10:45 a.m. - Mike O'Brien, Isaiah Cartwright, and I are back in position to do the live coverage of the GWWC Final Match. Several others from the Guild Wars team are also backstage, including Jeff Strain, Tommy Park, and Tyler Kim.
11:00 a.m. - The match begins. Isaiah laterals to Mike who tosses a shovel pass back to me and I go long with a 6,000-mile throw to the Web Team in Seattle. Yes, it's 3:00 a.m. Pacific when the matches begin, but our stalwart Web Team is burning the midnight oil to post the updates as soon as possible.
The buzz around the marble fountain—"Official Gathering Place of the GWWC"—has been that War Machine and The Last Pride are probably the most evenly-matched of all contestants. Predictions are for an excellent match. And both are close games, featuring the best of the Guild Wars guilds in head-to-head combat. I love the simultaneous split and the fast pace that seems rather like sword play: Parry, feint, thrust, reprise. After a battle that uses side doors, back doors, and involves quite a lot of center-ground combat, as well, The Last Pride wins the first game at just on 25:00, and then the second at 25:47. The audience erupts in cheers, and the first-ever Guild Wars Champion is born.
Noon - Some guilds make a quick lunch run back to the hotel, but others want to stay and cheer for the participants who are taking part in The Taipei Challenge at 1:00, so my groups and I decide to hang around the show for a while. I take the opportunity to explore the enormous NCsoft booth, and note the clever design of the Guild Wars section, with placards above each demo station with a map showing mission routing and key objectives. It's fun to see "Riverside Province" in English at the top and then all sorts of beautiful Chinese characters below. The play stations at the booth, and especially in the Guild Wars section, are seldom empty.
1:10 p.m. - The Taipei Challenge is on, and we're watching the Hong Kong guild, Mission Impossible, play against The Last Pride. It's a good match, and both guilds seem to be having a lot of fun. In the end, The Last Pride wins and scores a bunch of terrific computer gear for their efforts. The rest of us check out the prizes eagerly with the usual gamer's interest in all things hardware. (Speaking of hardware, earlier in the day I spotted a branded Guild Wars video card being offered as a prize at the NCsoft booth. Emblazoned with the Guild Wars Taiwanese logo, I wonder if I should buy one just for the cool packaging!)
2:25 p.m. - The Awards Ceremony is very nice. Oversize checks are distributed to the guild leaders, champion belts are handed to each victor, cloth scrolls are given to every contestant. And of course, a ton of photos are taken. From every angle. Five times. Everyone is all smiles, and while some guilds no doubt feel a tinge of the bittersweet, all are gracious in congratulating The Last Pride members. It is heartening to hear so many attendees say, "Coming here to Taipei, meeting these people, and taking part in this event is the best prize of all."
Day #4 - Of Fellowship and Farewells
3:10 p.m. - Late Lunch/Early Dinner at Cheers, whose hostess doesn't bat an eyelash when I walk up and ask for a table for 24. One guild member orders a sandwich and a dish of ice cream and offers to pay for the dessert. I tell him it's ok, really, the ice cream is our treat (but I am impressed with the generosity that inspires his offer). The table is abuzz with lots of excited talk about the championship, and we discuss, again, the players' thoughts about our next event and how the championship will go in the future. We pass around the award scrolls and everyone signs on the back. A definite "final hours" feeling starts to cast a faint shadow over us all. I look down the table and think to myself, "It feels like a minute ago, it seems like a month ago, when we all met for the first time. I may never see these people again, but I surely will remember them always."
4:00 p.m. - Press events, yet again. This must be the fifth or sixth time that each guild has been interviewed, and you can't help but think there are valuable real-life skills being learned here. After all, if you can handle the bright lights and microphones of a press interview, a job or college entrance interview is going to be a piece of cake.
6:20 p.m. - I slip over to the 101 Building one final time, to do a little last-minute shopping. I head back to the hotel and realize I'm going to have a laptop backpack, a rolling suitcase, a purse, a jacket, and three shopping bags to take on the plane. I start doing some organization and get it down to a laptop backpack, a rolling suitcase, a purse, a jacket, and two shopping bags. I'm hopeless!
