Smashing news — CNY gamers take their brains off their studies
I wrote this for the Daily Orange student newspaper set to run Monday November 8, 2010. Unfortunately, for space reasons, it did not run in the paper. I’ve decided to include it here. Enjoy!
Most video gamers stop making time to play once they go to college. Classes, social lives and relationships tend to get in the way of button-mashing. On Saturday, from the basement of Marshall Hall at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, 25 gaming addicts sat huddled around six television screens, their controllers practically glued to their hands, in stark defiance of the norm.
The event: a video-game tournament set in Super Smash Bros. Melee and its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The prize: cold hard cash. The players: grown adults from Syracuse, Rochester, Troy and Ithaca, NY.
Organized by local Super Smash Bros. enthusiasts Frannie Monasterio and Matthew Sharpe, the charity event, like most of its kind, started online. Eager players of the Nintendo fighting game series Super Smash Bros. regularly sign in to online message boards like SmashBoards.com, putting their “gamer tags”—nicknames used for gaming—down to enter a tournament. Online, gamers find community, an excuse to travel and even friends.
“Playing against the same people is kind of lame,” said Mike Kwan.
Kwan was one of a group of fellow gamers who had driven three hours from Troy, NY, to come to the Syracuse event. They were crashing on Monasterio’s floor. Kwan—gamer tag: Kwan—has just graduated from college, and only recently picked up the controller again a few months ago, after focusing exclusively on work and school.
As his eyes affixed themselves to the haze of the TV, Kwan’s character Donkey Kong trounced his opponent’s Captain Falcon with a flurry of punches, holds and throws. Kwan admitted that Donkey Kong is regarded as a notoriously weak character to play in all iterations of the game. He won the round anyway.
“You just have to know the match-ups,” he said.
For Kwan and his challengers the game is a competitive sport as well as a community. Kwan attended the event to warm up for the Revival of Melee Tournament, a two-day event in New Jersey that costs $99 a night to attend. Monasterio, aka Eevee, was sponsored in her hometown of Virginia Beach, VA, before she came to Syracuse for college.
Even the Syracuse tournament, where the gamers came unshaven, disheveled and dressed in pajamas and sandals, turned into a serious affair once the rounds started. They played for money and played for keeps, in meticulously structured singles and doubles rounds of gaming. Like any sport, the players treat it seriously, from the jeering, Eevee said, to the preference between Melee and Brawl.
“There’s a lot of trash talking that goes on,” Eevee said. “The really good Melee players typically don’t play Brawl at all…They started competitively in 2001, where kids who start now, their learning curve is really far behind.”
Since Super Smash Bros. Brawl dropped in 2008, the competitive gaming community opened up to more possibilities, with 35 playable characters to Melee’s 26, as well as the inclusion of Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog, characters pulled from non-Nintendo properties.
“Oh, look, someone’s playing as Sonic,” one of the gamers in the tournament joked. “Sonic doesn’t even deserve to be on this stage.”
Nonetheless, just as many embrace Brawl as a more user-friendly game. Syracuse tournament co-organizer Matthew Sharpe, aka Cura, specializes in Brawl, though he started on Melee, when it came out in 2001. Eevee called Cura, an engineering science major at Onondaga Community College, a Super Smash Bros. guru. He has organized events like the one in Syracuse since 2004. Close friends since childhood, he and Eevee housed eight of the attendees in their own apartment.
They admit that the process can be frightening. “That’s typical for tournaments,” Eevee said. “I didn’t even know their names, just their tags.”
“This whole couch is a bunch of brawlers,” Eevee punned as she watched the end of a virtual fight. A swordsman character named Ike and the furry, laser-toting Starfox had just been summarily launched off-stage by someone playing as the round pink Pokémon Jigglypuff.
More than nicknames—gamers only refer to each other by their tags, even in real life. Like any Internet alias, they maintain anonymity. But Eevee also said they help the community keep track of each other.
“We’ve just collectively accepted that if you’re on the SmashBoards website, you’re probably not that threatening,” she said. “If something goes down, as a community, we are going to find you.”