The next action sport

By CAMILLE DODERO  |  November 21, 2006

See, non-tournament Smash matches usually fall into one of two categories: “friendlies” (matches played “for fun” in Smash speak) and “money matches” (games bet on, usually for $5). Sometimes money matches are just a quick way to turn a buck. Other times, they’re grudge matches. Chillin, a Virginia-based Smasher, for instance, recounts his experiences with then-newcomer PC Chris on his MLG blog: “When someone would ask me about PC, I would tell them that I destroyed him and I didn’t think he was very good. Word got around to PC about my thoughts and an unfriendly rivalry was brewing between us. We decided to settle it with a money match at MLG DC in January 2005.”

Today’s Smash tournament is a casual affair, a soapbox derby compared to MLG’s NASCAR. Held in a fluorescent-lit back room off TGA’s dimly lit Dance DanceRevolution stations and Drum Mania 5th Mix, it’s set in video-game purgatory: two couches, two televisions, two GameCubes, a wall of square lockers, and an empty glass display case. The décor includes one single streamer suspended from the ceiling, a confetti-paper specter of some past hurrah.

The organizer of today’s tournament is Spic Tom, a 23-year-old from Mansfield whose birth name is Thomas Vigil. He first played the Nintendo game competitively about a year ago and claims he won the first contest he ever entered. “Everybody was scared of me. They thought I was cheating,” he blusters before his tournament. Vigil estimates that in the past year he’s won about $225 from the game. Early on in the day, he asks, “Is it alright if I call you Cammy? There’s a girl character in Street Fighter named Cammy, so it’ll help me remember.” Immediately he mutters, “I know, I’m a dork.”

Regarding his nickname, Vigil says simply, “It’s funny.” For the record, he’s Peruvian. “It’s not like I’m not Hispanic and saying that,” he clarifies, “I’m blunt, but not racist.” No matter, MLG wouldn’t accept the name of Vigil’s alter-ego when he tried to register for the Smash tournament in New York, so he submitted SST, an acronym for Super Spic Tom. (At MLG NYC, one Smash contestant did get away with the less provocative handle, Dirty Sanchez.)

Competitive games largely fall into three categories: a First Person Shooter (FPS), like Halo 2, where players fire at each other; Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games, like World of Warcraft, war games played in real time; and fighting games, in which competitors fight. The broader fighting-game community, which is also holding tournaments at TGA in an adjacent room for titles like Tekken 5 Dark Resurrection, Guilty Gear XX Slash, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Grand Master Challenge, hates Smash. At one point today, someone from the fighting-game room passes and hollers, “Smash sucks!”

“People think it’s a party game,” admits Smasher Marcus Kennedy, an Intel operations manager who missed today’s event because of his work schedule. “It’s actually a pretty deep fighting game. Those people who yell ‘Smash sucks,’ if they tried to sit down and learn the game, they would find themselves getting destroyed the way I did when I thought I knew about it. . . . To me, Smash depends a lot on how you think, as opposed to what you know how to do.”

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