but at least we got it sorted."
Shigeru agreed, "LAN Arena 3 had a superb venue, plenty of room, and a good network (when it worked). I guess most of the competitions went down on Sunday though, as it seemed to really be a setup and troubleshooting day on the Saturday."
And the matches were good as well. Although the French were taken down five games to nil in the end, it wasn't quite as much of a whitewash as it sounds. "The French team were good, pushing us right to the wire on a couple of games. Perhaps we'll play again in the future..."
Must Try Harder
When they do meet again though, the UK Team should be better prepared. The build-up to LAN Arena 3 was a bit of a rush, with the team only being picked the week before the event.
"We hadn't actually ever played together as a team before our first game in France", Billox told us. "I felt that considering the limited preparation we had done, our teamplay was actually quite good. Especially in the DM3 games and the final DM1 game."
It was the same story from Luke. "For the first few games we really weren't communicating well enough - I was screaming my head off, but the others were pretty quiet."
"After a couple of games we started to get it down though, and we really did look a lot better for it. The fact the team hadn't even played together once before the event worried me, but to be honest after the first couple of games my fears were put to rest."
Shigeru wasn't entirely happy with his own day's work though...
"I was disappointed with my performance in the first three games. I just couldn't seem to get going, or adjust from ISDN to LAN. Between the third and fourth games I spent about 15 minutes just playing in battle warm up, and that seemed to help my performance a lot in the final two games."
"Okay, it's not the world's best excuse", he admitted. "But it's a lot better than "theres a sandwich in my mouse!" from Billox :)"
That one deserves some explanation... You see, Billox was having problems with his mouse during a warm-up session before the main competition, and lifted it up to find a piece of salami underneath it!
That was one of the more surreal moments from the weekend, and shouting "Sandwich!" at each other soon became a running joke...
State Of The (Quake) Nation
There have been big tournaments in Europe before, and even the occasional international match (last year's EuroQuake and the Clan 9 vs DeathRow tourney spring to mind), but we don't seem to have anything on the scale of the PGL and CPL here in Europe .. yet.
"We are still a fair way behind the states, especially in terms of cash prizes", according to Billox. "We are catching up fast though, with events like the UKPCGC. Next step will be leagues with prizes, and more cash prizes for LAN events. That's what attractcs the good players, and of course the spectators."
"I think pro-gaming in Europe is lagging massively behind the US scene", Luke agreed. "We don't have anything like the kind of scene they have over there. The UKPCGC seems like a step in the right direction, but that was spread over a number of games."
"I'd like to see more sponsorship from companies for big gaming events in the UK - we need sponsors first before we can get big press coverage. Hopefully the OGA will help players get the sponsorship and recognition they deserve. From what I hear the OGA could be the single biggest step forward for the UK gaming scene yet."
The OGA? Unfortunately we can't tell you what it is right now, but all will be revealed on Wednesday 8th December when we officially launch it! Stay tuned to EuroGamer for more information...
Cash isn't the only thing lacking though, as Shigeru told us. Rules for professional gaming in Europe "really need standardisation - different countries play with different settings, and for it to really explode these need to be the same".
This ranges from simple things like whether to play with team damage on or off, to more contentious issues such as whether playing with hacked PAK files is cheating or not. Hopefully this problem will be solved over the next year.
Rip Off Britain?
Of course, here in the UK we have an even bigger problem. And it's name is .. British Telecom.
"I can think of one huge disadvantage, and that is BT", Shigeru told us. "For the gaming scene to really expand they need to do something about costs and connection standards. ISDN is well over 10 years old, yet they still flog it because a) they are allowed to and b) they can make LOTS of profit from it."
"I suppose that's good business sense from their view, but it is just lagging the UK behind in my view, and not just in gaming terms."
Luke agrees. "For years BT have been squeezing every last penny they can out of us and delaying broadband unmetered access as long as possible. Countries such as the US and Holland have had cable modems and the like for years now, and the difference between playing on a modem and a digital line is massive."
