I’m sitting at work on a Sunday afternoon, working on a football game. I’ve been working on football coverage for years and it’s rarely inspiring anymore unless it’s a good game.
This one is not a good game.
So, naturally, I’m perusing Twitter during the ad breaks.
My friend Mary ‘JiipD’ King, who I’ve known of for ages but only really met at PAX in Melbourne, is posting photos of some industry events in Sydney. They look fun and I’m jealous. I tell her so, and she tells me to come up next week for a Blizzard event, that I can stay with her.
I scoff, leaning back in my chair, tapping my microphone on my forehead.
I’m going through some terrible personal shit whereby I can’t go home. I’ve been living out of a backpack and staying with family. At this point, I’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans and Converse for two weeks. I’m stuck on the 7th floor of a building in Melbourne and when I look out the window, the weather is crap.
Suffice to say, shit is feeling rather morbid right now.
The most sorry fuckin’ picture in the world.
How can I just fly to Sydney?
My mum calls me during my break to check up on me and I tell her about Mary’s offer.
“Just go,” she said. “You need it. Go.”
I’m so low on energy that I’m fairly susceptible to people making decisions on my behalf.
15 minutes later, I’ve booked flights. I send Mary the flight details.
She was happy - shocked, though, I think, but happy.
A little after that, I’ve organised with PJ, the local eSports/Community Manager for Blizzard, for Mary and I to come visit the Blizzard office in Sydney, straight off the plane.
I haven’t really forgiven myself for not asking someone to look around Blizzard when I was in California. This is the next best thing. Maybe even better.
At Melbourne Airport, the Tiger terminal looks like a shed. I’ve never flown a budget airline before and the shed’s freaking me out a bit. What reputable airline uses a shed as a terminal?
I’m wearing a new jacket so I didn’t have to wear my old university hoodie my whole trip, but I’m still in the same jeans. I’ve already checked in. Carry-on luggage only, obviously.
I order a coffee and when the guy hands it to me, I’m shaking so hard I spill some of it. I’m shaking a lot lately. I tweet about flying Tiger and I make Moonglade promise me if I die on the flight, there’ll be a big party instead of a funeral. He tells me there will be. Moonglade’s a nice guy, I know he’ll honour my memory.
A 1.5 hour flight and a Jimmy later, I’m in Sydney.
It’s sunny and warm and I already feel much better. Vitamin D’s a hell of a thing.
When Mary and her brother come to pick me up, we start talking and I begin to feel even better still. Mary and I get on a train - those awesome Sydney ones that have two levels, that’s so fucking clever - and she’s telling me stories and I’m laughing. I’ve been in Sydney for an hour and it’s already worth it.
It’s good to feel normal.
The sun is setting over Sydney, the buildings casting long shadows, and Mary’s leading me through the city to the Blizzard office. She’s so energetic, funny, silly sometimes, but she’s very intelligent and well-connected in the local gaming scene.
I like people who have layers. Like onions.
She’s bounding along, all long black hair smooshed under an Angry Birds fluffy hat. As we walk, the wind blows her hat off her head and it bounces along the footpath behind her.
“My hat!” she shrieks, chasing it, weaving her way through the afternoon pedestrian rush.
I can’t stop laughing.
I’ve never thought of Sydney as particularly beautiful, as I am from Melbourne and it’s our natural state to hate Sydney for no reason, and vice-versa.
But Sydney is beautiful tonight.
The Blizzard office is on a wharf nestled on Sydney Harbour, all sorts of yachts and fancy boats anchored against the docks in long lines.
Mary leads me along the wooden wharf, through some glass doors and into a white lobby with ‘Activision Blizzard’ on the wall. It looks fancy and I feel out of place, as I often do in fancy places, as I am not fancy.
Mary bounds in and presses some button and a gentleman named Chris appears. Chris is very important, I think, and he has an infectious smile. The adventure begins.
We’re in the Blizzard office proper. The sun is setting across the harbour, casting the pinkish-purple hue across all we are. Mary is holding a large sword forged for the Diablo console launch. “Take a picture of me!” she cries, posing in front of the setting sun.
The office is decorated with things showing years of service to the company. They’re all so beautiful. I feel like I’m looking at things so special that I don’t deserve to be looking at them at all.
Marie hears I used to play World of Warcraft.
“I stopped playing like a million years ago,” I explain, “It took me 18 months to stop reading the patch notes.”
She shakes her head. She is friendly and I like her.
“Your priest is still waiting for you,” she says.
“Stop! The pandas were bad enough! I was all OH, SHIT, PANDAS! It almost brought me back. But you will not have me, World of Warcraft. Never again.”
PJ is showing me Hearthstone. I’ve never played any kind of card game - Magic the Gathering, nothing. I am a bad nerd. We’re drinking beer and laughing and he’s showing me what everything means while he plays.
We’re having so much fun, we barely realise Doa concedes by the 4th mana crystal.
“Dude! That was Doa, you beat Doa!”, I yell.
PJ is explaining to me the intricacies of Hearthstone. I am fairly daft so it’s taking awhile to sink in. He tells me about polymorph and says “I’m the one that told them that a sheep should be a beast. Right? Like, it’s a beast!”
The irony of a Blizzard employee from New Zealand influencing the classification of a sheep card is not lost on me.
If you take nothing else from this, know that a New Zealand Blizzard employee made the polymorphed sheep classified as a beast.
PJ is playing on his imba Blizzard account - he has half a million gold. He’s explaining mana crystals and health and attack and he executes a really good play.
“Yeaaaaaaaaah!” we both exclaim in unison.
“We did that thing where we both said “yeah” at the same time,” he says, leaning back, content.
“We did,” I replied, sipping my beer like an exclamation mark.
Mary, PJ and I are playing the demo build of Diablo 3 for the console. I am very much enjoying the new dodge mechanic, rolling back and forth like an armadillo on crack.
When I bought Diablo 3 on PC, it was a very lonely experience. The person I played with - a barrister who works in Sydney - would play while I was at work. At night, I’d get home at 11pm and he would be levels ahead of me, berating me for being so far behind. He’d lead me through acts while cracking me up with his “hidden footprints” impressions.
It was fun, but I always felt I had been left behind.
Diablo 3 on console was different.
This night was different.
As far as games come, as far as esports progresses, this is our enjoyment and passion in its purest form - three mates, sitting on a couch, yelping, screaming about loot hogs, sharing beers, laughing and having a good time.
Everything we love, in a shot glass.
It reminded me of when I was starting high school and everyone in my small country town would come together and play winner-stays-on on the SNES playing Street Fighter II Turbo.
It reminded me of the Boxing Day LANs my mates and I would organise, playing Warcraft 3, Quake and Brood War.
It reminded me why I am here at all.
As this stupid crap continues to consume my life - it’s been over a month since I’ve been home, I’m not eating, I drink far too much alcohol, stuttering about life, a nervous wreck - I remember this night at Blizzard like a lifeboat to keep me from sinking.
We all have that thing that makes us feel safe and normal, that grounds us.
Games have always been that for me - from when I played Mario Bros on the NES when I was in primary school, to now, where all I can play is Hearthstone on my clunky old laptop.
My security blanket, my sanity.
If I believed in God, I would say I have been blessed.
But I don’t, so I’ll just say I’m fucking lucky.
Thanks to PJ, Chris and Marie from Blizzard Sydney for their hospitality, and thank you to Mary for being an excellent hostess. You all gave me more than just a good few nights in Sydney.