We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.









Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lords of Super Smash

By Adam Stone

February 26th—“Fusion 3” Melee Tournament, Semi-Finals

“Stab! Jesse! You two are up at TV one!” Matthew Florida’s voice rang throughout the bustling room, rasping slightly at the end. It had been a long day for the Tournament Organizer, and his throat was growing sore. Florida cleared his throat. “Come on guys, let’s get this going!” His voice echoed about the Cross Cultural Center’s Dr. White Conference Room, the scene of the “Fusion 3” Super Smash Brothers Melee tournament. The room was packed; players from all around Irvine and San Diego had arrived to compete in the 2001 Nintendo GameCube classic fighting videogame Super Smash Brothers Melee.

Matt Tafazoli, the player known as Stab, sauntered over from the other side of the room. He nodded at Florida, his blue earphones wobbling slightly. Stab, a 17 year-old senior at El Toro High School, seemed reserved. The upcoming match between himself and Jesse would determine who would be left in 4th place, and who would get a shot at the Finals match. Stab, though rated 18th in the Southern California player Power Rankings, was slated to fight one of San Diego’s strongest arrivals.

“Jesse! Where you at?” Florida called out again. The crowd in the opposite corner shifted. Wading through it was Jesse, making his way towards Florida and Stab. The crowd decided to follow him. Florida turned to the players occupying TV one. “Hey guys, I need you to move. We’re having Losers Semi-Finals here in a minute.” The four chairs arced around the TV were vacated, and Jesse arrived a moment later with his crowd in tow. “Alright guys, have at it.”

Florida stood back as Stab and Jesse took neighboring chairs in front of the TV. Each unwound their respective cable-wrapped controller and plugged them into the little indigo GameCube sitting to the TV’s right. The character selection screen popped up on the television; twenty five animated faces peered out of individual windows, their names captioned underneath them. Stab and Jesse each placed their character selection token on the bird-like character emblazoned “Falco.” Someone pressed start and the stage selection screen appeared.

Stab and Jesse turned towards each other, fists extended. One, two, three. Rock! Scissors! Stab won, gaining first round stage picking rights. The match was only moments away, and a large crowd was gathering behind them. The start button was pressed again, and an announcer’s voice blared from the TV.

“Ready!”

“Aw shoot, here we go!”

“GO!”

The match had begun. Stab shifted forward in his chair; his fingers let fly over his controller. Jesse tensed up in the seat to his left. Both controllers clicked and clacked wildly in the fight to advance.

The objective of Melee is simple: kick, punch, throw, shoot, slam, and smash your opponent until you can knock him out of the ring. Knock your opponent out four times to win the match. Simple, but not easy.

“Alright. These are Semi-Finals. Falco dittos. Stab against Jesse.”

Jeremy Westfahl, known to the Smash community as Fly Amanita, had manned the commentators’ seat. Fly, ranked 5th on the Southern California player Power Ranking chart, had a vested interest in this match’s outcome; the winner would be facing him to see who would place 3rd in the tournament, and who would go on to Grand Finals. Another viewer stood over Fly’s shoulder and began to talk into the recording laptop microphone.

“Yeah boy! Stab is red, but you know that already because—”

He was swiftly interrupted by the crowd’s cheers. Fifteen seconds into the match and Jesse was pulling ahead. But the match had only just begun.

To an uninformed onlooker, the scene would appear utterly bizarre: a crowd of thirty teenage spectators swarmed around a single TV, cheering and gasping as they watched two animated, humanoid birds kick each other across on screen. But that was par course in the tournament scene of Super Smash Brothers Melee.

Jesse moved in for the finishing blow, but Stab reacted just in time. On screen, the red Falco took a defensive swipe at the oncoming white Falco. The characters were thrown across the screen, momentarily separated.

“Ohh!” The crowd behind Stab and Jesse was watching attentively. Stab took a deep breath and adjusted himself. He hadn’t been knocked out yet. It could still be an even game.

“The crowd doesn’t understand that you can DI these things,” said a dismissive voice. McCain LaVelle, known by his gamer tag MacD, sat next to Fly in the commentators’ seats. He was referring to the defensive technique known as Direction Influence (often shortened to DI), which allows players to manipulate the direction in which they are thrown to a certain extent. “Woahh!” The crowd gave another excitable cheer as both Falcos managed to recover. MacD sighed, returning to the match. Like Fly sitting next to him, he had a special interest in the match’s victor. MacD, ranked 7th on the Southern California player Power Ranking list, was awaiting the next contender for Grand Finals, the set that would determine the tournament winner. Fly and MacD continued to watch intently, pointing out key occurrences in the match.

