Alex Walker visits 99 on York in Sydney and discovers the true meaning of competitive gaming.
By Alex Walker on February 23, 2013 at 10:21 am
For those who have never attended a national championships for fighting games, let me offer you a primer: casual is not casual in the slightest.
The OzHadou nationals, the 11th iteration of which is being held at 99 on York’s Red Room in Sydney, always earmarks the first day for two things: registration and “casual” play.
But a cursory glance around the room proves that what’s really going on is far from casual. Indeed, only a couple of hours after registration began, the announcer declared that special showmatches would be taking place throughout the rest of the night. That is to say, best-of-five or best-of-ten games interspersed with copious amounts of trash-talking.
It’s a bizarre experience for me, having grown up in the world of Counter-Strike, which pre-dated a lot of these kinds of competitions when it came to establishing the infrastructure for sending players to national and international qualifiers. Because even though that system was well in place, the people amidst it all were, well … poor.
How times have changed.
Bond University certainly knows the score. According to their latest survey (commissioned by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association), the average age of gamers is 32. 32-year-olds have a lot more money than, say, 15-year-olds.
That, of course, applies to casual gaming. But just a cursory glance at any eSports event will tell you that people are a lot older these days. And the impact of that cannot be understated.
There’s gamers walking around with cameras worth thousands of dollars. That’s just the lens, mind you. And not to mention the custom-built cabinets supplied by the organisers. The guy chiefly responsible for the stream team: he shipped down 60 kilograms of equipment. There’s a switcher worth a few grand on its own. And the venue itself; there’s something a little surreal walking into what feels like Sydney’s most upper-class RSL, only to discover hundreds of massive fighting game nerds rocking out on the first floor.
It feels amazing; it feels like I’ve come home.
Part of the sentiment in the latter stems from what a fellow games.on.net user described to me as a community that is “rough and unrefined”. A fellow organiser quipped that fighting game tournaments were more like Bay 13 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the kind of sentiment you’d expect a rowdy crowd to bellow out at the referee, than the action witnessed in other communities, which he equated to “golf”.
This is why I kept playing competitively for so long; I’ve missed the banter. The real action, of course, won’t start until Sunday.
Friday is the “casual” day, although from what I could see it was anything but casual. Most players were completely engrossed in their “practice” matches, some of which were incredibly tight.
That would ramp up later once the exhibition games — essentially grudge matches — kicked off. Some received a louder reception than most, but there was an underlying rivalry to all of them.
I heard a story a few years back about how a gamer rocked up to a nationals in a cast and decided it gave him protection from any repercussions for his smack-talk — something he promptly rethought once he was getting the crap kicked out of him. Physically.
Clearly, the fighting game community are a lively bunch. For those concerned, they’re very warm to newcomers, at least in my limited experience. Unless you’re going to start bantering with the professionals. That’s best left to the veterans — something I’ll no doubt see a lot more of on Day Two.
If you can’t make it to York on 99 in Sydney, never fear – you can follow all the action on TwitchTV via OzHadou’s two streams: http://www.twitch.tv/Ozhadou and http://www.twitch.tv/Ozhadou2. The schedule for the whole weekend is also available on the OzHadou website.