Rough English transcript (sorry for the lack of formatting):
They felt that they were the best in the world, even if they hadn't faced USA, and USA felt that they were the best even if they hadn't played a single European clan.
In the middle of the 1990's the first person shooter game Quake lays the foundation for the whole international E-sports. However, the Internet connections are so slow that matches over the Atlantic are infeasible. While Clan 9, Sweden's first sponsored team, are dominating their European matches the rumors about the best American team is growing; Deathrow with the superstar Thresh.
- "The Americans, they came with a bit of a rockstar aura".
Only one team could be the world's best Quake clan, and in the first big translatlantic E-sports showdown ever, Deathrow came to Stockholm 1998 for a match that would shock the gaming universe.
- "And the whole room was just complete silent, everyone was just thinking 'wow, what the f*ck just happened here?!'"
You're listening to P3 Spel about Clan 9 vs Deathrow, about the birth of international E-sports.
It's in the middle of the 90's. Jesper Högström is one of all the teenagers who play games on Internet cafes. To have Internet at home is still new and very expensive.
- "No one had a permanent Internet connection, all the connection was like on the telephone network and every time you connected the modem – and everyone remembers that signal – for every minute the charge was one SEK to three, four or five SEK depending on what you were connected with. If you had ISDN, which was the fastest connection you could get via the telephone network, then you might have seven, eight, nine or ten SEK per minute. There are really many stories about people who received telephone bills for 12 grand and had the PC taken away."
At Internet cafes like Cafe Nine in Stockholm, where Jesper is located, the rate is about 1 SEK a minute, and it goes fast.
- "The interesting thing with Nine is also that it was probably one of the first companies that received the first permanent 512kbit line. A permanent connection, dedicated connection, which indicated that we were the only ones who utilized that bandwidth."
What is considered fast is relative. A file that today would take 1,5 minute to download with a normal broadband connection would take 4 hours to download on Nine, and one of the most popular games on the internet cafes is Quake."
The game was released in 1996 and built on the successes that the developers id Software had had with Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM, the first big FPS games. Quake developed the foundations from there, added polygon based 3D graphics and a dark soundtrack from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. In addition to that, perhaps most importantly, a popular multiplayer mode. One of those who fall in love with the game is Niklas Persson [Nikodemus].
- "Well it was, or well it is still, a incredibly fast paced game and you have an incredible control – you can steer your character in the air and you always have to plan and listen to the sounds and all. It is very tactical; you time the health, powerups, armors and so on. It takes a long time to become good and it is a very high level, i mean the best players in Quake…if you take a game like Counter-Strike for example then you can …a beginner can actually with a bit of luck achieve a headshot on a good elite player. That wouldn't happen in a thousand games in Quake…the best player wouldn't be able to lose against a beginner. Then you have the teamplay aspect of it as well."
Niklas Persson commutes from Nacka, where he's from, to Odengatan 44 in Stockholm and sits in the basement and plays as often as he can. When he starts playing in Cafe Nine, other players have their eyes opened to him and they want to recruit him.
- "...and that wasn’t a completely easy decision, but i felt that Swedish Chefs were a bit more 'hobby' while the Up Your Backpack guys had a bit higher ambitions at that time and i felt that i had done my part in the team that we had started up and wanted to move on."
After that something happened that was quite unusual at the time; the people who runs the cafe offer the clan sponsorship. They can play for free if they change name to Clan 9. Jesper tells us about the feeling.
- "Theoretically they sponsored the youngsters with 60 SEK an hour, which was a better work pay than you could get from the state – i worked at a graveyard and received 27:50SEK. All of a sudden you got this feeling like ’shit, can i be sponsored? Can i get a contract?’"
Clan 9 soon become better by challenging other clans online. Via chat through the IRC network Quakenet, the games are arranged. But it’s the players themselves who invent the rules, Niklas tells us – or as his name was in Clan 9; Nikodemus.
- "It was during this time that the whole Internet and the online/multiplayer scene started, all of it kind of, so everything developed with time; what maps were to be played, what settings to use on the servers etc so it was standardised at the end kind of. Then everyone adapted after those rules."
And Clan 9 soon got tired of meeting and beating Swedish and Nordic teams, and they soon take the step out to Europe, although the long ping times, or latency, is a problem. But one of the players in Clan 9 with the nick "Xenon" knows a place that has an even faster line than the cafe.