Back on the TV, the two Falcos were charging center stage, recommencing the fight. Deft button strokes from Stab and Jesse translated to quick jabs and fierce kicks onscreen. Stab had fallen behind, but, in a brief instant, the battle tides turned. Jesse’s white Falco was popped upwards over the edge of the stage.

“Oh he’s dead,” called MacD. Stab seized his opportunity and smashed Jesse’s Falco downward beyond the stage and off screen. The first Knock Out. Stab sighed in relief and smiled. He had a few seconds before Jesse’s Falco respawned with his second of four lives. With another quick button press, Stab’s Falco did a showy twirl and gave a haughty laugh. The crowd jeered.

“Oh damn, taunt?” MacD responded, amused. “That was some disrespect—he didn’t even do anything that cool.” But Stab didn’t care. He was simply goading Jesse, his lead only slight. Not even a minute had passed.

The Loser’s Semi-Finals set in the recent Fusion 3 Super Smash Brothers Melee tournament quickly forged a new rivalry between the Irvine and San Diego “Smash Communities.” Stab, a rising tournament contender from Irvine, clashed with the San Diego representative Jesse for the chance to advance into Loser’s Finals and, subsequently, Grand Finals. This particular tournament spectacle indicated one thing: Melee had taken root in the Irvine gaming communities, and its presence was strong.

VDC Norte, One Month before the Fusion 3 Tournament

Stab leaned back onto the hallway wall, waiting by the door. His light brown cap covered his eyes as he looked down at the blackberry phone in his hand. Beside him stood Rei, searching a key ring in front of the door. The jingling echoed in the hallway. On the wall opposite to Stab leaned GSUB, his left foot propped on the wall, both hands in his pockets. Anto paced slowly between them, waiting silently. “Here we go,” Rei muttered. With a rough, saw-like noise, the key slid into the handle and turned with a click. He pushed the door inward, withdrawing the key with another grinding crunch. The others followed him inside. As the lights flickered on, Stab spoke.

“I’ll start calling people up. Let’s get this Smashfest going.”

Melee, second of Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers series, maintains a large underground following. Nearly a decade after its release, the game is still played competitively and continues to attract more players. But what exactly is Melee? On the surface, it’s nothing more than an all-star fighting game for Nintendo characters. “Melee takes all of Nintendo’s main mascots,” Florida explained. “Like Super Mario, Samus from the Metroid Series, Link from The Legend of Zelda—there’s a whole cast, a ton of characters—and it puts them into one fighting game where you can pit them against each other.” Released for the Nintendo GameCube console in December of 2001, Melee went on to sell over 7 million copies worldwide. Casual Melee players hosted numerous tournaments in the years right after the game’s release. But then, something happened. The gaming scene around Melee began to evolve.

“The Melee competitive scene got really big in 2004,” Florida continued. “Rules became more refined. Unfair stages were banned, and items were removed. Four stocks and a time limit became the standard. Competitive videos started appearing on YouTube.” These videos proved to be an immense catalyst for the competitive scene’s development. “I think it was the Bombsoldier versus Ken videos, where Ken flew over to Japan to play,” Florida reminisced. “Those were sick! Oh man, if that didn’t get into you… You could get hooked into Smash just from watching those sets, they were so legendary. And that was in 2006.” The competitive scene had exploded from there.

Competitive Melee matches are typically held between two players. Each player selects a character from the roster, and then the two agree upon a stage. Playable stages are, essentially, floating “islands in the sky.” The objective is to knock your opponent off the stage and ensure he cannot make it back. If unable to make it back onstage, or recover, the player will fall to the bottom of the screen and disappear. This ring out results in a loss of a life commonly referred to as a stock loss or a KO (Knock Out). Each player has four stocks. The first to deplete their opponent’s four stocks wins the match.

The premise of the game is simple on paper, but in practice many variables come into play. Melee features 26 playable characters, 11 of which are considered good enough to be tournament viable. Each character has a unique combination of innate properties such as Falling Speed, Running Speed, Jump Height, and Knockback Resistance. On top of that, most characters have a unique set of attacks. Like the characters themselves, each attack varies by a set of properties. These variations come together to make each character exceptionally different and something to consider strategically, especially when choosing a stage for the fight. The community deems 8 of the 29 available stages to be balanced enough for tournament play. The stages, like the characters fighting on them, vary significantly and influence the outcome of a fight.

Casual players rarely notice or pay attention to these factors. At entry level play, the game is considerably easy and intuitive. It’s simply a matter of knocking the opponent away until he fails to recover. When shown the game’s potential, however, many players, such as Fly Amanita, venture deeper into the community. “I played Melee casually for a long time,” Fly said. “When I learned it had a competitive side, it was really interesting to see this game played in ways I had never dreamt of.” Fly entered the competitive scene summer of 2007, and eventually developed into one of Southern California’s top players.