And the good side to living in the UK? Well .. there is no good side. "Not sure if there are any advantages really, except there seems to be less cheating here than some other places", Shigeru told us. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the UK...
In fact, Billox was the only one who had anything good to say about online gaming in Britain. "The tightly knit scene with everyone playing in the same leagues and on the same servers is good, but the phonebills and lack of broadband technology are bad."
Until BT roll out cheap broadband digital internet connections, or somebody else (such as cable operator NTL) offers an alternative, the UK gaming scene really is suffering.
Of course, BT isn't the only problem we have in the UK, as Luke pointed out.
"The main disadvantage is the fact that we have such a small player base. I believe you can only get so good in the UK as you play the same players day in day out. Experience comes with playing many good players. Both Blokey and myself agreed that we learned more in two days at the EDL than we had learned in months of playing in the UK."
The EDL was an international duel competition, with sixteen of the best duelists from around Europe fighting it out at Sweden's 9 Cafe. With players like Luke, Blokey, Shub, Rufus, and America's Makaveli all taking part, it was certainly a great opportunity to pick up tips from the best players in the world.
"You must play people who are better than yourself to improve your game in my opinion", Luke told us. "I also see this as a major flaw in the UK scene as far as duel goes. There are so many players out there who will happily play HPBs [people with poor internet connections] or players lesser than themselves all day, winning by massive margins, but will either quit or moan when they start to lose to a good player."
"I would ask these people what they think they are learning from this? My advice to any aspiring duelist is to play the best players they can find as much as possible, it really is the best way to get better."
The question is, will "pro gaming" ever be a truly professional sport? Will people be able to play games for a living, or will it always be something we do in our spare time?
"It may be possible in the future for some people to make a living from gaming", Billox said. "This all depends on how many people would be interested to watch games like Quake and Unreal on media such as TV. Although live video streams of matches on the internet could be an alternative..."
Shigeru seems to agree. "It is definitely going to take off. I'd love to be able to make a living from it, but I don't think it is something careers advisers are going to start mentioning just yet. :) But a couple of years and anything can happen."
"It has already taken off in the US, and I see the potential for the same to happen here", said Luke, gazing into his crystal ball like some kind of railgun toting Mystic Meg. "When you look at some of the prizes on offer for big tournaments in the US then you have to say yes, if you are good enough you could make a living out of playing games."
And as pro-gaming starts to gain a foothold in Europe over the next year, things can only get better. More leagues, more tournaments, more events, more sponsorship, and in the long run we can even look forward to regular international matches with teams from around the world competing at a professional level.
Time to start polishing that railgun!
Or should that be sniper rifle? Because for once Quake X is no longer the de facto multiplayer game of choice. Unreal Tournament has arrived, and it is giving Quake 3 Arena a strong run for its money.
Which of the two games gets the UK Team's seal of approval?
"At the moment UT seems a lot better than Q3A to me", Shigeru told us. "Although I haven't had the chance to play the new Q3A demotest thing much, I still seem to have trouble actually seeing the other players. Perhaps it's my eyes..."
"UT has a nice pace about it, and has more variation than Q3A, not to mention the ability to fire six rockets at once. I guess I'll end up split between them both, although Q2 will still probably be the game I'll play most. Something like a 50% UT/Q3 and 50% Q2 split."
Billox thinks Quake 2 has had its day though... "I've actually been playing more UT and Q3 than I have Q2 for the past few months. I feel Q2 is getting a bit long in the tooth now".
So which of the new games will it be for him? "My clan plays both UT and Q3, and we have our own server for both these games. I don't see myself playing one more than the other. I like em both :)"
So there you have it. Thanks to Billox, Luke and Shigeru for answering my questions, and congratulations again to the UK Team and the behind the scenes team (the Brothers Loman, Mat Bettinson, and of course our sponsors Heat.net) on what will no doubt be the first of many victories!
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