With starry-eyed optimism, I began playing on a Hamachi LAN network my friends on a forum had started. I devoured dozens of pages of Zerg strategy from sites like Team Liquid and GosuGamers and watched countless videos of professional Korean StarCraft tournaments on GOM-TV. I began using "builds," pre-determined strategies akin to chess openings and gambits, with obscure-sounding names like "9 pool speed" and "2 hatch lurker drop." I downloaded a program that tracked my "actions per minute" in game, prompting me to strive for freakish levels of twitchiness. (Korean pros frequently clock in at 300 to 400 APM.) Most importantly, I spent hour upon hour engaging in virtual battle, sending my grotesque alien hordes of Hydralisks and Mutalisks into the maw of certain doom.
My gaming community's most cherished ritual was watching live Korean StarCraft tournaments together, which were aired at the inconvenient time of five a.m. in my time zone. If you weren't aware, pro StarCraft is a big deal in Korea. They treat the game like Americans treat football, hosting the events in huge auditoriums complete with blaring music, ecstatic fans and excitable commentators. In our own nerdy way, we were equally enthused, filling our IRC chat window with a barrage of capital letters:
"OH HE JUST WENT THERE, HE JUST DID THAT."
"DID SOMEBODY SCREEN CAP THAT?"
Tasteless' commentary further added to the drama of the games, with his emotional reactions and oddball humor. ("Two dropships coming in here, probably full of tanks right now, I'm not sure, I could be wrong, but that would make sense ... God, I'm good, they were full of tanks.") In a way, I enjoyed watching the game more than playing it.
When I did play, I couldn't even tell if I was getting better or not, because I lost nearly every match. Sometimes my fellow players would lend me a word or two of advice, but most snubbed me when I disappointed them with my substandard skills. Maybe my community was less generous than most. Yet even with others coaching me, it seemed like I would never improve.
As much as I rehearsed my builds, I was just a little too slow in executing them, and that left me with inferior forces. I sent out scouts as soon as possible, but I never found my opponent's base in time to figure out what moves he would make. As soon as I built a second base, it would get trampled instantly, destroying my initial investment and sending me scrambling to fortify my stronghold. Every game, I had some kind of shortcoming: not fast enough, not smart enough, not vigilant enough. Instead of enjoying the game, I became obsessed with winning - after all, that seemed to be the only thing the other players cared about.