- "He was in some way…had fixed a contact at KTH, who stood for the world’s biggest permanent line and it was like one of the three main nodes out of Sweden at that time. So there were only three places where Internet went out [of Sweden] and one of them was KTH, so he managed to 'hustle' us in there so we could play Quake for free a whole night at KTH. We were like 15-16 years old but noone cared, that was what was so interesting."
Two parallell Quake worlds build up. The one in Europe, where Clan 9 dominates, and the one in USA. Over there is a player who has been called "The Michael Jordan of Gaming"; Dennis "Thresh" Fong. He even ends up in Guinness World of Records as the first professional E-sport athlete. He became a really big name when he won USA’s first national Quake tournament "Red Annihilation" in May 1997.
- "You were considered like the best Quake player in the world, right?"
- "It's right actually, it all culminated into this big Quake tournament featuring a red Ferrarri"
That has gone down in history as the prize in the tournament was id Software’s founder, John Carmack's, sports car. A Ferrarri 328 GTS. That at a time when the prizes in a tournament use to be honor or, possibly, a graphics card.
The year after the owners of Cafe Nine gets an idea; to make commercial for their Internet cafe in an all harder competition they are going to let their Clan face off against USA's best, Deathrow, where Thresh is the star.
- "Internet cafes were expanding, there were several people who wanted to start one because there was such good money. If you earn 60SEK an hour on one computer that only stands there and sucks electricity for 2SEK then it's really big margins, so everyone wanted to create that, kind of. And then, after many turns back and forth, they calculated that the whole shabang would cost between 100-200,000SEK and then we would invite all Americans."
In May 1998 it is announced that the game will happen on Cafe Nine in August the same year, and Niklas Persson remembers how the expecations were building up.
- "The talk was going on forums etc. We knew that they thought that they were superior, the probably insisted that there was noone who could beat them what so ever. But we had faced other countries, we knew that there were other teams who were at a very high level, so we weren’t as cocky"
- "It was like Mohammad Ali, George Foreman, Rumble in the Jungle."
Steve Murphy was a Australian Quake enthusiast and modder who lived in Stockholm and wrote about the game for the biggest Quake site; Planetquake.
- "Coming to Stockholm, the Americans were the favourites of course, i mean Thresh was renounced as, or thought to be unbeatable and the Americans they came with a bit of a rockstar aura."
It is to be determined who are the best in the world. But there is a problem; the Americans and the Swedes play different versions of Quake. It’s Quake 1 or "Real Quake", and then the update "QuakeWorld".
- "And it was a bit different physics in the game because 3D physics at that time was under development so you felt which was the sharpest and which had latency and in the one game the rocket was fired a bit below the crosshair, in the other it was a bit over. So after all it was a very big difference and this messed things up a bit so we were forced to play five game on their version, which meant we had to practice on the old Quake and, of course, they were forced to practice on QuakeWorld then."
After months of preparations it is finally time. It is the 7th of August 1998. The showdown between Deathrow and Clan 9 is split up over two days; on the Friday there’s five matches in Real Quake and on the Sunday there’s five matches in QuakeWorld.”
- "We had fairly high expectations about the QuakeWorld matches, not so high about Quake because that was a bit of their home field."
Nothing is left to chance in time for the final showdown. Jesper, who works at Cafe Nine, played for another clan who got to play the warmup games against the main clans, so the guests can get the feeling for the hardware.
- ”So we had five computers at the top in the cafe, where the pay desk was at that time, and then they had five computers at each side of the premises. Then we had sealed off the whole middle section, and to compensate that they had put down 100-200,000SEK to fly over these Americans, accommodate and feed them etc they had arranged that it cost 200SEK to enter the venue. And…200SEK to enter to watch a gaming match…and it was completely crowded…"
- "I remember that it was quite a lot of people actually. Then they had put up the computers so everyone could see and there was a big screen as well. We had never played in front of a crowd before, so that was a bit of a new experience."
- "The atmosphere there was really electric, like something's gonna happen today."
The six players in each clan, four per match, prepare themselves and the Swedes have a secret weapon.
