Talking Starcraft II with Team aLt's Bryan "nirvAnA" Choo
Tournament-level player in Singapore talks about Blizzard's recent real-time strategy game and the Singaporean pro scene.
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While the Starcraft II tournament scene is raging on with the likes of the upcoming WCG and GSL, one wonders what the scene is like in Asia and, specifically, in Singapore itself. Enter Bryan Choo, better known as "nirvAnA" in the Starcraft II tournament field.
An equity analyst by day and team leader for the most renowned SCII team in Singapore by night (known as team aLt), he strives to guide Singapore to victory in terms of Starcraft II dominance. GameSpot Asia spoke to Choo about the past, present, and future of pro gaming in Singapore.
GameSpot Asia: When was team aLt formed?
Bryan "nirvAnA" Choo: aLt was formed about 11 years ago in 2000. We have had a very strict recruitment process over the years, and I felt that it has served us well as we have stayed together as the top team strengthened by friendship. I feel that most other teams didn't adhere to a good recruitment process and many which ended up dissolving from within.
GSA: How big is team aLt right now?
BC: Our current team consists of 10 "A Team" members and 11 "B Team" members.
GSA: What was the team's past experience with the first Starcraft on a professional scale?
BC: Our clan members were the WCG Singapore national champions from 2000 to 2006 for the Blizzard RTS games Starcraft and Warcraft 3. I myself was the Starcraft WCG Singapore National Champion in 2000 and 2001. My proudest Starcraft achievement was when I was flown over to Korea in 2001 and finished in the world's top 10, next to legendary players like boxeR, Elky, and Yellow.
At our peak level, we were practicing with the best players in the gaming world. As a result, we were far and away the top RTS clan in Singapore. Apart from our team winning some minor online competitions in Starcraft and in bigger tournaments like the WCG, there wasn't a lot to participate in as the e-sports scene wasn't as developed back then as it is now.
GSA: After playing Starcraft II since the middle of 2010, what are your thoughts about the game?
BC: I love it. It's much faster-paced and less mechanically skilled based than Starcraft, which means that there's a lot more focus on strategy. It also feels new and fresh so it's really fun to play. Since Starcraft II is still in its infancy in an ever-changing environment, there are a lot of strategies yet to be discovered.
GSA: Up until now, with current patches, are all three races evenly matched?
BC: I wouldn't say there's a perfect balance, but it's very close to perfect. Meaning a high division (e.g. the diamond league) player will end up beating a lesser skilled player (platinum league) close to 100 percent of the time even in a perceived "imbalanced" matchup. It's the same thing at higher levels where the best players in the world always find ways to overcome "imbalances." In summary, I would say a bit of imbalance exists but nowhere near enough to cause a more skilled player to lose to a less skilled one.
GSA: Are there any specific things your team would like changed in future patches or even expansions (Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void) for Starcraft II?
BC: In general with expansion packs, new units add to the fun and variety of the game. But with the new units comes new rebalancing issues, so although it brings freshness to the game, we will have to wait and see. With that being said, Starcraft's Brood War expansion did wonders for the first game, transforming the game into a sport and adding another 10 years to its life, so I have good faith in Blizzard and am looking forward to the balance issues from the new expansion units handled with the utmost care.
GSA: Which race would be suitable for a newbie Starcraft II player wishing to make it big in a tournament?
BC: I would recommend them to use the Protoss, as that particular race is more strategy-laced and is less dependent on mechanics. Newbie players generally do not have training and know the tournament fundamentals of playing Starcraft, like having a low actions-per-minute count and speedy mouse usage, no knowledge of hotkeys or using control groups, and little resource and base management experience. As Protoss is the race least punishing for those players, they can focus their efforts on learning a few good strategies and executing them well and still do OK in tournaments, as compared to when they use the Zerg and Terrans.
GSA: What advice can you dish out for players for the race you're using?
BC: There is less focus on mechanics for the race I'm currently using, which happen to be the Protoss. The skill ceiling for them isn't as high as the other races, but this also means it's easier to learn, and the low skill ceiling leads to very subtle differences in skill. Being able to cast good "force fields" alone could separate a player from being in Platinum or Gold league. Timing your assaults and having a good game sense becomes extremely important at the higher levels, more so than the other races.
I recommend reading a guide I have written up that talks about the common mistakes of non-Diamond League players. The guide explains in detail about mechanics and strategic theories and how new players usually make the mistake in both instances.
GSA: What are your thoughts about the Starcraft II local scene?
BC: I honestly expected it to be better. I felt that it could have been at least as good as the Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne launch in 2003, with several big 256-player LAN tournaments, but in reality it wasn't.
I feel that there is no shortage of organizers wanting to run tournaments, but the main issue is the player base, which leads to the inability to attract good sponsorship. With Starcraft II's initial high price, a lot of potential local Starcraft II players were deterred from purchasing the game, especially the "new generation" market segment who were too young to have heard of the first Starcraft and who currently has access to affordable iPhone games they could easily play with their friends. Most of the players in the local scene in fact are familiar faces and "older" players have played Starcraft.
I certainly hope that more players would play Starcraft II because it's a fantastic game, and I feel if players just tried it, a large portion would still be playing it actively--so it still comes down to price.
GSA: What do you think needs improvement from the community here in Singapore (or other Asian countries, if possible)?
What we would need right now is a bigger player database and a way to generate more interest in the game itself. With more players come better-sponsored tournaments and events which in turn create more interest and attract more players. If Blizzard hosted more well-sponsored regional events like the SEA Blizzard Invitationals Tournament last year, that would be fantastic for the community.
GSA: Finally, what other games do you enjoy and which would you consider playing competitively apart from SCII?
BC: If it's just for casual gaming, I like smaller games on the iPhone and iPad. I could challenge my friends and girlfriend with the likes of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.
Competitively, I would play any RTS game which has good balance, huge emphasis on skill, is well supported thanks to a player base of decent size, and, most importantly, is fun to play. Unfortunately for RTS games, I have only found Blizzard games to have these characteristics, namely Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Starcraft II. However, I have an open mind and am always on the lookout for great games.
Right now, I am really looking forward to Diablo 3 as a game to play casually with friends.