“Some people think it’s a flaw of the game, not having it online,” says Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung, an 18-year-old UMass Lowell freshman who’s won nearly $20,000 from the game. “But I think it’s one of the biggest pluses in this. You have to go to people’s houses or they go to your house to play. It’s a very social game, unlike [World of] Warcraft or Halo. Halo, you can just play online — I mean, it’s fun, but it doesn’t have the same feel to it, with the person sitting right next to you. And you can just trash-talk, [say] whatever you want: ‘You suck, that’s right!’ ”
It’s likely that Smash will go online in 2007 with the release of Nintendo Wii’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl. When that happens, the game will become much more popular, but it will probably spell the end of this DIY gaming scene.
“The reason we continue to try to build the Smash community is that it sort of fits our criteria,” says MLG’s Sepso. “It’s developed into a sport because the community is very supportive — and very active — and there’re some great personalities in it who’re their top stars.” Besides, he adds, “That’s where we’re from.”
Saturday night's alright (for fighting)
BUTTON MASHING: Scenes from the Halo 2 competition at MLG New York.
MLG mirrors events in far-flung places like Tokyo Game Action (TGA) in Winchendon, Massachusetts, a sleepy town near the New Hampshire border with a population of less than 10,000. Directions to the Japanese-import arcade cite a nearby pond and bridge as landmarks. After making his way up here from Flushing, Queens, 26-year-old Shankar Tablada puts it this way: “This is East Bum-fugg.”
Set off by basketball courts, semi-deserted buildings, and a battalion of unhinged tractor trailers marshaled behind a barbed-wire fence, TGA was relocated here in June, after a couple years in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Owner Andrew McGuire says the goal of his gaming center and black-lit bowling alley is “to give kids a realistic alternative to gangs and drugs.” That it is, at least for some. TGA is a local haven of unadulterated youth, with bikes left outside unattended and unlocked, and pre-driving-age boys punctuating their sentences with open-mouthed burps. But TGA also draws people like Tablada from states away: it has arcade-quality Japanese-cabinet versions of fighting games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and it’s one of the few New England venues that accommodates Smash.
New England is not a Smash locus. (The top five places to play Smash, according to MLG, are Washington, DC; Southern California; New York; Chicago; and Northern California, in that order.) But there are usually tournaments within driving distance on any given weekend: for example, at a Boston University classroom, the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union, and Portland, Maine’s Columbia Social & Athletic Club. Basically anywhere kids can find a free, empty room, a GameCube-compatible TV, and neighbors who won’t complain about a bunch of kids gambling away their lunch money.