We recently had an opportunity to speak to one of Australia’s most celebrated StarCraft community members in Matt “Insano” Kearney. In part one of this two-part interview series, he discusses how he fell in love with the crown jewel of the real-time strategy genre as well as what seperates the professional players from the rest.
The Roar: Growing up, what video games did you play mainly, and what got you into gaming before StarCraft?
Matt Kearney: I first got into gaming when I was about four or five years old. My parents bought me a PlayStation 1, and I played that for quite a long time, actually. Right up until I think it was about eight years I had the PlayStation 1, then moved to Xbox.
And went from there, from Xbox original all the way through the release of the Xbox One, and then moved to PC. A lot of the games that I played, and probably my favourite games of all time, would be up there with Crash Team Racing, the Crash Bandicoot series and the Halo series.
The Roar: Were you playing many real time strategy games at all before StarCraft?
Matt Kearney: I did casually play Age of Empires as a kid, but…
The Roar: I feel like I’m talking to myself.
Matt Kearney: I wasn’t very good at it. I just used the old cheats, like pepperoni pizza, and all those, and Big Daddy.
The Roar: What did you know about StarCraft, if anything, before you started playing it?
Matt Kearney: Really, I didn’t know about StarCraft right up until about, I’d say I first heard of it in 2010 when the beta was being announced. I was at college, and a couple of the guys were playing on the computers. They had the beta, and I just asked “what’s that?”
Because I was more into shooters around that time, StarCraft at the time didn’t really interest me too much. But the game looked really cool at the time, in the beta. Around the time I was properly introduced to it was early 2012. A friend of mine introduced me, sorry, he was begging me to get into StarCraft, and I just really wasn’t into it at the time because I was still playing shooters a lot, and he was begging me to get StarCraft and give it a go.
I ended up watching a GSL final with him, and that was my introduction to StarCraft, really. Pretty much from right then, I was a straight addict to StarCraft.
The Roar: What can you remember of that GSL final you first watched? Was there a moment when it just clicked for you, or did it just naturally happen?
Matt Kearney: I think it was just the whole show, really, how it just opened on the intensity of the game, and just how much was riding really on those players. I remember the finals pretty vividly actually. It was DongRaeGu versus Genius in Season 1, and well there was no Terran in that final, but usually that’s everyone’s kind of go to for a best game of all time.
Matt Kearney: My friend was a Zerg player, and he told me a little bit about, well, he was pretty much walking me through a lot the things that are happening in the game. He was about a Masters player at the time, and he was basically explaining “this is that, this is that. That’s why he’s doing this. This is why the other player’s doing this”, and I was like, “Wow. There is just so much going on in this game. It’s awesome,” and it’s all one player on each side doing it. That’s what really drew me into StarCraft.
The Roar: I understand you’re mainly a Zerg player.
Matt Kearney: Yeah.
The Roar: I have to ask, because I hate the Zerg – why? What is it about the Zerg? Is it the gameplay, the aesthetic, what is it about the Zerg?
Matt Kearney: Well, back then, the first game I was introduced to was a Zerg versus Protoss Grand Final in GSL. I became a fan of the champion, DongRaeGu, and my friend that introduced me to the game was also a Zerg player, so it just made it easy for him to teach me how to play.
The Roar: Makes sense.
Matt Kearney: I mean, I still like to play the other races. I play random all the time versus AI, but if I’m going to play Ladder or get into something, I’ll play Zerg.
The Roar: I know you wouldn’t call yourself a super-pro Zerg player, but what tips would you have for Zerg players? Are there any particular strategies that you employ when you’re playing Zerg?
Matt Kearney: I tend to generally play an aggressive style. I think that’s the way a Zerg, well, there’s two sides to Zerg. There’s a very aggressive Zerg, and there’s a very passive Zerg. For the passive Zerg to work, you need to be aggressive as well, so aggression is a big part of training with the Zerg. You need to control the map, otherwise you’re going to get stuck in your little corner.
The Roar: Do you find you need to play differently against Terran and Protoss, or in mirror matches, or is it the same strategy the whole way through?
Matt Kearney: Yeah, it’s very different interactions with every race. At the moment, it feels a little bit similar with Zerg versus Terran and Protoss at the moment with the Hydra meta, but over the years it’s been very different play styles for each match up.
Terran versus Zerg, for the main part, has been, well, it still is, a very mechanically demanding matchup for both races. Expanding and constantly creating units, constant trades, fighting and pushes, defending and harassments. Yeah, it’s such a mechanically demanding matchup, and it’s probably the spectacle of StarCraft, if you ask most people, really.
And then, you’ve got Protoss, where it’s, I mean, there are the memes of Protoss and all that, and they do have a tough time in the early game because they obviously take time to power up. When they do power up, they are a tough race to face, especially with Zerg in the later stages just because Zerg are designed to be an overwhelming race.
When you hit those army caps, you can’t have a bigger army than the Protoss. It becomes quite a difficult matchup towards the end of the match for a Zerg. Whereas Protoss, if they can keep themselves alive long enough, they’ll probably win out.
Then Zerg versus Zerg, it’s kind of like two octopuses holding knives in each tentacle and just swinging at each other.
The Roar: That makes sense. That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Just changing gears a bit, what do you think makes professional StarCraft such a compelling viewing experience?
Matt Kearney: For a new person to the game, I think it is a bit of a step to get into as a spectator, but once you learn what each player has to do in the match to basically be the best at the game [it becomes compelling]. You can’t just be the best by playing a couple of games a week or just showing up having two days of training a week, like your club sports. It’s a game that you’re really going to have to put time to, always keeping your mechanics fresh, always keeping up with the new strategies, and that’s a really big draw for a competitive person.
The Roar: What do you think then separates the elite StarCraft players from the rest? Is it preparation? Innate ability? Strategy? APM [actions per minute]? What do you think really separates the pros from the rest?
Matt Kearney: The players that I consider the greatest of all time, they’re people who have the natural talent. They have the natural talent to be able to play the mechanics of each race, but then they also have that creative mind to be able to adapt on the spot or find something new to overcome their opponents.