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Posted on Aug 15, 2013 in Electronic Games

Wargaming.net’s 15th Anniversary Party Recap

By Brian King

Almost exactly 25 years ago I was sitting in a college classroom for the first time, anxious to start learning the Russian language. My retention of it has sadly languished over the years, but I do clearly remember one of the first words we were taught; “cement mixer.” It sounds like “betona-meshalka” in Russian and I’ve been unable to forget that word no matter how many other words were jettisoned from my vocabulary. After traveling to both Moscow and Minsk, I’ve come to appreciate why this word featured so prominently in that Russian language textbook. More on that in a minute.

Armchair General was invited to experience the 15th anniversary celebration of multi-title game company Wargaming.net in Minsk, Belarus. I was able to put a face to the name of our “shock-worker” friends over there – another word from my textbook! I bring back a report that is a bit of a cultural dump as well as the requisite notes about the anniversary party, video games, press conferences, and swordplay! First, about the company –

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Press Conference

About 100 journalists from around the world were present for Wargaming.net’s press conference at the Belorussian National Library on August 2, 2013. This building is a glorious multi-faceted glass-faced rhombicuboctahedron. Yes, we all just learned a new word today! It is a suitably modern structure amidst the otherwise utilitarian cityscape of Minsk. Victor Kislyi (CEO Wargaming.net) gave a nice summary of the first 15 years of the company, announced the opening of a new Wargaming.net office in Austin, TX, mentioned the acquisition of Total Annihilation and Master of Orion properties from Atari, and revealed the British would be added to World of Warplanes before release of the game (see video below).

After a brief QnA session we broke for lunch and some sight-seeing from the observation deck of the library.

Anniversary Party

Wargaming.net pulled out all the stops in delivering an event that was part office party and part cultural phenomenon. Hosted just over the horizon from Minsk at a place called “Stalin’s Line,” the location came complete with lots of heavy armor, multiple types of aircraft, and at least one ICBM. Think of it as having your office party, including dining, speeches, and other events, inside a military base lined with military hardware. Now put that party into a former Soviet republic, using mostly Soviet equipment, along a defensive line actually used during World War II. The place is dripping with history and is absolutely the perfect party place for a company known for World of Tanks and World of Warplanes.

There were several thousand employees, friends, family, and journalists stomping around the many activities set up to entertain guests. Fancy some archery? Sword fighting? How about a ride on a tank? Play video games? This family-friendly event had so much going on it was difficult to plan what to hit, and when. Several musical acts, including The Offspring and a Belorussian group called Bi-2, played on the main stage all evening, interspersed with an airshow by the Russian aerobatic team RUS, lasers, fireworks, movies, and one brief but intense rain burst.

It is impossible to know just how much influence this successful game company has on the local economy, but many of the attendees appeared to be Belorussian – perhaps friends and family of the core office in Minsk. We heard one anecdote, maybe a rumor spread by a smirking PR representative, that locals could get out of speeding tickets if they could surreptitiously hand over World of Tanks promo codes. What is clear is that Wargaming.net does bring in a lot of money to the local economy, including employing many locals to help specifically with this party. What are the odds of finding a nice Belorussian girl with 11 years of English training, who also happens to know how to play Massive Assault and can demo it for an evening? Only in Belarus!

Visiting Minsk

The politics of Belarus are a bit tricky, to say the least. On paper it is a republic, but runs de facto as a dictatorship from the Soviet era. It maintains close ties to Russia. As an American it pains me to see any country in anything but the complete freedom we enjoy here, but as I learned in numerous Star Trek episodes, sometimes all you can do is respect your hosts and move on. Ironically Wargaming.net, a large multi-national capitalist corporation, calls Belarus home and appears to thrive there. Victor Kislyi touched on this in his press conference, essentially stating that they have firm roots in Minsk where the company started, but they have lots of resources to tap globally so it all works out.

I can only comment on what I saw while I was there, and for the most part it was very positive. First and foremost the people were all very friendly, which is really the core of any visit. I was able to walk around downtown one morning by myself. Everything is very clean, although it is clear they don’t get many tourists as there just aren’t the typical kiosks selling trinkets you would expect in a foreign capital city. Most of the buildings downtown were rebuilt after World War II, and as such they share a lot of the same designs. The skyline is low, with no skyscrapers visible and an impressive number of parks and open spaces. The highlight for me was Victory Square with its large obelisk dedicated to those who fought and died in World War II.

Minsk is a city of almost 2 million inhabitants, but it has a feeling of being much smaller when you take it all in. The city is crammed with massive concrete apartment complexes. Bus stops and subway stops are ubiquitous, explaining how such large numbers of people can live so close together without having huge parking structures full of cars. It also explains why a Russian textbook created in the halcyon days of the Soviet era would so prominently feature a concrete mixer. It is something that can’t be appreciated unless and until you see a city like Minsk up close. It is truly a shame then that tourism to Minsk is so limited.

Leaving Minsk, while taking in its unapologetically Soviet-styled airport terminal, I had a chance to reflect on all that I had seen while in Belarus. I don’t think I’d go back anytime soon if I wasn’t with a larger group, but this is primarily due to language barriers. I might start back in my Russian textbook to see if I can pick it up again – and then I might be ready for a return visit to Minsk. Until then I’ll just keep watching the Russian versions of Wargaming.net’s promo videos and listening to Bi-2.

Until next time, here is a bit of Belorussian you may find useful – Da Papa-chenya. It means goodbye!

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  1. Armchair General Magazine – We Put YOU in Command!World of Warplanes Interview With Sergey Ilushyn | Armchair General - [...] part of recent coverage of Wargaming.net’s 15th anniversary (read here) in Minsk, Belarus, Armchair General had the opportunity to…

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