It is still dark in the Dutch town of Alphen aan den Rijn when Jordy and Dennis are setting up their laptops. It’s half past seven. “My alarm went off at a quarter to five. At half past five I had to start driving already to get here in time–it’s a two-hour drive for me,” Dennis says, suppressing the last few yawns. Jordy lives a lot closer to the venue, but he too has had a short night. “There was supposed to be another guy helping us out, but he canceled just last night. It’s pretty frustrating, but we’ll see how it goes. Especially the beginning is a stressful part...”
A long weekend lies in front of them.
On May 5th and 6th Blizzard’s Summer Playoffs are held for the European region. On the line: coveted HCT points and the grand prize of four available ticket to the Summer Championships in Los Angeles. The venue in The Netherlands is one of five remaining venues after Blizzard cut away many others of previous years, leaving only the best to choose from for all 73 qualified players. The Esports Game Arena was officially opened half a year ago by the founders who started off by hosting local Hearthstone tournaments. Now thirteen of Europe’s best Hearthstone players gather in the same town for a tournament organized by Blizzard. Jordy and Dennis volunteered to admin after they were contacted by the venue’s owner.
It doesn’t bother either Jordy or Dennis much that they’re receiving almost no compensation (travel costs are covered) for giving up their weekend. “I’ve been an admin many times, I quite like doing it,” Jordy shrugs. Adding to that, Dennis says: “It’s my first time, but I think it’s a nice experience. Maybe for some employers, it’s a nice thing to have on my resume. Also, I probably would’ve watched the event at home anyway.”
Just before eight o’clock the first players arrive and Jordy and Dennis are put to work. All is prepared down to the last detail. “A while ago we were in a Skype call with Blizzard. We went through everything a couple of times to make sure everyone knows what to do.” Via Discord Blizzard’s own admins and other esports crew stay actively in touch with all venues. On-site is an Esports Coordinator in case something goes horribly wrong. Other than that, however, it’s all up to the volunteers.
Identification, picture, waiver, repeat. Jordy and Dennis run up and down to make sure all players are who they are, take a picture for the stream and sign a waiver issued by Blizzard (or as Jon “Orange” Westberg put it humorously: “You just give them your soul, that’s all”). Everything is uploaded and sent to Blizzard. By 9 o’clock all players have checked in, according to schedule. “We’re all green now,” Jordy sighs relieved, pointing at an Excel sheet in which Blizzard tracks the venues, “[the venue in] Moscow is almost completely red though, which means they haven’t checked in their players yet.” When Moscow’s all in green too, the tournament starts.
The rounds pass smoothly. Some players at the venue face each other, which requires some rearranging, but aside from some delay everything goes according to plan. Sometimes a player at the venue is livestreamed, which means either Jordy or Dennis has to sit with them in the rearranged conference room. Jeffrey, the admin who initially canceled, shows up towards the end of the day to help out a bit. The moments of rest are used to play some Hearthstone while relaxing in comfortable chairs, or socializing with friends and fans of Hearthstone who have come to the venue.
Then comes round six. Raphael “Bunnyhoppor” Peltzer didn’t realize his timer was already running, and missed the check-in for the round. He immediately notifies the admins, who notify Blizzard. According to Blizzard’s rules it should result in a warning for Bunnyhoppor, with heavier punishment following a next violation.
But Bunnhoppor’s opponent, Joffrey “Swidz” Cunat has informed the admins at his venue in Milan, and someone on that side isn’t too keen on following the rules. A default win for Swidz is requested by the Italian admins, and it’s granted by Blizzard. In Alphen aan den Rijn, Jordy, Dennis and Jeffrey act swiftly. They highlight the report they made, and Blizzard revokes Swidz’ defwin while they revisit the issue. It takes a long time. Bunnyhoppor walks around restlessly while Jordy and Dennis check the rules again. “The rulebook clearly stipulates: If a player just misses out on the check-in, a warning is issues. If the player takes longer than ten minutes to show up, it’s an auto-loss for that player.” Jordy and Dennis keep reassuring Bunnyhoppor, but they aren’t so sure themselves. “What’s taking them so long?”
In what feels like a tug-of-war between The Netherlands and Italy, the tension grows in the Esports Game Arena. Half an hour after Bunnyhoppor reported he missed the check-in Blizzard finally reaches a decision. Bunnyhoppor gets a warning, but the match still has to be played. An hour later, both relief and justice are felt throughout the entire venue when Bunnyhoppor walks away victorious. After making sure everything is wrapped up, Jordy and Dennis stay the night at a friends’ place. “We don’t have to be here that early tomorrow, but still in time to check-in all the players that are still in the tournament.”
The second day is a lot quieter. Players only have to check-in in time–full registration isn’t needed again. Moreover, Jeffrey now is present from the start of the day, alleviating the tasks of Jordy and Dennis. Some players have dropped out of the tournament, and only Bunnyhoppor has a good chance of claiming a ticket: three more wins and he’s going to Los Angeles. The admins offer him to play from the near-soundproof livestream booth, so he won’t get distracted by the noises of the venue and bystanders looking over his shoulder.
For Jordy, Dennis and Jeffrey there isn’t much more administrating to do aside from reporting the scores of those who are still playing for HCT points. There is room for more Hearthstone games, and other games, and from time to time a walk around the table to check if no players are being spectated in-game by their friends. As the end of the day draws closer, fatigue starts to hit both admins and players. “The hard part has long past, but it’s just waiting now.”
Re-energizing all in the Esports Game Arena is Bunnyhoppor’s performance. He has made it to the Decider Match, and needs just one more win to claim a spot at the HCT Summer Championships. At first everyone obediently watches the delayed Twitch stream, but eventually, the excitement takes control. While Jeffrey is overseeing the match from inside the booth, outside Jordy and Dennis are joined by the other players in looking at Bunnyhoppor’s screen from outside. When he closes it out, everyone cheers and applauds. “We have a winner in our venue after all,” Jordy says with a big grin on his face.
It marks the end of an exhausting weekend. Despite the downtime there was for the admins, having to be present and alert at all times does increase the fatigue felt from getting up early. The players – Bunnyhopper especially – thank Jordy, Dennis and Jeffrey. With that they take off, going straight home for some well-deserved sleep. “It was a pretty nice experience overall. Hopefully, we get to do it again in four months!”
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.