Melee’s intense depth frequently overwhelms newcomers to the competitive scene. Even so, the Smash community continues to grow. The “easy to learn, impossible to master” nature of Melee resulted in a huge pool of casual players who eventually crossed over into the competitive side.

Within an hour of the first phone call, the apartment was bursting full of people. Five people stuffed the couch meant for three. Every other chair in the apartment remained occupied at all times, often by more than one person at a time. Armrests became viable seats. Those without a seat either stood or plopped themselves down on the floor. Four TVs were scattered between the living room and the kitchen, each one hooked up to a GameCube and tuned into ongoing games. As the afternoon wore on, players joined and left periodically. Every half hour, someone new would enter to cheerful greetings by the room. “Hey Hyprid! How’re you doing? Where’ve you been?” And almost as frequently, someone would have to leave, late for a prior engagement. “Ah well, see you next time Julian!”

This was a Smashfest: a gathering of Melee players to play smash and hang out on a Friday night. Everyone knew each other, and was, at the very least, well acquainted with one another. People brought TVs and set-ups, the items required to run Melee. A set-up consisted of three things: a Nintendo GameCube with its constituent cables, a Melee game disc, and a memory card with game data. Smashers brought these together, sometimes each having to contribute a different piece to the set-up. A mutual trust ran throughout the gatherers.

How do these meetings form, especially on such short notice? The answer lies online. The internet forums called Smash Boards are known to every Smash player in the community. In fact, the Smash community defines itself primarily by the participating members of the Smash Boards. These forums are a key communication tool for Smashers. “Oh the Smash Boards,” mused MacD. “It’s a great place for talking and socializing and finding things out. It’s where we all communicate, especially for tournament postings and character advice and help.” Smash Boards sections off a portion of the forums for regional specific threads. At the most specific level, regions are separated by phone area codes; Irvine and its neighbor cities fall into the “949 Thread.” It is here that potential Smashfests are announced a few days beforehand. With this knowledge made public, it becomes a simple matter of showing up.

At Smashfests, personal shields drop and the community reveals many interesting facets. Smash lingo and technical jargon flow freely in conversation. “No johns,” smashers playfully throw back and forth at each other between matches. In other words, “you lost—no excuses.” More respectful matches might end with a nod and a verbalized “gg,” typist shorthand for “good game.” One sided matches get jeers from the spectators. “Damn son! Don’t get three-stocked!” Getting three-stocked, or two-stocked or four-stocked, refers to the degree of a loss. A player is said to “three-stock” his opponent if he wins with three of his own lives intact. A “two-stock” means two intact lives and a “four-stock” means all four lives remain. Each number has its own implications: a one-stock is acknowledged as a good match, a two-stock is considered a decisive match, a three-stock is regarded as a bad defeat, and a four-stock is recognized as complete domination. “It’s getting your ass whopped,” laughed Florida.

The most interesting community aspect is the naming; every player gives himself a name, also referred to as a gamer tag. This gamer tag is the screen name you sign up with at the Smash Board forums. All throughout a Smashfest some of the most bizarre greetings and farewells are exchanged. “Hey GSUB, how’s it going?” “So when is the next GREV going to be, Stab?” Gamer tags range from simple to ludicrous. Some players, such as Anto Park, go by their name. In some cases, this is because they never created a Smash Boards account. “I just lurk on the boards,” reports Julian Kao, a respectably strong player who frequents Smashfests. “I never actually made a name. People just call me Julian.” Lurking, in Julian’s case, refers to viewing forums without interacting yourself. Other players use previous nicknames to create their gamer tags. “‘Hybrid’ was an old nickname of mine from high school,” recalls Hyprid, who is currently ranked 20th in the Southern California community. “My friends were either full Chinese or full white, but I’m half and half. Hence the name ‘Hybrid.’ But at the first tournament I went to, they misspelled the name. So I just stuck with it.” Some people took on more humorous names. “Mine was originally Stabbedbyahippie,” explains Stab. “I thought that would be a funny name…because you wouldn’t get stabbed by a peace-loving hippie. Then I changed it to Stabbedbyanipple because someone offered me five bucks to do it. But people just call me Stab.”

