Out of This World: Oberlin StarCraft Team Is On the Rise

Ariel Lewis, Staff Writer

Several days ago, I found myself dialing the number of my 13-year-old brother to ask him questions about “that game you play when we’re supposed to be eating dinner.”

“You mean StarCraft?” he asked.

Yes, exactly.

I’d just learned that Oberlin not only has its very own StarCraft team, but also that said team has a win-loss record that doesn’t make me want to scorch my eyes with lye. With just weeks left in its regular season, the Oberlin College StarCraft team is poised to make the playoffs for the first time since its inception in spring 2009, a feat that has been exceedingly rare in the 175-odd years since the school’s founding.

Before you remind me that StarCraft is a computer game — NOT a sport — let me introduce you to the fifty million South Koreans, Americans and Canadians who would beg to differ. The game was first released in 1998 as a real time strategy game among the ranks of titles such as Dune, Warcraft and Age of Empires. The basic goal of such games is, in the words of Oberlin team captain and College senior Dayv Doberne, to “get money, build an army and kill your opponent.”

Simple enough, if you disregard the speed at which the action unfolds.

“It’s actually a very physically taxing game,” Doberne said. “The games can go on for a long time — there’s no time limit on matches.”

Preparation for the games is intense, too.

“We have team and individual practices, sometimes up to four hours a day, which include studying our opponents’ strategies,” said Doberne. “In order to be successful at our level, you have to complete about 180 actions per minute. That’s three actions a second.”

At the professional level, the actions-per-minute rate can skyrocket to over 300. And yes, I said professional. There are 300 licensed professional players drafted onto South Korean teams, with most earning six figures annually. In 2005, the StarCraft championships drew a crowd that was 40,000 larger than that of the Superbowl. And just like football, the big stars of South Korean StarCraft are often followed by groups of scantily clad women, news reporters and major media outlets. It should not surprise you that StarCraft is the national sport of South Korea.

In the United States, in addition to a small professional circuit, there exists a Collegiate StarLeague of 144 teams in 8 divisions. Oberlin belongs to the Valkyrie division, which includes rivals Central Florida State, McMaster University, Harvey Mudd College, New York University and Washington University in St. Louis, among others.

“Because the games are all played online, the geographic diversity is greater. We play teams from Florida, California, all over,” Doberne explained.

Matches are best of five, with each team submitting a lineup several days in advance. The top four spots are one-on-one competitions, while the fifth matchup — if necessary — is a two-on-two. Five of Oberlin’s 14 matches have been settled on the fifth duel, with four of those falling in favor of OC.

With a current record of 12–2, Oberlin stands ranked fourth of 18 in the Valkyrie division. Since the top four teams in each division move on to the playoffs — a single-elimination tournament¬ — at the end of the regular season, Oberlin has a strong chance to qualify. In its previous years, OC has finished in last place. Doberne cited changes in format — the reintroduction of the two versus two fifth match, for example — as well as the release of StarCraft II as being instrumental to the turnaround.

The final three weeks of the season will be crucial to determining Oberlin playoff positioning, but Doberne said the team is hopeful.

“We’re in contention with Harvey Mudd for the fourth spot, but we beat them during the season, so even if they tie us, we’ll go to playoffs,” he said.

At the most, we can mark this potential accomplishment as a sign of the true excellence and diversity our campus is achieving. And at the worst, hey, they have a winning record.

Oberlin has this coming weekend off, but matches can be watched at 4 p.m. on Saturdays in King 127. For updated results, visit the team’s page at the Collegiate StarLeague website, http://www.cstarleague.com/league/teams/26.