Competition, controversy and closure: Nintendo World Championships 20150 Comments
My time at the 2015 Nintendo World Championships couldn't have been more of a roller coaster than it was, but in there I found what I was looking for.
To quickly recap the article I posted here previously about my experience in 1990, I choked in the Dallas semi-finals 25 years ago. I wasn't mad that I lost but upset back then that I lost after not playing my best. 14-years-old at the time I told myself "next year" as I left that event. I wouldn't have won in the Dallas finals but at least I could have lost in them by doing my best at the time.
I decided I'd take my shot at the surprise revival of the event at the Dallas Best Buy location that was hosting one of the eight city qualifiers. Going into the event my best score of 7,000,500 points on the Nintendo 3DS version of the Ultimate NES Remix Championship Mode was a top five score and my best of 7.5 million on it is one of the best Wii U version's best known scores. I had as good of a shot as anyone.
The only concern? Dr. Mario. The third and final game of the gauntlet has a random factor and given the time limit one could be the best Dr. Mario player in the world and not score high if they aren't given a set up that could provide major combos. Other times, Dr. Mario will give you a good set up but, much like some real doctors do, he will keep shoving the wrong pills down your throat rather than give you what you need.
Rumor was we only got one shot at this, meaning that each city would be won by a skilled player that happened to be lucky to get a good set of boards, basically turning this into a pro poker contest in a way.
I grabbed a hotel room down near the Best Buy in case a line formed overnight. I'm not a fan of lines, even less now at 39-years-old, so I figured I would sleep until I could. I woke up at 3 a.m. to learn that a line was forming, so by 4 a.m. I arrived to join the line. With limited slots open to compete, I figured I'd sacrifice sleep rather than possibly miss a chance I waited 25 years to have.
I was pleased to be recognized shortly after arriving, kicking off conversations about the event. Also arriving was a severe thunderstorm, something that has been as commonplace in Texas over the past few months as government political decisions that seem to stem from 1957.
The rain quickly stopped, to which I made a snarky comment about it. Mother nature didn't like that, striking back with a follow up storm that I can only describe as coming from the opening of Gilligan's Island. The white poncho I had on became worthless as my chair and drinks began to fly down the parking lot. All of us in line sought refuge in cars in the parking lot. Every one of us was soaked from head to toe.
I took advantage of the shelter to practice, hitting a 5.6 million point game pretty quickly, adding to my confidence.
The rain slowed down but did not stop until just before registration came in. Once it did, every 3DS in the parking lot was whipped out for some last minute practice. I got my wristband and was one of the first 30 competitors in the door, being led through a windy Best Buy floorplan to the video game area, where Nintendo reps awaited us with tables and red 3DS units for the contest.
We were explained the rules, which I was fine on, except for needing a clarification. Nintendo couldn't answer this for me on the phone Thursday night so I asked the rep there if we got more than one shot at this if we registered again, as I was concerned about a bad Dr. Mario set up. I was told no, even if the line dried up later in the day with some of the 750 slots left open. So I hoped for the best.
I didn't get it. Dr. Mario gave me one of the worst possible series of screens, seeing me put in a paltry 2.6 million point score. I turned around and kicked the Best Buy store shelf behind me, shaking my head. The rep tried to tell me that it was a good score but I didn't agree. I wanted to post at least 4 million if not 5 million or higher as I'd done for weeks in practice, but no dice.
Nintendo posted a score of nearly 5.5 million from that first round on the board, a score I felt could win it. Disappointed I said my goodbyes and returned home with my family, some 40 miles away.
While I was disappointed in 1990 for losing because I didn't play my best, I may have been more disappointed in 2015 for having the skillset but having bad luck to go with it. I figured I'd get over it, though, but it wasn't going to happen that day.
Then the Tweets and Facebook messages started to come in.
First of all, I learned that the 5.5. million point score in Dallas was a clerical error. The high was now 2.8 million points, which irked me even more, as it was a score I was capable of smashing yet didn't. I then learned something more.
The San Francisco event only had 150 or so people come out, so they were allowing people who'd tried before to try again. I called my local Best Buy to see if I could speak to the Nintendo reps but was denied. The manager there confirmed to me that it was "one try per person" but in hearing my story, he suggested I call Nintendo myself.
So I did, as me and my family rushed back into the car to start to drive there anyway. I had no socks on this time, as they were still rain soaked, but off we went just in case Nintendo confirmed the rule change.
