Belarus is home to one of the biggest video game companies in the world – Wargaming. National Geographic even made a show about them in their Megafactories series. On the second Sunday of September, Wargaming invites Minsk citizens for an off-line event in their hometown. In collaboration with authorities, they celebrate the Day of the Tank Crew Member with video-games and tanks at Wargaming Fest in Minsk. To understand why this festival is a cultural phenomenon unique for Belarus, you need to learn a few things.
When you ask a local, when did WWII start, 90% of the answers will be “on the 22nd of June, 1941”. That’s the day when Third Reich attacked the USSR, marking the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (GPW). In the school history books, you can’t find information about Soviet tanks invading Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in 1939. USSR government used the Great Victory to support the questionable idea of communism. Propaganda highlighted heroic deeds and the enemy’s cruelty while concealing and censuring injustice acts and executions.
After communistic ideas died together with USSR in 1991, the new Belarusian government continued actively exploiting the GPW topic. At school, we have at least 4 class-trips to the GPW museum and a separate “GPW History” subject to study. Two of the main holidays in Belarus are the Victory Day and Independence Day, with GPW beginning anniversary. Defender of the Fatherland Day is celebrated on the national level as well. Each type of armed forces also has its holiday. The Day of the Tank Crew Member is celebrated on the second Sunday of September ever since 1946.
In 2008, Belarusian video game company Wargaming published “World of Tanks” – online tank simulator. Two teams of players compete against each other in matches, that last from 5 to 15 minutes on average. More than 180 million active players launch the game at least once per month. In Belarus, even grannies that don’t know how to operate a PC or phone know that their sons and grandsons are playing their “tanchiki”. Out of 9,5 million population, 2 million have World of Tanks on their devices: from phones of primary school kids at my friend’s summer camp to the laptop of a colonel from my army training.
Since its foundation in 1998, Wargaming moved headquarters to Cyprus and opened 20 offices in 15 countries including the USA, China, and Japan, with the largest studio still being in Minsk. Wargaming develops Belarusian cyber-sport by supporting and organizing international tournaments. The company is known for unusual collaborations, like branding two planes with Belarusian monopolist in commercial flights “Belavia”, developing a realistic tank simulator for the Ministry of Defense or issuing a World of Tanks themed credit-card with Alfa Bank. Starting from 2017, they turned their legendary private corporate party into a public celebration of the “Tank Crew Member Day”.
The festival starts typically at 14:00 at Victory Park. The Ministry of Defense provides several tanks to greet the guests. Russian, Belarussian and International rock-bands perform on the stage. They pause at some point to feature the main competition of the festivals tournament on the big screen. Partners organize quests, contests, and other activities alongside the hosts. Playground for kids is also themed with tanks. Playground for adults gives you a chance to try main Wargaming video game titles. Foodcourt’s highlight is a GPW themed kitchen trailer that serves food for soldiers on a march. Entrance is free, but just like in the game, you can pay for extra comfort packages with separate seats at the concert venue, independent food court, and other bonuses.
Wargaming is one of the top 10 video game companies in the world. There is no other example of a city holiday that is organized together by a video-game company and the city authorities. The Day of the Tank Crew Member is a unique opportunity to enjoy tanks and videogames at Wargaming Fest in Minsk. Don’t leave too early; fireworks start just after 22:00!
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