The Smash Community also maintains a ranking system known as the Power Rankings. Regionally based, the Power Rankings keep a record of the top players within a given area. Placement on the Power Rankings is calculated through tournament outcomes; consistently high tournament results and frequent victories against other ranked players will put a player on the list. These lists typically extend to the top 10 players. Southern California, however, has a phenomenally high player base. “SoCal has been getting more and more people,” Stab reports. “We went from 10 originally, to 15, and now we have a 20 person ranking system. And mind you,” he adds, “it’s only the best 20. There are hundreds of players in SoCal and we don’t rank all of them.” Stab himself is ranked at 18th in the Southern California region. Irvine as a whole, in fact, has a proportionately large share of ranked players. Hyprid, ranked 20th on the charts, is a UCI freshman. MacD, placing 7th on the list, is a third year Business Economics major at UCI. Fly Amanita, hitting the charts at 5th place, is a mathematics Teachers Assistant and graduate student at UCI. Sitting near the top at 3rd place is perhaps UCI’s strongest Melee player, Julian Zhu, a third year Chemical Engineering major who uses his surname as his gamer tag.

A noticeable trend runs throughout the players in the community. “A lot of the players are young,” says Fly. “Lots of high school students. Mostly high school juniors and seniors and then Undergraduates.” Irvine’s populous smash community can be attributed to its high school density. From its myriad of colleges like UCI, Cal State Fullerton, and Irvine Valley College, to its vast range of high schools such as University, Northwood, and Woodbridge High, Irvine has a massive pool of students. The Smash Community draws from this pool, swelling its ranks as friends introduce new members. These introductions range from tournament participation to simple Smashfest invitations. It has kept the community alive and thriving for almost a full decade now.

Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Florida arrived at the Smashfest to warm greetings. “Matt! Hey Matt, when’s the Fusion tournament going to be?” Fusion, a UCI Filipino engineering club, had developed a fundraiser by hosting a quarterly Melee tournament. As far as small, local tournaments go, the Fusion series had been fairly successful, averaging about 30 singles entrants for each tournament. Florida, the former Fusion treasurer, served as Fusion’s Tournament Organizer due to his familiarity with the Smash community. “I’m not quite sure yet,” he replied to the room as a whole. “The Dr. White room has been heavily booked this quarter. I’m working on securing a date.” A smile played on his face; he had plans for a date, but wasn’t certain enough to announce just yet. Soon enough, Florida was absorbed into the room, and the night played out.

February 13th—Fusion Board Meeting, Two Weeks before Fusion 3

“The tournament is going to be on Saturday, the 26th of February,” Florida announced to the Fusion board members. They had gathered for their weekly board meeting where Florida had planned to make his announcement. “That’s the weekend between Weeks 8 and 9, and it was the only day available. I will have a posting on Smash Boards later this week.” Florida spoke with mild disappointment. “There are two concerns right now. First, this is the weekend right after Pound V.” Pound V, the international Melee tournament taking place on the east coast, posed only a mild threat to Fusion 3. It was, after all, on the other side of the country. Pound V and Fusion 3 also differed vastly in scale; Pound V’s expected turnout was well over 200 entrants, while the Fusion standard was closer to 30 entrants. Local tournaments like Fusion 3 also tended to attract a less competitive level of players compared to the internationals like the Pound series. Irvine, however, held a significant number of international level players, such as MacD, Fly, and Zhu. Such players generally bring more attention and excitement to tournaments. If they exhaust themselves at Pound V, their attendance at Fusion 3 would be doubtful. “This may affect our turnout,” Florida continued. “Secondly, our tournament coincides with Rival Schools, which is going to be held in the Student Center buildings the same day.” Rival Schools was a state-wide Street Fighter tournament between college campuses. UC Irvine was playing host to the competition this year. Like Pound V, this event was a potential drain for Fusion 3’s turnout. Rival Schools was going to be much larger, attracting those who played both Street Fighter and Melee along with additional spectators. “We’re going to have to booth a lot over Week 8,” Florida concluded. “We have work to do.”

Three days later, Florida, under the name ahchoomattchu, posted a new thread in the Smash Boards’ Tournament Listings section. “I use the name ahchoomattchu for pretty much everything online,” Florida revealed. “My gamer tag is basically my internet identity. It’s from my, uh, distinct sneezing characteristics,” he laughed. “And then Mattchu was always a nickname for me. I got it from my family. They’re Filipino, and some… Well, most Filipinos from the homeland all have that accent. So instead of saying ‘Matthew’ it’s ‘Mah-chu!’ So I combined them, it rhymes. Cute, right? This was like, what, 2004?” He laughed again.

His post, titled “Melee @ UCI ~ Fusion 3,” listed the time, location, rules, costs, and features planned for Fusion 3. Doors opened 11:00am, February 26th at the Cross Cultural Center’s Dr. White Conference Room. Florida provided maps and directions to reach the venue from the 405 freeway. The rules were standard: four stocks with an eight minute time limit per match. Fusion 3, like nearly every tournament, had “BYOC” policy, short for “bring your own controller.” One versus one tournament entry, also known as Singles brackets, had a five dollar entry fee, as did the two versus two Doubles brackets. Doubles competitions, referred to simply as “teams,” were taken less seriously, but still held at most tournaments before the Singles bracket. A five dollar venue fee was also included in the price.

