Editor's note: What the heck's a ranbat? Find out as Marcel chronicles a recent Blazblue competition. It's funny how video game tournament coverage feels a lot like sportswriting…. -Demian
The following is a story I've been working on for a feature writing class. My pitch was this: "In an arcade, beyond the bright lights and noise, Darwin's law is the golden rule: The strong shall survive and the weak shall be swept away." I decided to cover the Blazblue: Continuum Shift ranbat, and interviewed some players to add a humanizing element to a story about an arcade and a tournament….
The glow of 50 arcade screens and a cacophony of sounds — gun shots to techno beats to grunting and death throes – causes my head to pulsate in pain. Time has no place in this reality: The lights and noise remain constant as the sun rises to high noon, and later, sets.
Spend an hour or two here and you lose track of what the outside world looks like.
One sound pushes above the rest — the clicky clatter as dozens of plastic buttons do their job, over and over. A crowd of 15 to 20 men gather in the tiny space, watching a big-screen TV as two players feverishly drum their fingers across four buttons, rolling joysticks in quarter circles.
This pic isn't from the actual tournament, but gives you an idea
of what Arcade Infinity looks like with ranbats underway.
“Last game!” an employee announces. The tournament is about to start, so casual play is over. He points towards the back wall of this small cave we all call an arcade, where a second, smaller machine with the same game resides. “If you wanna keep going, go over there!”
David Broweleit, 19, finishes his 15th straight win and leaves the cabinet as everyone waits for the workers to reset the machine to tournament rules: two rounds, 99-second time limit, free play entry. The tournament itself was best two out of three, double elimination rules. Friends cheer friends on and taunt each other in the spirit of competition. This isn't just any tournament. This is a ranked battle at Arcade Infinity.
Established ten years ago by Ken Tai, Arcade Infinity (or AI) in Rowland Heights, CA, is a competitive arcade home to unique, Japanese games, from music/rhythm cabinets like Guitar Freaks (complete with faux plastic guitar) to an entire stable of Japanese-style, sit-down arcade machines.
Behold! The outside.
AI is a hot spot for fighting game competition, as players with all manner of unique pseudonyms, both new and famous, step onto the proving grounds to show their skill on weekly and monthly ladders.
David, or Davidbro, is relatively new to this SoCal scene. He's made his skill apparent, though, as he's played games like tonight's Blazblue: Continuum Shift while he was still living up north. He's only been coming to AI for two weeks now since hearing about it from his friend “BangCamaro.”
“The competition here is great, especially with Bang,” Davidbro says, mentioning the character he plays, a flashy ninja with a long scarf and a giant nail hanging off of his back, Bang Shishigami. Davidbro has a great attitude as a player but is also confident. “Hopefully I'll win. I want to use the prize money to see my girlfriend, who's still up north.”
Mike Zaimont, on the other hand, is a seasoned veteran both of AI and fighting games in general. Better known as Mike Z, this 28-year-old has been going to AI for four years, and played games as far back as Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (1994). Mike Z's relatively small size belies his skill and knowledge, especially since every character he specializes in are typically the large, grappler archetypes.
“The competition here is pretty good. Some of the best play here, too.” Mike says. Not only is he one of the best here in AI, he's been to one of the biggest tournaments in the United States: Evolution. “Compared to here [AI], the skill ceiling there brings out the best in people. The people I've played at EVO never make the mistakes I sometimes see here.”
On this occasion he was playing Iron Tager, a giant cyborg who towers over the rest of the cast. Mike Z is known for controlling the match and maneuvering his opponents right where he wants them –straight into his character's hands, so he can grab them with his signature move, a pile driver from a mile high in the sky.
The tournament began at 3 p.m. and started off relatively slowly. Games stretched on if both players won one match each and went to the tie-breaking third game. But around the 6 p.m. mark, the matches got interesting. Players would consistently pull out hat tricks that amazed the observing crowd.
Feats of technical skill — executing special attacks with such expert timing that they'd interrupt their opponent mid-strike with a fantastic and often times explosive attack. Rolling the joystick in half circles while pressing a button sounds easy on paper, but is difficult under pressure from a human opponent. Two players locked in a battle of wits; a game of execution, concentration, and consistency. One mistake could cost you money.
During his games, Davidbro nods whenever his character gets hit by his opponent. It's his positive attitude at work. “I respect my opponent for taking advantage of the opportunity and my mistake.” Davidbro had some exceptionally tough matches, eventually playing two in a row as he was battling back from the loser's bracket. But he finally lost just one game shy of the semifinals.
His opponent, a tall, bushy-haired Asian man in glasses, played as Litchi, a staff-wielding character feared for her exceptionally long combos and damage potential. For every combo Litchi dropped, however, Davidbro fought back.
It came down to the wire, but an unfortunately mistake on Davidbro's part cost him the game, and he bowed out with a hearty handshake with his visibly fatigued opponent.
Meanwhile, Mike Z returned from a mysterious hiatus. Having won all his matches thus far, he had gone out to eat before his next match, two and a half hours after his last win.
In all of his games, Mike Z masterfully predicted what his opponent was going to do and countered them. If they tried to jump backwards, Mike Z grabbed them out of the air. If they wanted to push him away, he absorbed the impact and punished them with his signature move, the Genesic Emerald Tager Buster.
Once again I witnessed another match that came down to the wire. Mike was playing against someone who specialized in the character Carl Clover, who controls a robot partner, effectively making the game two against one.
Despite Carl winning two matches, as the finalist from the loser's bracket he had to win an additional match. Finally, the tournament came to its match point. Each player had won one round in the final game. This last round would be the decider.
After wrestling with the problem of two characters against one for three whole games, Mike Z scraped out a win with each fighter at less then 25% health. Disabling the robot partner several times in the game, Mike Z seized an opportunity and grabbed a helpless Carl for the patented clincher: Tager Buster!
8:35 p.m. and the air is still electric with the excitement of so many close matches. The noise, however, continues well into the night as regular patrons continue with their unspoken competition as long as AI stays open.