- "…we had dyed the hair on everyone just because we wanted to portray ourselves as the Swedish stereotype that all Americans thought of…"
Then the first match goes into action…
- "It's amazing how the game panned out, it was quite even for a while…for every kill that the Americans got the Swedes would get another kill and they were trading kills back and forth but the Swedes showed some amazing strategies that i hadn't seen before, i remember that. I rememeber that the Americans would get the rocket launcher, the grenade launcher and two of the Swedish guys would tag them from a distance with shotgun which is, you know, one of the least powerful weapons and they seemed to just be communicating and working together as a team. I didn’t speak much Swedish at the time but i remember them yelling 'Penta! Penta!' which was the word for one of the powerups and it was amazing, once they got this team work going, got these powerups, they were just decimated."
Clan 9's communication and innovative strategies impresses in other words, and when the first match is finished the final score is 70-52 to the Swedes. And that was a game where they played the American’s favourite version of the game.
- "…and it comes to the closing seconds of that game and the whole room is just completely silent. Everyone is just thinking in their head; 'Wow, what the f*ck just happened here?!' This is amazing, we brought over these titans from America…Thresh, like a Quake god, and his team's been beaten in the first game.
Then everyone thought ok, maybe it was all luck that can come up in the first game, let’s see how it goes in the next game.”
And the Swedes continues winning the three following matches with a wide margin. Now it’s 4-0.
- "…and they just proceeded to keep playing the same way and to win the series"
- "They were shocked, they were genuinely baffled over the level in Europe which they hadn’t expected at all."
Deathrow come backs and win the last game in Real Quake with 152-22. The superstar Thresh has a great game with 44 frags. Maybe the could turn it around in the following QuakeWorld matches.
Between the first and second day Deathrow are interviewed by Steve Murphy for Planetquake. Apart from praising [Clan] 9 they are also presenting with a line of reasons for why they are below; that the sun never sets in Sweden so it’s hard to sleep, that several of them have switched over to play the fresher Quake 2 and that [Clan] 9 are more used to sit and talk in the same room.
- "I'm not sure about the Americans and what their sportsmanship is like, you know. It sounds like a bit of an excuse to say they were off for another game but they were definitely good, they were definitely really good, but the Swedes were just amazing."
Sunday. Five new games. Can Deathrow continue the winning trend from the Friday’s finishing game? In the Planetquake interview they are saying that they are in good shape and that they spent the Saturday on trying to find a counter strategy now that they have seen how the opponents play.
Also the Sunday’s games in QuakeWorld end with the same result; 4-1 in matches to the Swedes. 8-2 in total. The giants have fallen.
- "There's American spectators in the crowd and they were just shocked. They were just speechless."
Niklas Persson, or Nikodemus, from Clan 9, thinks the result depends on two things; first up the Americans confident attitude bit them in their tail.
- "We had prepared ourselves very well i must say, and i believe the Americans had not done that because they were so convinced that they were going to win so they simply didn’t need to prepare."
But most of all it didn’t matter if the Americans were better individually. The Swedes had managed to develop tactically through their many encounters with good teams from all over Europe.
- ”All the time new techniques were developed, new ways to try to dominate the map, and the timing and everything. One tried to lock down the map so the other team didn’t get any access to any weapons or anything anymore and then it doesn’t matter how good you are because you can’t win with a boomstick weapon against a rocket launcher or a lightning gun that you had at that time so…they didn’t get hold of the quad, which is the super powerup that makes you do four times more damage and then you can blow up and shoot anyone pretty much by just looking at them…well it was a bit of a shattering experience, i think, for their part."
Planetquake's Steve Murphy today, 20 years after, regards the face off as an important part of the birth of E-sports.
- "One of the defining games of the first person shooter genre at its peak and you’ve got two of the best teams who’ve probably ever been around playing each other at the same time…i think this was really important, i think it was."
Clan 9 disbanded quite shortly after the game against Deathrow. Today Niklas Persson is developing VR games. He’s not bitter over the fact that he was the best in the world before E-sports had grown up to what it is today.
- "It was something that you knew it was going to come, but you also knew that you’re going to miss it. We were perhaps 20 years too early if you see to our own reference…but we had a lot of fun. It was something unique. It was probably actually the start of it all, so it was exciting to be a part of it."
Today big tournaments are played every week within E-sports, with giant prize pots and players from all over the world. We have seen leagues taking shape, more games grow big and players become superstarts.
Maybe was the beginning of all of this that a bunch of Americans came to face off against a bunch of dyed, blonde Swedes in an Internet cafe in Stockholm.