“The brackets entry money goes to the respective pots for winning,” Florida explained. “Typically in tournaments, first place gets 60% of the pot, second place gets 30%, and third place gets 10%. So with 30 entrants, each of them paying the five dollar Singles bracket fee, you would have a pot of 150 dollars and you would split that accordingly.” Florida spoke with an official tone. “Fusion is not allowed to do this at UCI, because certain rules interpret this as gambling. So instead, we purchase Visa gift cards beforehand and offer them as prizes. Loopholes and such,” he said with a smile. This mild impediment, however, complicated Florida’s role as the Tournament Organizer. Attendance estimation became more critical than simple venue preparations. “As for the venue fee,” Florida continued. “We use part of it for food, part of it to cover whatever might be missing from the singles and doubles pot, and the remainder is profit. This is Fusion’s primary fundraiser. With good turnout, Fusion usually makes around 80 bucks. But mind you, it’s a full day of work from the Fusion members.”

Florida also entered a request for setups in his post: “Discounts off venue fee if you bring setup stuff and we use it! (-$3 for TV, -$2 for Console+Game).” Setups were critical to smooth running at a tournament. “Ideally, we’d like about… I’d say 10 setups or so,” Florida estimated. “The more matches you can have running at the same time, the better. It’s also typical for tournaments to discount the venue fee if you contribute.” Florida’s post concluded with “The Smash booth will be found on Ring Road near the venue/Aldrich Hall!”

February 22nd—Ring Road at UCI, 4 Days before Fusion 3

The next Tuesday, Fusion had prepared their booth as Florida promised. A battered blue E-Z Up tent stood across from Aldrich Hall in front of the Cross Cultural Center hanging a large banner bearing the Fusion logo. A long table running lengthwise at the front supported a TV and a Melee setup. A signup sheet and a pen rested next to the TV, stuck down with a scrap of masking tape. A few names were scrawled at the top in blue ink. Behind the table sat two chairs; an extension cable snaked between them, diving over the bushes behind the booth in search of a power outlet.

“It’s advertising,” said Florida. “It beats posters on Ring Road bridges, although we have those, too.” He laughed. Fusion members would come and go throughout the day, sitting behind the table to supervise the booth. Meanwhile, the occasional passersby would stop to play or watch for a couple minutes. Flyers were distributed to the passerby, and if they showed interest, the signup sheet was right up front.

Florida leaned back in his chair, laptop on his knees. He was viewing the Smash Boards. A smile played across his face. “San Diego is coming.” Comments had been appearing on the Fusion 3 post since the announcement, confirming whether or not fellow Smashers would be able to make. But a new one had appeared. “Shit’s going down. Sd is going to come in and kick ass on your turf,” posted soccerdrew17. The next post by Engdrew confirmed: “sd’s coming. Seriously, we’re traveling for once LOL.” Florida looked up in excitement. “They’ll be bringing maybe 10 to 15 extra entrants. Excellent.”

Friday night, Fusion held one last preliminary meeting to prepare for the next day’s tournament. Florida and the board members met in a Dartmouth residence near 8 in the evening. “Alright guys, we need to have everything at the venue door by 10:00am,” Florida spoke with severity. “This means we’ll have to start meeting up no later than 9 or 9:30. We need all of our own TVs, setups, power strips, and laptops. I think we have five setups accounted for…?” He looked over at the external vice-president Carlvin Metra for confirmation. Metra nodded, adding “assuming we have both TVs from the 147 residence.” Florida nodded back. “Alright then. We have to be ready by 11:00am.” He began delegating roles and morning assignments. “Carlvin, can you get the food and drink in the morning? Take someone with you. Jonah, we’re going to need your car if that’s alright. We should have a total of three for tomorrow, and that should be enough. Now, somebody is going to have to go get the pizza as well.” He carried on with the assignments for a few minutes.

“Alright guys, that should be it. San Diego is coming up here tomorrow, so we need to be on top of things. If things go well, we might have around 40 entrants tomorrow. Are there any objections?” There was one. Many of the board members were concerned about the food. Providing pizza, along with drinks and chips, for 40 people would be expensive. This event served as Fusion’s primary fundraiser and would require a full day of work. “I’m not sure we should be doing this,” voiced the president, Karl Moselina. “We’ll have the drinks and chips covered, sure. But the pizza will add at least another 40 dollars to the cost. People usually leave for UTC to eat lunch anyway.” Many in the circle agreed. Someone voiced an added concern that “buying six pizzas would only assure each person a single slice.” Florida pursed his lips. He spoke with slow deliberation. “It’s ultimately up to you guys. But this is going to be one of the last tournaments I host. I want it to be good. I will pay for it myself in that’s what needs to happen.”

