The self-imposed nerd exile of freelance journalism

All of my friends and family know that I’m a huge nerd. I love reading fantasy and live and die by online gaming (I even created a D&D meetup listing for Sana’a, something I’m not entirely proud of). But Living in Yemen means that there is no online gaming. Absolutely none. The internet connection is so slow it makes me weepy to think about.

That’s a problem for me.

In mid July of 2010, I learned I would be returning to Yemen for a second time. It was an opportunity that was far too good to pass up, considering the status of my bank account and living conditions at the time. I was to leave the following September.

Heartbroken, as I hung up the phone agreeing to the terms of my employment, I realized that I would only be able to play Starcraft 2 for a single month.

It may seem silly to some but its hard for one to understand how much I yearned for this game. The original Starcraft was released in 1998 and I’d played it ever since. Millions of people all over the world had waited 12 years for this moment. To know that I only had a month to meet and best my opponents on the digital battlefield was cruel, to say the least.

What’s more, I was good at it. Damn good.

I never played competitively in the original Starcraft. Probably because I was only 12 when I started playing. However, as I began playing Starcraft 2 online, I realized that I was pretty damn good. I was placed in the Platinum League (one step down from the top league) early on and I was ecstatic. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was capable of playing Starcraft competitively. I expected to flop around in the Bronze League, having a few laughs. But here I was, Platinum.

A screen shot of my first Platinum League placement

Once you reach that level, the game becomes exhilarating. There is so much at stake in every match. The game absorbs you. You start watching replays of matches between professional Korean players, creating build orders, using strategic theory to craft your advances. There are people that make a living doing this and I thought that after lots of practice and research, I could be one of them.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. After a solid week of beer drinking and hardcore gaming with one of my best friends, I made my way to Atlanta to begin my journey back to Yemen. However, when I woke up on the morning of my departure, I was greeted by a foreboding email. There were problems with my visa and I would have to wait until the issues were sorted out before I could leave.

I panicked a bit at first before I realized what this meant. I had quit my previous job already and while the visa issues were being fixed, I could play Starcraft all day and all night.

I made a hive for myself in the living room of my friend’s apartment in Atlanta. I was a fiend and I wouldn’t be stopped. Every morning as he would leave for work, he would pass by me in his living room, still playing, covered in cigarette ash and Doritos crumbs, swimming in a sea of empty Yuengling bottles.

“Jeb, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, fuck off don’t distract me.”

That was about all we said to each other during that glorious month of decadence and pwnage.

Those next few weeks may have been a bit disgusting. Some may even look back and say they were ashamed of themselves but I won’t. It was amazing.

Towards the end, I broke into the Diamond League, the highest level of Starcraft competitive online play. People who get paid to play Starcraft play in the Diamond League.

I descended into madness, again. I started looking up flights to Korea, how much rent for a studio apartment was in Seoul. I thought I had a shot at playing video games professionally, the dream of any nerd. I’d won Halo tournaments before and I knew what it felt like to be handed cash in exchange for defeating lesser men on the digital battlefield. I’ve never used heroine but I expect the feeling of being paid to play video games is akin to the feeling you get by injecting opiates into your bloodstream.

But it didn’t last. I was booted back down to the Platinum Leagues after a few games.

When the time came, I shut down the computer, crawled out from under the ocean of empty beer bottles, cigarette butts and discarded chicken wing bones and went to Yemen. If I had only had more time, done more research, I could have been one of the greats.

But one day I will return to the land of broadband to reassert my claim to professional gaming.

Update: One year later, my boasting of breaking into Diamond League is utterly embarrassing.

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2 thoughts on “The self-imposed nerd exile of freelance journalism

  1. really, out to get this published in a mag, or living/arts & entertainment section of a major newspaper somewhere. It’s great.

  2. Dude, I told ya I was playing WOW on a private server While I was in Sana’a, but you didn’t believe me. It is possible to do some online gaming. You just gotta pay for extra fast internet. I had 2mb/s downloads for the last month I was there

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