My wife drove like Bo Duke after an all night bender of Red Bull as she dodged traffic and Dallas floodwaters to get me back to the Best Buy. While that was going on, a supervisor at Nintendo confirmed to me that there was nothing in the offical rules that said "one play per person" and that she would call the stores to confirm that player could try again.
I came in to find that the 2.8 million score was still the top one, and confirmed with the reps that Nintendo had called and said we could try again. So off I went, signing up again to retry for my chance at winning.
I quickly took the lead with a 4.4 million point score. As Nintendo took my photo, up came the previous leader Jordan DeMarco. You could say he wasn't happy to see that I got another try and him and his friends reacted as such. My attempts to tell them that this was Nintendo's call and that replays had been happening in San Fran didn't go through. They believed that I was trying to pull something and the tension became thick.
Jordan was going to take advantage of the rule change to try as many times as he needed to beat me back. Likewise, I was going to keep trying to up my score as long as he kept playing. I looked at my phone and saw that it was still several hours until the 7 p.m cut off, meaning this could take a while.
One of Jordan's friends signed back up as well, standing next to me and trying to watch my game play and talk to me. It was a sure attempt at mind games and trolling that, at first, I was focusing past. It did begin to get to me, though, as my heart began to pound in my chest. I asked him to back off of me several times, finally issuing a statement of "I'm asking you one more time to get out of my space." The Nintendo reps, believing this might come to blows now, finally suggested it stops as I repeated that I was not pulling a fast one here, I was simply playing under the rules that Nintendo said I could.
I pushed my leading score higher, but Jordan just wouldn't quit, so I couldn't take a break, either. I started to get tired and as a result I was blowing good Dr. Mario set ups that would have allowed me to push the score even higher. I still had the lead, though, and with just 8 minutes left in the event I nailed a 5.2 million point score that I honestly thought would hold.
What I didn't know is that Jordan had a hot game going. The dry erase marker of my 5.2 million point score wasn't even dry as he hit a 6.1 million point score on what was literally his last try. I was getting one final game in as I learned the news, which made me grin more than it made me upset. That game didn't give me what I needed to beat Jordan's new score. Game over.
I went up to Jordan, who was turned around from me at the time. The Nintendo reps stood silent as I turned him about slightly. I reached out and shook his hand which brought us to a Rocky and Apollo Creed like embrace. I told him I respected the hell out of him for not quitting and congratulated him as those who'd stuck around broke out in applause and began to take photos.
Yeah, I lost. Even moreso I lost in what would normally be the most painful way to do so, leading all afternoon only to end up losing at the last possible moment. But I couldn't stop smiling. It was then that I realized that what I was seeking wasn't so much a win but an opportunity to gain what I didn't have in 1990. Rather than lose due to nerves as I did back then or to bad luck as I did earlier that morning, I lost a long and epic battle where I'd played well.
In other words, I got the ending that I should have had in 1990. I just flat out got beat by someone who worked hard and played better when it counted. My 5.2 million point score reportedly would have won by a mile in many other cities but I didn't care. I had a moment. A moment that I'd waited 25 years for. I had my closure from 1990 and it felt good.
I'm actually grinning while typing this out, and I'm not sure I'd be doing that if I'd held on and won. This was the right ending, the one I needed to knock that chip off of my shoulder after a quarter century and leave knowing I played well. I can't help but think of it like the end of the last Rocky movie where the Italian Stallion walked away from the ring with a smile rather than wait to hear the decision of the bout. He lost a narrow battle but that was okay with him, as he got what he needed for himself out of it.
I look forward to seeing Jordan's run in Los Angeles in two weeks. No offense to the other competitors but this epic multi-hour battle left us with a bond here. HE ISN'T GOING TO QUIT, PEOPLE so good luck to you. Jordan DeMarco is what a champion is supposed to be, unwilling to give up, winning when it matters and being humble and gracious in his victory.
Hey, maybe the 2015 Nintendo World Championships wasn't nearly the scale or hype of the original one 25 years ago. Maybe some people aren't going to understand why I'm not upset at a last second loss or the fact that Nintendo seemingly shifted the rules mid-day in what is going to prove to be a super controversial call for years to come.
But I found what I was looking for. I got my closure for both my disappointed 14-year-old self from 1990 and for myself today. I can finally put down that big bag of rocks and move on forever from the idea of competing on video games. I made new friends and got what I needed.
You can't create moments like this. They only come from live competiton, not from Twitch streams or recordings played back for online scoreboards and YouTube fans.
This story will stick with me for at least the next 25 years as I finally can close the book on that "next year" I had to wait 25 years to get.
Best of luck, Jordan. I'll be watching.