The whole thing screamed “nerd”. The fantasy-based, real-time strategy for a personal computer. The giant electronics and computer store acting as a haven for those mostly marked with XY chromosomes and eerie pale skin. And given the fact that the event took place during the wee hours of the night because, as everyone knows, nerds (or “gaming enthusiasts” for you politically correctoids) have an internal clock set to Tokyo time. After all, LAN games are the most fun when you’re sleep deprived and near dead. And as for me? Why was I there? Basic journalistic instincts and urges, of course.
Had you asked me six hours earlier what my plans for the night were, I’d have to say either watching the rest of My Life as a Dog or downloading the new 20 MB movie of Contra: Shattered Soldiers. But it was hook, line, and sinker for me, and I somehow ended up in a car with three other people, on a miserable stretch of asphalt and pavement heading towards Brokaw Road where Fry’s Electronics awaited, along with a rare opportunity to get a copy of Warcraft III signed by…some guy from Blizzard. I had no idea who at that time.
Only a scattered dozen people were around when we showed up (approximately 10:30 p.m. and the doors would open at 11) but the crowd grew steadily from thereon in. The main doors opened nearly a dozen times, tricking people into thinking it was time to stampede into the store, but it was only to let in or let out Fry’s employees. Occasionally, they would open the doors, look at us, and then close the door again. Towards the end of the wait, the doors would open yet again but this time, an employee (of Fry’s or Blizzard’s, who knows?) came out with a pile of Warcraft III shirts slung over his arm and tossed them to whoever wanted one. Which, of course, led to people holding up their arms and a defilade of monkey noises. One shirt was in mid-air, flying towards me but a mysterious and sudden bluster sent the shirt flying into the face of an unsuspecting fan to my left.
Finally, at 11, the doors opened and welcomed all and we all quickly walked in. Courteously and decorously? Of course not. If you failed to keep on moving, then you’d incur the heavy wrath of overweight crowds. The manager announced that the store would be open for everyone to walk around in and pick up whatever you wanted but the registers would not open until 12:00 sharp. An hour’s a long amount of time to wait out so it was time to cue my patented aimless wandering and meandering.
At first, all primary movement was directed straight ahead. Everyone was heading that way and I wanted to see what the commotion was. As it turned out, towards the back of the store, neatly stacked in a circular design were scores of small stands containing Warcraft III action figures and regular editions of the game. On the floor were pounds upon pounds of the limited edition. Everyone was snatching up a copy (some taking upwards of five or more) but there were plenty in stock so I was in no particular hurry.
In fact, at that point, I was still wondering if I would buy a copy at all. I generally abhor the real-time strategy genre and most PC games aren’t even my cup of tea. The only time I’m ever even seen playing an RTS is when someone leaves it on and I take over for a minute, commenting on how Terrans make a beautiful corpse. So then, you ask, why was I even there at all? To be honest, I was considering how much profit I could make from selling a signed, and not only that but also limited edition, copy of Warcraft III. I’m often not a scathing opportunist that everyone loathes but I suppose if the opportunity arose, I’d be willing to take a chance. I picked up one and decided to be on my way, the matter still undecided in my mind.
Over the course of the next hour, I walked around, taking various pictures and looking at the merchandise. I took pictures of the big promo stand, limited edition copies stacked on the ground, a giant marquee sign, and the tables where the Blizzard-employee-to-appear would sit and sign. Other points of interest that I didn’t take pictures of was the giant widescreen TV where you could try out single-player Warcraft III, another widescreen TV (not giant, but still big) where they were playing the cinematics of the game via special DVD, and a LAN game where anyone was free to play (on nice flat screens, to boot).
Fry’s was selling Virtua Tennis at the unbeatable price of $4.90 and since that was too good to pass up, and since there wasn’t anything else to look at, I picked up a copy and skedaddled on down to the retail line. Already, there was yet another line forming despite the fact there was still at least 30 minutes until the registers would open. Waiting with my brother, it was there I decided not to purchase Warcraft III and plopped it back to its original spot. However, my presence was still needed at the line since my brother was buying two copies and each person who buys gets a poster, while supplies last. So, as you can surmise, two separate purchases means two separate posters (greediness runs in the family it appears).
After that was over with (we both got posters), it was time to get into the real deal of lines: the line to get your game signed. This line was moving at an impossibly slow and meticulous speed, but it was moving indeed, so it was to be assumed that the Blizzard employee was already there. One thing to mention: the odor. The dangerous level of nerdy testosterone seemed to manifest itself into an ungodly, acrid stink of body odor…and Cheetos residue left from unwashed hands. The faint of heart or small children couldn’t have survived in these close quarters.
I stumbled away from the line to take a better look at the Blizzard employee. A somewhat portly, but nonetheless jolly, fellow sat at the table as employees gathered and smiling gamers presented their copy (very, very few had the normal edition). Bill Roper, said a placard placed next to him, Vice-President of Development.
Returning to the line, I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of Mr. Roper. Looking around for a good photo op, I noticed that a Fry’s employee was taking pictures of the people standing in the line and concurred that that indeed be a good spot to take a few. Standing next to him, I had barely pushed the button for the flash when I was asserted that no pictures were allowed. What an unfortunate turn of events! No pictures? No photos? But try as you may, you can’t silence the press! Along with the ones already shown and this final picture, this is the real scoop on the Warcraft III event. Blizzard may be after me now, I fear for my well-being.
So what happened after that? Waiting, standing, moving forward one step, waiting, looking, standing. As it turns out, Mr. Roper was signing practically everything in the set (and if you’ve seen the limited edition package, that’s a whole lot of everything) which accounted for the turtle’s pace of the line. After a few more minutes, the lines picked up and it could be purported that Roper was signing less than before due to time constraints. Things were going swiftly and the guy with the shirts at the beginning of this anecdote came over and offered me a piece of paper. This yellow paper he handed me was redeemable for a free Warcraft III action figure, to be picked up after I had my game signed. What was it that made me get singled out from this crowd? My boyish good looks? My natural flair for chic and remarkable fashion? Let’s say both.
So it was my turn, got my brother’s Warcraft III signed (across the top of the box and then on a lithographic print) and exchanged the requisite Hellos and How-do-you-dos with Mr. Roper. I got my action figure (I chose the orc) and that moment seemed like a perfectly reasonable time to leave.
And that’s how it was. An uninteresting and tired end to what was a slightly auspicious night. Everything turned out right though I do seemed to have misplaced my Virtua Tennis. And as for all the Warcraft IIIs that got signed that night? They all tell a different story, travel different roads, but some lead to a sad, inevitable destiny.