7:25 p.m. - I perch at a tiny table in the hotel lobby, answering email and checking on the website, and as I look over my shoulder, I see guild members starting to gather in the center of the lobby. Someone spies the glow of my laptop across the room, and suddenly I have about 40 Internet-starved players crowded around my comp, drawn like moths to a flame. "Oh right!," I says "You haven't been able to read what's online! You don't even know of the coverage, do you, or what everyone is saying in support of all of you?" So I run them through the website content, read them a few lines, and they point and laugh and nudge one another as they find their own and their friends' faces in the Photo Album. I hurry over to a few fan forums and show them a couple of posts there. But soon it's time to shut down the computer and round up the players to head to the airport.
9:05 p.m. - En route to Taipei's Chiang Kai-Shek Airport. I've just said goodbye to the guild members. I've shaken hands, gotten lots of hugs, wiped my eyes discretely several times. I ask each guild "Will you be back?" and all answer, instantly, "Yes!" "We'll do our best!" "Count on it!" They are great players - they just may do it! And as we drive through the night on a wild ride that would do Mr. Toad proud, with close calls that see us skinning the paint off the sides of the vehicles we pass, we drive under signs with names that sound like music, places called Ling t'ou Shan and Hsintien and Wugu. And I make a vow to return to Taiwan to see this place again and to learn more about it. I think back on the last four days—the games played, the laughs shared, the sights seen, the friendships made—and my warm memories lighten the sadness of departure.
Midnight Taipei Time - Take off, land in San Francisco, flight delayed, quick sandwich, shop at Ghirardelli to get chocolate presents for the hard-working Web and Community Teams, and it's home around Midnight Seattle Time.
Which is 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Breathtaking Main Gate at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
beckons visitors to return to Taipei
Gaile's Diary -- Addendum #1
The best memories come from the people you meet. There is nothing in this experience that will remain in my heart as much as the people stories. Here are a few things I especially enjoyed:
- The three guild members who came to support not just their own team but their friends in another guild.
- The parents who traveled halfway around the world but generously gave their son his personal space while showing such pride in his accomplishments.
- The guild member who traveled 50 hours to play with his team.
- The Finns, with their marvelous-sounding names and great personalities.
- The guild member who brought me a souvenir pin from his home state.
- The Last Pride giggling as they inform me that, "Everyone in Korea thinks Gaile must be a boy." (I guess my name is something close to a male Korean name. I must speak to Mom and Dad about this!)
- The Hong Kong guild, all cheerful smiles and happy waves, delighted to be in Taipei and glad to meet everyone.
- The gentle Alba, our tour leader, with her "Friend Tour" name badges.
- The guildie demanding "Where are my truffles?" And getting them. ;)
- The alpha tester who has always been so nice, and who turns out to be every bit a pleasant (and as smart) as he has been in the test.
- The—how to say this?—post-semifinals clothing item tossing incident.
- The guild leader wondering how to fold and protect his 2 foot by 4 foot oversize check, thinking it was negotiable.
- My kitty ears, a gift from an NCsoft team member. Kitty ears were the envy of the attendees, the heartfelt desire of every booth model, and the object of smiles, grins, and outright points-and-laughs from the amiable guests at the show.
- The NC Taiwan team, which put together a terrific show, including:
- The amazing Eva Lu, one of the event's key coordinators who seemed to be everywhere: giving on-stage commentary, checking on the backstage arrangements, answering questions on the floor, directing the next presentation.
- The hard-working Sean Kim, who worked so diligently backstage and quietly to see that things went smoothly.
- The excellent Shinji, who kept his focus on the game presentations and working to assure that the big-screen presentation was perfect.
- The great A/V and on-stage teams, making sure that all goes well on stage and on the screen.
- The friendly Elsa and Jo, the lively (and lovely) M/C, and two or three dozen other good folks.
- The Guild Wars Team, who juggled to organize, lead, or assist. Who hosted guilds, made setups, took photos, and wrote emails. Who arranged dinners, scribed events, and handled office stuff from 6,000 miles away. Who created event plans, set up tours, and organized accommodations. Who tended to emergencies and assured that there aren't any. And who, while doing all that, enjoyed the heck out of every minute of the event and feel such pride in the players and the game.
Gaile's Diary - Addendum #2
The Frog, in Spirit, in Taipei
I popped into the game from Taiwan and informed The Frog of Lion's Arch that he is a popular personality, even in this land so distant from his native Tyria. The Frog, our in-game mascot who hangs out by the fountain in Lion's Arch, was proud to learn that he is a figurehead all over Taipei, as you can see from his Froggie Foto Folder:
|From the Lantern Festival...
|Year of the Dog? Make that Year of the Frog!