February 26th—Morning of the Fusion 3 Melee Tournament

Things had not gone according to plan. The Dr. White Room was inexplicably locked. Phone calls were going unanswered. Food was not yet purchased. The club’s choice on pizza was still unmade. Moving the five TVs had proved to be difficult. Florida sighed. “I’m going to go find someone that can unlock this door.” And he left. A couple of Fusion members had stayed behind to keep watch over the stockpiled electronics. Twenty minutes passed in front of the Dr. White room without incident.

Florida eventually returned with someone in tow. The door unlocked, Fusion hauled the TVs and setups inside. There was a rush in the air. A storage closet to the left of the entrance held about 15 tables and 40 chairs. “Alright guys,” Florida called out. “We have half an hour to get this place going. Let’s do this.”

Thirty minutes later, the room was done. Tables lined the walls, spaced carefully around power outlets. Snacks and drinks loaded down tables in the center of the room. The corner by the door was cordoned off with tables as a work space for Fusion. Chairs had been placed in neat arcs around anticipated TV spots. What TVs they had were plugging in with Melee running. The room slowly filled with Melee’s opening theme music. “Alright,” Florida said in approval. “We’re good!” The doors for Fusion 3 were opened.

Fly Amanita arrived first, quietly poking into the room as the clock hit 11:00am. “As usual, Fly, how’s it going?” Florida asked with enthusiasm. “Not bad, yourself?” Fly responded politely. They spoke for a minute, and then Fly nodded politely again. He made his way to a TV, controller in hand. “That is guy is probably the smartest, most technical Ice Climbers player out there,” Florida revealed. “He’s my idol for Ice Climber mains.” To main a character referred to player preferences. Fly played primarily with the Eskimo-like character duo known as the Ice Climbers, and he has nearly unrivaled skill with them. As such, Fly is considered and Ice Climbers main. Another player may have a great preference for using the character Falco, and would thus be considered a Falco main. “I main Ice Climbers myself,” continued Florida. “They’re probably the most unique character in the game. The Ice Climbers are two characters. You are controlling two characters at once, Popo and Nana. Well, Nana is basically a computer that mimics everything you do with a slight delay…” Over at the TV, Fly was warming up his hands. His long, light hair made him exceptionally easy to find, even in large crowds. He had an unassuming look about him, but when it came time to compete, he held no punches. “The stuff he does is amazing,” said Florida admiringly.

“I think my position on the SoCal Power Rankings is fairly accurate,” Fly said calmly. He drifted off thoughtfully, tilting his head to the right as he pondered. “I’d probably rank myself a little lower, but that’s just…I don’t know. I’m not interested in how I rank compared to other people. I’m interested in measuring my progress. I like to improve. I like seeing the fruits of efforts.” Fly put thought into his actions. Even his name had an intriguing origin. “I wanted a name that was relevant to Nintendo but not in an immediately obvious way,” he said with a grin. “So I went with one of the few different names for the Amanita Muscaria mushroom which is a red mushroom with white dots. Like the Mario ones.”

A few minutes later, Stab waltzed in the door. “Hey guys, how’s it going?” Florida laughed. “You would be here already, Stab.” The two talked briefly, and then Stab made way for a TV. A steady trickle of players began to arrive. Florida manned the laptop, registering players as they entered and paid. Slowly, the room began to fill. Friendly matches were being played all around the room. People were meeting, exchanging greetings, and plugging in to play. Around noon, a massive group entered the Dr. White room. San Diego had arrived.

MacD happened to arrive in the midst of the crowd, towering above most of them. Standing at six feet three inches in a clean, blue dress shirt and slacks, MacD seemed imposing. But his affable laugh and friendly chatter betrayed that first impression. “I love the Smash community. It seems like we have at least one of every type of person. You have the kids who are like 15, you have those of us in college, and you have a few adults. You have every race and every social background. You have some rich kids, some poor kids.” MacD spoke cheerfully, explaining his serious attire. “There was an interview on campus at 11, so it worked out perfectly for me. So I stopped by the venue for a second before I going back to change.” And with that, he disappeared briefly. The tournament was scheduled to begin in half an hour. Florida was growing excited. “We’ve got 15 teams for Doubles and 42 entrants for Singles. This is a new record.”

