It’s a cold Friday evening. The October winds drift gently as the snow dances onto my sneakers. The change rustles in my pocket as I lean forward to look down the road. Along comes a blue bastion, with “70 MILL WOODS” emblazoned in digital letters along the top of the bus. The driver opens the door,
“Hey bud, how are ya?”
“Pretty good mate.”
I pay my fare, and head to the back and take a seat. I look out the window, as downtown Edmonton continues on, people shopping, running, talking and heading to wherever they need to go.
The bus takes a breath, and begins its circuit, snaking through stations, suburbia and shopping malls. I throw my earbuds in and listen to a couple songs, and bring the bus to a screeching halt as I ring for my stop last second, like any good commuter. I walk across the road, and head to the venue.
People with TVs and boxes of cords are heading into the venue, being quick as to get out of the now chillier winds. I help setup some tables and chairs, while Wiis and Gamecubes get hooked up. I run upstairs and grab a spare GameCube controller, and head to an open table for some friendlies.
I test out the triggers and knock the analog sticks back and forth. Feels good. I sit down at an open table, and the announcer echoes out my selection:
We dropped on opposite sides of Final Destination, and as the clock counted down, the venue around me blurred out of focus.
I didn’t hear the players all around me.
I didn’t feel the sweater on my shoulders.
All I saw was a purple stage, my Marth, and Sheik.
The announcer counted down,
And the clicking and clacking of our controllers began.
We dropped, and I instantly started to dash back and forth to force an approach from Sheik, and setup for a grab. I was met with careful spacing, and Sheik trying to find an opening to poke me out. I poised my fingers, waiting to strike like a snake in the grass. With one step too close, I leap and wavedash into Sheik for a clean grab into an up throw, into another up throw, into some aerials leaving me at an untouched 0%, and Sheik sitting at 50+%. I was in a good position, to say the least.
But Sheik wasn’t willing to go down that easy. Or as they say in the Melee community, “And now, he tries..”
The neutral wars began, needles were shot, kicks were flying, grabs were landed and tippers were clutched. I may have had the opening salvo and took the first stock, but I didn’t have the game just yet. As the map’s visual effects shifted, so did our play, with changing from offense to defense, from opportunistic to reserved and from risky to passive. Stocks were exchanged, and as if scripted from start to finish, we faced off with each of our last stocks, with a slight percentage lead from me.
And as if we had nothing left to lose, we both charged.
The dance of the warriors began again, but it was as if the stakes were higher. I could feel my blood pumping as I went for any grab I could, tried to abuse any opening, and try to cover every mistake. Our percentages grew, but after a couple well-spaced aerials, I smelled blood in the water. One tipper from me could end it all. But I wasn’t the only one who caught the scent, as a clean throw and forward-air from Sheik would have me dead to rights as well. I had one chance to finish it once and for all, and it was either go for it or wait for one of us to falter. I wasn’t prepared to lose, so I went for it.
And I went for it hard.
I dashed backwards to bait, only to switch directions, wavedash and chain a forward throw into the infamous tipper, ending the match with my single stock left.
Everything seeped back into reality, as my partner laughed: “Good shit, man!”
After such an intense match, the appropriate response was obviously a casual “Thanks, dude.”
More and more people start showing up, with almost every setup being occupied by fun matches, Fox dittos, and a handful of Falco and Marth players making a showing. Our resident Jigglypuff main tied up another guy to a chair with an extension cord, a TV blew, people were going around hyping matches up, the Smash 4 crowd popped off at their tournament finals, I lost both my tournament matches with a spectacular 4-stock on me to finish
As I headed home, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the magnetism of a local scene. You’re surrounded by other gamers; whether they’re players, noobs, veterans, casuals or tryhards, they’re all there for the same reason, to play the same game, and share the same love, and experience the same thrills. But, I began to think about it more, I thoroughly enjoyed my night but why did I spend it playing a Nintendo party game from 2001?
Was it watching the legendary Wombo Combo as a kid and being amazed at the technicality of a fighting game?
Was it the raw sense of camaraderie and belonging at locals?
Was it the competitive appeal of a high skill cap, loyal fanbase and in-depth strategies?
Was it the hype at tournaments like Big House, Smash Summit, Dreamhack and EVO?
Or it was all of those reasons, wrapped up in a little package called “What we all want in eSports”.