Friday, July 13, 2012
The Ballad of Team Lazy But Talented
One of the great things about San Diego Comic Con is how much there is to do. One minute you're checking out fantastic art on the floor, the next, you're hearing about all the new story lines in one of your favorite comic books. As the con encompasses more and more of geek culture, there's even opportunities to try out the latest video games. And so, when Mae Linh and I wandered into the non-descript white tent outside the San Diego Hilton Bayfront, we got to enter an epic story of hope, loss, and near-rage quitting. This is the Ballad of Team Lazy But Talented. Inside the air-conditioned tent, ten chairs were set up facing each other, five versus five. Each had their own monitor, and a giant screen loomed over them, flipping from screen to screen, showing a blinding display of fast paced action. The walls were covered with stylized depictions of Legolas, Gandalf, The Witch King, and even Gollum looking ready to kick ass. Two announcers sat in front of the screen, giving our commentary and advice to the teams. As we walked in, the tiny blond girl in the pink shirt told us we were looking at a new game called Guardians of Middle Earth. Did we want to play? Guardians of Middle Earth, it turns out, is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA. Started by Defense of the Ancients and recently popularized by League of Legends, MOBAs are a relatively new type of strategy game. Players take the role of a powerful hero, commanding legions of minions in an attempt to destroy the enemy's base. There are three paths on every map, each guarded by multiple defensive towers. We watched the gameplay on the screen as we lined up to play, and I tried to impart what little knowledge I had on to my wife. "Don't chase the enemy," I would say. "If they run away it's always a trap. "Let the minions take the damage from the towers, they'll kill you in seconds." "Never take on another Guardian one on one unless you have minions or a tower." I'm not an expert, but neither was anyone else there. After a brief wait, we found ourselves paired up with three guys our own age. We were randomly assigned to Team Good, and we sat down at the computers reserved for Legolas (myself) and Gandalf (Mae Linh). We barely had time to say hello to the rest of the team before the announcers called out that the match was beginning. I'm an aggressive dude when I play video games, so Legolas charged down the bottom path. I found my minions, and started leading them up the path. Then, I glanced at the mini-map, and my heart sank. Gandalf was all alone on the top path. Advancing on him was Urglauk (an Uruk-Hai), The Witch King, and Sauron himself. I've spent the last eight years helping my beautiful wife move from the eight-bit games of her childhood to the modern games of today. MOBAs are not a walk in the park. They're tough, strategy intensive games that frustrate the most hardcore gamer. I'd just thrown her into the lion's den, and she was about to be eaten. I rushed north toward the top lane watching the game's updates in horror. Soon, it would tell me of the triple team kill, and my wife would be crushed. The updates began. "Gandalf has killed Urglauk." "Gandalf has killed The Witch King." "Gandalf has killed Sauron." The room erupted. She was a natural. I dropped my controlled and jumped up and cheered. Then Gollum attacked, and I dove back into the game. The rest of the game went as well as could be expected. We assaulted the enemy's towers, drove them back to their base, and laid waste to their home. Team Good was victorious. We exited the stage, exhilarated. We were good at this. I had plans to head back to the main hall for my interview with the Power Rangers, but the rest of our team stopped us. There was a tournament later. They had signed up, and wanted to know if we would fill out their team. We were flattered. People thought we were good enough to be on their team. We happily accepted, and Team Lazy But Talented was born. I have no idea where the name came from, it was on the scoreboard when we came back. I ran to my interview and back, just in time. The first game was intense, a nail biter that went to more than six hundred points on each side. We were randomly flailing, but we held them at a strong tie in points. For every one of us they killed, we killed one of them. For every tower they dropped, we dropped one of theirs. Then, everything changed. They got a two tower (no pun intended) lead on us. Things looked grim. They were advancing towards our base in numbers. As Gandalf, Galadriel and our tricksy Hobbit defended our base with their lives, the Dwarf and I had the same idea. I pushed up the top lane, and he pushed down the bottom, resistance free. We dropped two towers in seconds, and then I blew up a minion spawner, giving us a commanding lead. As the last thirty seconds ticked down, they chose to waste it running home to stop us. Game over, victory for Team Lazy But Talented. We watched the other qualifying match with interest, and developed our tactics. We would spend the beginning of the game leveling our characters by killing minions, and then Gandalf and Legolas would play defense while the rest of the team pushed forward. The plan was set, and we put it into action. As defenders, we were like a subtle knife. We darted in and out of cover, escaping at the right time and luring our opponents into traps. Legolas racked up twelve kills, and the other team fell before us in minutes. The semi-finals are over, and we were in the finals. Other than us, no other team had a name. They were all "Team F" or "Team B", random teams throw together by fate. Our final opponents, however, had a name. They were team Noble Press. I should have seen the signs. We sat down for the finals, and decided to run the same strategy. We would be the Knife, cutting our enemies like butter. If we were the Knife, Team Noble Press was the Hammer. In the early going, everything was quiet. I captured a shrine with no resistance, giving our party a great defense buff. And then, it happened. Gollum ran out of a bush, saw me and took off. I gave chase. The entire enemy team calmly stepped out of the trees and murdered me. I heard swears on all sides as they picked us off, one by one. They didn't care about the towers, they just wanted our blood. Five minutes in, they were level 10, just from the XP they got from picking us off. The announcers, normally so full of advice, began to talk about the game as if it were over. Noble Press waited until they were far too powerful to stop, then took a stroll into our base and finished the job. They were class acts, of course. They shook our hands, told us we made a good effort, and then went and took their prizes. I asked them if they'd played together before. "Oh yeah, we play Dota together sometimes," they said. And with that, the Cinderella story of Team Lazy But Talented was over. We shook hands with our teammates and parted ways, most likely to never see each other again. The dream was over. It turns out, we may not be MOBA wunderkinds. If a team that plays "sometimes" could massacre us that easily, maybe we had just gotten lucky. But that moment in the sun, that time of almost winning an honest to god gaming tournament, that will stay with us forever. Team Lazy But Talented will live on in our hearts.