Fusion 3 Singles Tournament

Doubles had been played out, dominated by the relentlessly strong combination of Fly and MacD. But the contest was only just beginning; the singles tournament would begin momentarily. The smell of pizza hung in the air as players ate from the center tables. Florida sat in the cordoned corner, preparing the pools for singles brackets. The Pools served as the first round of tournament eliminations. All entrants would be separated into seven pools, each containing six players. Every player would face off against the others in their own pool and be ranked on how well they did. The top three in each pool made it into the brackets. “This is helpful for keeping brackets under 32 people, which is too hectic to manage,” said Florida. He was busy drawing out grids to keep track of pool results. “Also, even the bad players are guaranteed at least five games. Gives them more play time, even if they end up eliminated.” Florida stood up with the completed grids.

“Alright everybody, listen up!” He shouted with a startlingly loud voice. “In Pool 1, we have Fly Amanita, Taco, KirbyRAAAAAAAEG…” Florida proceeded to shout out the Pools and instructions, ending with a dire warning. “Keep careful track, and be honest. I will disqualify whole pools if you do not cooperate.” And they were off. The pools separated and began their matches. “This should go smoothly,” Florida said, stepping down from the chair. “We have 15 setups. This tournament is setting all kinds of records for me.” He left to join his pool.

Competition between two players started before the set began; a Rock, Paper, Scissors duel traditionally preceded every set. This duel was held to see who would gain stage picking rights for the first match of the set. For two even players, having a preferred stage first could mean all the difference. This pre-match competition, however, was breezed over by some. Others, such as Fusion’s Academics Coordinator Bernard “Boji” Capulong, had clever approaches to the duel. “I always declare what I’m going,” said Boji. “Usually it’s rock. It freaks them out, and they almost always choose scissors. Rock first usually wins it for me.” He demonstrated in his match against Anto Park. Looking Anto in the eye, Boji stated plainly “I’m choosing rock.” Anto’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. He had just listened to Boji’s Rock-First explanation and couldn’t decide if it was meant to be a show for him. They extended their fists. One, two, three. Rock! Scissors! “See?” Boji said with satisfaction.

Over in his pool, MacD played without any trouble. Described by Fly as “easily the West Coast’s best Peach player,” MacD stomped his pool competitors. “Free trip to Winner’s Finals!” he said with a boastful smile. Like Fly, MacD began playing competitively back in the summer of 2007. “I’ve always only had Nintendo systems, ever since I was a kid,” he reminisced. “I bought the game when it came out, before I had a GameCube even. I knew I’d be getting one for Christmas. Then about junior year of high school, my friend introduced me to Smash Boards.” He laughed, recalling how he went about picking his name. “The name McCain gets a lot of nicknames. McThis, MacThat, you know. One of the names I had was MacDaddy. And at the time I made my tag, I thought it had to be four letters long. So I shortened it to MacD.”

Back in the other pool, Boji was preparing to face Combofest. They extended fists for the quick duel. “Wait a second,” Anto called. He leaned into Combofest’s ear, whispering. Boji stared blankly. Anto pulled away and Combofest nodded. “I’m going rock,” Boji stated with a bored smile. One, two, three. Scissors! Paper! “What?!” Anto was annoyed. Boji turned to the TV and began selecting the stage.

Fusion 3—Singles Bracket

Pools had concluded after an hour, eliminating roughly half of the entrants. Singles Brackets had been running for awhile; there were only four players left. Stab, Fly, MacD, and Jesse from San Diego remained in the competition. During Winner’s Semi-Finals, Fly knocked Jesse down into the Loser’s Bracket. MacD did the same to Stab. In Winner’s Finals, MacD won out over Fly, putting him into Loser’s Brackets as well. The fight-order from here was simple. Jesse and Stab would fight. The victor of the two would go on to face Fly in Loser’s Finals. The winner there would then battle MacD in Grand Finals. MacD, however, held a great advantage. As the victor of the winner’s bracket, he would have to be beaten in two sets, whereas he only needed to win one more.

Exhaustion pervaded the tournament, however. It was past 8 o’clock in the evening. Many had arrived before noon, and the sun had set log ago. San Diego only had one challenger remaining in the competition, one chance left to win money. Florida was taking a quick break. The smashers, meanwhile, were quietly playing on the free TVs. Most of the noise was coming from a crowd in the back corner, where some spectacle was occurring. That spectacle was Julian Zhu, who arrived in the middle of tournament brackets. “Fusion 3 was right after Pound V,” MacD explained on his behalf. “So he’d had enough serious Melee for awhile. He was fine taking a break to do homework or be with his girlfriend. But I think one of his plans fell through, so he came here.”

