Well, the road back from the Nintendo World Championships qualifying round was a bit different than the road there. In the days leading up to the event, I was nervous and excited. Upon my return, while I’m still glad I went, I can’t help feeling slightly disappointed, especially as I’ve discovered how differently things went at some of the other tournament locations.
Before we get any further, let me describe how the event played out. When I arrived at the Best Buy, there was already a line around the building. My excitement was boosted immediately as I saw people in costume, 3DS’s out with players frantically practicing, and a general good vibe throughout the crowd. There were people discussing strategy, talking about games, and just having fun. When it finally came time for me to enter the Best Buy, I was led to a ramp where we waited for the play area to clear. There was someone at a table that had flyers and such, and another girl working the line, basically making sure nobody had any questions that needed answering. They then led us to the area in the store that was sectioned off for the tournament. This was… underwhelming. There were Mario Kart flags sticking out of the top of the aisle (Mario Kart having nothing to do with the tournament), and a small shelf with 3DS’s laid out on it. The actual play area was very small. They had each of us grab a 3DS, and start playing when they gave the word. We stood in this cramped little area and played our games inches from one another, more or less in seclusion from the rest of the line, and the customers in the store. There was absolutely no setup for any sort of audience participation, or audience at all for that matter. Once you were done, you gave your score to a rep, and were then directed to a table where there were a few posters and giveaways, and a brief survey about the event. But more on that in a bit.
As you may already know, the games we were competing in were Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario. The last of which was by far the most important game, as that’s where the bulk of the scoring comes from. The problem is, no matter how good you are at Dr. Mario, there’s always a certain element of luck involved. You can wind up with a playfield that’s not at all suited for combos (which are what you need to score the necessary amount of points) or you can have the best play field ever, but get none of the pieces you need to actually execute your plan. Of course, you have to be skilled enough to set up said combos, but all in all, I would say this style of Dr. Mario play is somewhere around 60% skill and 40% luck. This makes playing it for points a terrible choice for tournament play. Especially considering that you only get one chance. Or, so it would seem.
This article tells the story of a few locations that allowed players to go to the back of the line and try again, as many times as they wanted within the time limit of the event. Considering I drove 2.5 hours to get to my event, this would have been a nice option to have. Sadly, our event was sticking to the one and done rule. When it came to my turn, I got dealt some of the worst level layouts I had ever experienced. Nothing went my way, but I gave it my all, and wound up with a pretty low score, all things considered. I did score higher than anyone else in my round, but it wasn’t anywhere near the high score of the day. However, I would have gladly gone to the back of the line to try again if it had been an option. Given enough time, I might have actually been able to beat that top score, but I suppose we’ll never know. While I left the tournament ultimately feeling good about the experience, I can’t help but feel a bit salty on the event knowing that others across the country were given a better opportunity than myself. Fair play is an important part of tournaments, and Nintendo missed the mark on this one, which brings me to the other part of the event I was underwhelmed with: The presentation.
What I had expected from the day was a level of excitement that was sorely lacking from the staff. Very few, if any, of the event staff were doing anything to inject a sense of fun into the event. The whole thing seemed very business-like, which was not at all what I was expecting. Now, it’s important to point out that the people running this event were mostly not Nintendo employees. Nintendo contracts a third party to provide people for these types of events, and the batch at my location was clearly not interested in being there. For example, the woman who was running the table with flyers by the entrance was about the least enthusiastic person imaginable. It wasn’t until after I had played that I realized she was there to tell people about a Splatoon promotion the store was running for the day. I did notice her saying something to the people at the front of the line, but those of us more than 5 people away from her had no idea what she was saying, and she had no interest in trying to get the information to the rest of us. Then there’s the fact that this ability to play multiple times was never presented as an option. In the previously mentioned article, people at that location had to get confirmation from Nintendo that people were allowed to play multiple times. There were only eight Best Buys hosting this event. Would it have been that difficult to reach out to them and clarify once it became clear that there was confusion on the subject?
Finally, at the post-game survey, the reps I spoke to were also very deadpan. I wasn’t expecting cartoon characters here, but I was expecting friendliness and excitement. I was expecting some small level of spectacle to entice people who were shopping in the Best Buy to take notice and maybe express some interest in the event and the products it was promoting. I mean, isn’t that the whole point? Instead I was met with boredom and a cramped play area, that looked more like a group of confused people looking at something than an exciting national tournament.
Now, I know this all sounds very negative, but believe me when I say that I did have a good time. The fact of the matter is, I can now say that I’ve competed in the Nintendo World Championships, which is something I’ve wanted to be able to say for 25 years. I can also say that I got beat fair and square by someone who was genuinely better at the game than I am. (The winning score in my location clearly came from a skilled player). Do I wish I was afforded the same opportunities as other competitors across the country? Absolutely. Am I upset that I don’t get to compete in the finals? You bet. We’ve since learned that The Legend of Zelda for NES is going to be one of the 10 games played at the finals, which makes me think that the finals are right up my alley as far as my skill set goes, so it really is a bummer that I won’t get to throw my quarters on the board, so to speak. Would I do it again next year? Without a doubt. It may not have been the event it could have been, but I still believe Nintendo did a good thing here. Let’s just hope that next year, they take it to the next level.