Tankfest with Wargaming.net
If you’ve been following our E3 coverage, here at GamingLives, you’ll remember that one of my first appointments was with Wargaming.net, to take a look at the upcoming World of Warplanes, which is currently in closed beta. The game looked excellent and I had a blast with it, so when an invitation was extended to attend TankFest, down in Bournemouth at the end of June, it was an offer I had no intention of rejecting.
With all of my own E3 coverage complete, I had a couple of days to research just what Tankfest actually was and pack for the event. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Don’t think me lazy or a bad journalist. The E3 team will tell you I’m one of the most meticulous and well prepared people they’ve met, going as far as to find out what to do during an earthquake, should one have struck while we were in California. I simply ran out of time, so on Friday morning I hastily packed a bag and headed to the train station to meet everyone at St Pancreas International.
The journey itself was pretty uneventful, having been working an early shift all week, I was pretty tired and so despite my best efforts to re-read Max Brook’s World War Z for the billionth time (in case of a zombie outbreak in Bournemouth, naturally) I fell asleep. Thankfully the last stop was London so I ran no chance of winding up the wrong end of the country and in turn, up shit creek without a paddle or inflatable crocodile.
My instructions upon arrival were simple: meet everyone at the Eurostar entrance. It couldn’t be that difficult to accomplish, the Eurostar is a huge section of the station, so I couldn’t really miss it. This, in hindsight, seemed to work both in my favour and against it. We were certainly all in the same place, but where? The upper tier, lower tier, inside or out? God dammit, they had provided a map… why didn’t I print it off? “THIS IS WHY I RESEARCH EARTHQUAKES LORNA,” I screamed, as security started giving me funny looks (hah! Ed.). I started walking around the station looking for people that looked as though they might like tanks and games. After twenty minutes I hadn’t seen anything except a fuck load of hideously over-priced Olympic memorabilia (read: crap) and it was nearly two thirty. The coach left at three o’clock, so it was time to initiate a code indigo situation.
As cool as the coolest of cucumbers, I rang GamingLives HQ and convincingly told them that I was just double checking the details, as I was starting to think I’d mistaken the word Eurostar for Starbucks or something. They confirmed everything was correct, so I put in some calls to Wargaming and waited for a response. While I did this, I spied a group of men who may very well have been the people I was after. All male, holding folders, late twenties-early thirties, looking nerdy enough to love games, tanks and who may struggle to get laid in a brothel. Yeah, these could be the gamers, I thought. Now, I’ve got no problem speaking to strangers at the best of times, so I walked straight up and enquired about Tankfest. They looked at me like I was mad, said no and I trudged off. Bollocks. Fuck those guys. They were probably planning to go hunt Walruses in Sweden with their model mistresses or something equally as boring.
Eventually I found the others outside the station, waiting by the mini-bus. We’ve all been in that situation before – waiting to leave while some jackass holds everything up. Today I was that jackass and I slunk to the back of the bus with the luggage to, yes you’ve guessed it, fall asleep. After a quick stop at the services half way, during which I cursed Costa for having no Paninis left, we found ourselves in sunny Bournemouth some four hours later. I say sunny, but it was more cloudy with a chance of getting utterly fucking soaked and I was, quite literally, the only person who’d come wearing shorts. I appeared to have put too much faith in British weather, after three days of hot, muggy Kent life.
With no option other than to ‘man up’ I braved the wind and cold for our meal at the Branksome Beach Restaurant. CEO of Wargaming.net Viktor Kislyi and some of his team joined us, and although I had never met the man before, I was struck by how normal he was – he didn’t arrive in a fancy car wearing a suit, flanked by peons. He looked your average guy, incredibly down to earth and just wanting to chill out with a beer, while chatting to some people. A good time was had by all and we returned to the hotel for some rest before Saturday’s tank-packed day of awesome.
Saturday morning came far too quickly for me and, despite not needing much sleep generally, five hours wasn’t enough. Reading about zombies after a few whiskey chasers was clearly not the remedy for a decent night’s sleep. The perfect cure for that was a hot shower and an all you can eat breakfast. Well, the shower didn’t really go to plan and I was left with two options: the first was to stand face first into a shower with no power control, which made it feel like someone was smashing my head in with an iron bar. The second option was to turn the other way and have my face molested by the incredibly close shower curtain, which groped my face. Fearing the shower curtain may ‘hug’ my face and cause me to do a ‘John Hurt’ later on, I chose the iron bar option. Somewhat sore, I made it down to breakfast, learnt about the French equivalent for black pudding and then headed to Bovington Tank Museum.
Tanks, it turns out, are fucking huge in real life. I think I may have seen one at a distance as a child, but never had the chance to really have a proper look round one as an adult. To my surprise some of these things are huge, especially the Panzers and Shermans of World War II. Throughout my life I’ve been more a plane person, but these are impressive machines nonetheless. Situated in a large hangar, surrounded by some of these leviathans, was the World of Tanks booth, covered in camouflage netting and sporting a number of computers for people to go hands-on with. Everything was maxed out and unlocked, allowing people to enjoy the full experience. As soon as the doors opened, the booth was flooded by members of the public, and, from around ten in the morning until five in the evening it never let up once. This wasn’t just the hardcore fanatics, although they were present, it was also people who’ve never heard of the franchise before, signalling even more potential players to the ever swelling ranks.
With people now in the hangar, Viktor took the opportunity to make a speech to the media and some of the community who had turned up. He actually stood on a box to do it, like a General addressing his troops before a battle. He spoke of the success of World of Tanks, looking towards the future and thanked everyone for their support in the last year. He then took questions from the community, all of which he answered as best he could, asking people to speak to him separately afterwards should he not be able to answer them straight away.
The day continued and I browsed through the various nations’ contributions to the tanking world. British, German, American, Russian, French, Italian… they were all there, each with essential information and enough room to allow me to have a look around them. Some of them had seen combat and bore the scars of their victories, twisted metal and fist sized holes punctured their frames. I honestly tried not to think about the possibility that someone had lost their life defending their country in this very vehicle, especially given the way society treats today’s world.
I took the time to visit the World War I area, not knowing much about the creation of the first tanks and the problems they faced. This proved highly interesting and educational, seeing the various early attempts and failures as the British tried to break the deadlock of trench warfare. It also held a few accounts of personal bravery, one in particular caught my eye, when I spied a Webley Revolver in a glass cabinet. The Revolver belonged to Lieutenant Arthur Herbert Blowers, a Commander of tank D5 ‘Dolphin’ (all tanks were given individual names back in the First World War). In one engagement, when his tank was disabled and his machine gun ammo spent, he held his position using just that revolver. He fired one hundred and three rounds from a six cylinder pistol. He was given a Military Cross and a bar for his actions in World War I. I’m not a military man but I was most certainly humbled by being lucky enough to view the side-arm that belonged to a proper British hero.
As the day drew to a close, Wargaming had a final surprise for Viktor Kislyi. Arranged by their people, organisers of the event and persons in charge of the Bovington Museum, he was allowed to get inside one of the Tiger Tanks, the fearsome German monstrosity of the second World War. Although I was visually astounded by all the other tanks that day, I was dumbstruck by the size of this machine. The sight of this in Company of Heroes is enough to make me panic and in reality I can only imagine that the feeling would have been replicated ten-fold. On that note, the day ended and we made our way back to London. It had been a very unique experience and one that I fully recommend to anyone who gets the opportunity. As more years pass by it becomes more and more crucial to remember the sacrifices that were made so that we can enjoy the freedom and liberty that the majority of us take for granted. This excursion to the museum, reminded me of those sacrifices and for that I am very, very thankful.
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