On the other side of the room, Anto had challenged Boji to a money match. Money matches were private bets between two players. Generally, the two would play a best of three set with tournament rules to determine the winner. The victor would win whatever was bet. Friendlier money matches were typically over small amounts of money, ten dollars at the most. Serious money matches, often dubbed “grudge matches,” could reach hundreds of dollars. This money match was completely different, however. It wasn’t even over a game of Melee. Anto had challenged Boji to a best-of-one Rock, Paper, Scissors money match for the grand total amount of one dollar. Florida and Combofest stood by, watching amusedly. “I’m going to tell Matt what you’re going to do,” Anto announced. Boji smiled blankly as Anto leaned over to Florida and whispered. Anto pulled back and extended his fist. Boji extended his own fist, his blank smile unchanged. “You know what I’m going to do,” he said. One, two, three. Scissors! Paper! “Excellent! My first money match victory!” Boji picked up the two dollars with gusto.

Back in the opposite corner of the room, Zhu was handing out four-stocks. A crowd had gathered behind him to watch. Player after player sat next to him for a friendly match. If they were particularly skilled, or lucky, they would only lose by two stocks. “Amazing,” murmured onlookers. Florida’s voice called out over the noise.

“Stab! Jesse! You two are up at TV one!” At that moment, however, Jesse was in the middle of a match with Zhu. It ended in a swift three-stock. “Good game,” Jesse sighed, standing up. “Good luck,” Zhu nodded. Jesse made his way through the crowd. The San Diego players followed him to TV one. The seats were emptied just as they arrived. “Alright guys,” Florida motioned, “have at it.”

The fight between Stab and Jesse was fast paced and tense. San Diego gave spirited cheers for Jesse, jeering at Irvine and Stab. “Oh my god Irvine, what is up with you guys?” A voice from the San Diego crowd said mockingly. “Hey! Who’s winning? Who’s winning? Who’s winning?” Irvine taunted back repeatedly. Laughter and cheering was filling the room as most of the smashers had gathered to watch the set. After 15 minutes hard fighting, a winner emerged; Stab took the set 3 to 1 on the fourth match. The two shook hands, and the crowd gave one last cheer.

After Jesse’s defeat, the San Diego crowd mellowed. There was not much excitement over the remaining matches. Stab went on to fight Fly and lost, taking third place. Fly advanced to Grand Finals, managing to win the first set. However, Fly needed to win two sets in order to win 1st place. MacD took the second set, securing 1st place for himself.

The gathering had burnt out. Smashers were exchanging farewells and gathering their possessions. TVs were uprooted from the walls, setups were haphazardly thrown into backpacks, and controllers were wrapped and pocketed. One by one, the smashers exited through the door and into the night.

At the end of the day…

Silence filled the Dr. White Room for the first time in nearly 12 hours. Empty soda bottles, cups, and napkins were strewn about the floor. Tables and chairs sat about without rhyme or reason, as if someone had halfheartedly attempted to put them away. The only sound in the room came from the clock on the wall, ticking tirelessly. It was 10:30 in the evening. Florida and the Fusion workers sat on the ground in a broken circle, away from the main clutter of the room. Nobody spoke. Nobody had the energy to speak. Florida was posting the tournament results on the Fusion 3 thread. “At the end of the day… You clean up, you go home, you log on to Smash Boards.” He spoke heavily. “And you read the shout-outs. And people say they had fun. After everything’s over, people talk to you and say they had fun, or you did a good job. All my effort put into the tournament, organizing it, running it, and then hearing it was successful. Those are my happiest, proudest moments as a Tournament Organizer.”

But Matthew Florida was impatient. He was already reading the comments on his thread, eyes moving slowly over the words. “Fun tournament. Thanks for hosting Matt.” Combofest posted. “SD, you’re pretty good.” “This was fun,” Jesse had written. “GG’s to everyone. Irvine is cool.” Stab followed him with shout-outs: “Jesse – GGs, and you have very loud fans haha. Matt – GOOD **** HOSTING BRO.” A smile played across Florida’s face.

“Alright guys,” he said. “Let’s clean up.”


Reporting Notes:

Attended two Smashfests in the weeks prior to the Tournament

Visited Fusion booth multiple times prior to the Tournament

Attended Fusion’s preparations meeting

Attended Fusion Tournament on February 26th from 10am to 10pm

Lengthy Interview with Matt “Stabbedbyahippie” Tafazoli

Lengthy Interview with Matthew “Ahchoomattchu” Florida

Lengthy Interview with Jeremy “Fly Amanita” Westfahl

Lengthy Interview with McCain “MacD” LaVelle

Interview with Kevin “Hyprid”

Interview with Bernard “Boji”

Matt Tafazoli’s YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/stabbedbyahippie

Smash Boards: http://www.smashboards.com/

Power Ranking thread: http://www.smashboards.com/showthread.php?t=220631

Fusion Tournament thread: http://www.smashboards.com/showthread.php?p=12194678

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