Competition in its many forms

By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | news@arenacindependent.com
Posted 1/11/12

I have a confession to make: despite my outwardly mild appearance, I am an incredibly competitive person.

This is not really the case for sports, due to my lack of interest or skill. In practically every other regard, however, I enjoy competing to varying degrees. Whether it is against other people or myself — simply to do better than I have in the past — it’s in my nature.

This was certainly the case in school, and remains so even now with work. I am a fairly harsh self-critic, and work on improving my knowledge and skills as quickly as possible to effectively show myself up. For more traditional competition, I usually turn to one of my favorite pastimes, video games.

It may not be common knowledge, but for several years I was a professional game player in fighting games like “Street Fighter,” “King of Fighters,” and “Capcom vs. SNK 2.”

Fighting games are essentially what they sound like; each player selects a character or teams of characters, and then uses the game controls to maneuver around the screen and attacking the other player with martial arts and superhuman abilities. The last character standing at the end of the round wins.

From about 2001 to around 2004, I was a regular at arcade-based tournaments for these games. Between a fairly well known arcade, very well-attended game nights hosted by my now passed-on friend Kim, and a powerful rivalry with the players in Ann Arbor, Detroit had a very strong scene around those series at the time.

Detroit produced a few nationally known players who were highlighted online and in gaming magazines like “Tips & Tricks.” One such player is responsible for introducing me to the Detroit scene. I met him while I was in high school; he routinely would beat me when we got together to play on the Dreamcast, and my competitive nature would not allow me to let that one slide.

Admittedly, it took me years before I could defeat him on a regular basis, but I was never particularly good at practicing on my own time. I preferred to pick things up in the heat of a match, and he had the experience edge on me.

The Detroit arcade scene dwindled over the years as it became clear that new, worthwhile games were not on the horizon, and effectively died once the legendary Wizzards Arcade in Detroit closed its doors in 2004, bringing an end to 34 years of games and community. It was not just a regional contraction, as throughout the country competition was falling off for those dark years.

Still, there were periodic attempts to revive it with tournaments for a variety of games, and in 2007 I took third place in a “Street Fighter II” competition, losing only to guys from Ohio and New York. I was effectively “retired” after 2004, though, and even with the revival of the fighting game scene since 2009, when “Street Fighter IV” finally came out after 10 years of waiting, I have not really gotten back into it.

There was one major exception, however. In 2010, I traveled to Chicago for a week to visit friends and see if I could turn up gainful employment, and scheduled the trip to also fall on the Midwest Championships, a long-running major fighting game event. I had always wanted to make it to one, and I finally had the chance.

Unsurprisingly I did poorly, and due to a glitch in the system I was never put down for most of the games I signed up for anyway, but I got to play one of the best players in the world, Alex Valle of California, in a game of “Street Fighter II,” and it was an amazing experience.

I still keep up with how things are going in the fighting game world, and every so often I get the itch to compete again. I don’t know if I ever will like I used to, but the idea of a comeback is always in the back of my head.

After all, someone has to teach the new blood the old tricks.

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