Jade Gaming couldn’t have seen this much traffic in months. There was no way. I’d never seen so many people in the building at once. The turnout was nothing remarkable – Western Grand Rally had to filter through several pools, hundreds strong, before it had anything resembling an official roster- but I was taken aback all the same. As planned, I immediately set to the task of remembering faces, as these would be my many rivals for the foreseeable future.
“Joel,” Perry stifled my shoulder, “Look.”
I followed his eyes to a long table where three stations were already retrofitted with Anarchy. The tournament hadn’t begun, so I figured these were just social matches (a.k.a. “friendlies”). Didn’t stop me from some exploratory action as Perry and I drifted over to watch.
It was no surprise when I studied each player and found them all quite formidable. One in particular caught my attention, a man whose tag read ‘iso’. He mained Lynx, a predatory feline battle-cat. He was a force of nature.
My eyes turned down to his opponent, who was muttering low-yield curses as he received damage debt at an extraordinary rate.
Iso played with a certain, how should I say, industrial efficiency. Every read and judgment was precise. Lynx didn’t move without certain reason. Even through his posture all of these traits remained. Iso was straight-backed, yet poised, and the controller was nearly mute in his hands.
But iso was not the only noteworthy thing in the room. Jordan and Comet had taken to discussion with a young lady to whom they were obviously familiar. What’s more, she had a controller, so I memorized her face, knowing we might be throwing down some time in the next couple of hours. Davis pitted ten dollars on a money match with somebody who could have been his brother. This seemed a tradition between the two, and drew in a small group of spectators to bare witness.
GG had found himself before a large screen with over two-dozen names scripted in symmetrical balance.
“Oh, the roster,” Perry made quick to study its contents more closely. Not like I didn’t.
Perry tapped an idle finger against his lips, “Trapanese?”
“Weird name,” I said, though truth be told, most of the names seemed weird. If not weird, then lazy.
Like, seriously. Legolas? Really?
“Could have been worse,” GG said in an arid, disconnected sort of way.
I lodged an authoritative finger at the screen, “What about this Dougie fella?”
A few lethargic seconds passed and he shrugged, “Never met the guy. Probably new, like you two.”
That was reassuring. My first opponent was coming from clear out of left field. No pre-emptive strategizing to be done. A completely unknown variable.
“And what’s gotten into you?” I asked GG, eyes folding.
He was looking papery, “A few things,” he directed our attention to different names on the screen, “First there’s R3M1X. He hasn’t been around for a few months because of family issues, but he’s claimed two grand prizes at the monthly tourney in the past. He’s very good, and he’s in my bracket.”
GG continued, “Comet is facing Miikii, so she probably won’t advance beyond the first round, and even if she did-”
“There’d be iso standing in the way after that,” I finished. GG gave me a look. “I saw him playing friendlies. He’s like a machine.”
GG nodded, “He beats Jordan most of the time.”
“Davis looks like he should be fine, at least until the quarter-finals. Perry might also be able to push that far, at least until he faces R3M1X. I don’t know about this Dougie guy, but M-80 plays a mean Commando Raptor, so be careful.”
Perry shared a look with me. No, it didn’t slide past anyone that GG had glossed over his own matchups. He needn’t speak his mind in order to convey the message: he wasn’t expecting to beat R3M1X in the second round.
“Other than that, I don’t see any huge threats, here. I’m not familiar with these ‘Solomon’, ‘Dot dot dot’ and ‘# of Beast’ people though, so we’ll see. Zinky didn’t show up like we’d anticipated, but we’ll have our hands full with the competition as is.”
Breathing out my puffed cheeks I turned to examine my battlefield a little more thoroughly. I’d seen tournament venues online before and Jade Gaming was not weighing in very well with its competition. Then again, it was a family-owned business which had been struggling against larger corporations for a while. The main area was for retail, so we were occupying the back of the store. I would never have guessed they had so much space, but I suppose they used to house an arcade back here before financial issues demanded they sell everything, so it made sense. Now they use the space for tourneys such as this one.
The paint job was crap. The upper half of the walls were a faded white, with matching blue coating the bottom. Christmas lights generated about half the rooms light, the rest being provided by sunlight filtering in through ceiling-high windows. Each Anarchy station was set up on mismatching tables and filled in with equally displaced chairs. A brushing of dust kissed the edge where wall met floor, as if all of it had been swept there without any intention of actually removing it. In fact, it seemed like this had been the protocol for a long time.
I slowly assimilated myself into the scene, and even indulged in a few friendlies to pass the time. I went up against Oopsie daisy, Trapanese, and Vuture, all of whom wanted to play without their mains so as to hide their hand.
Seeing the wisdom, I sparred using Arakid, as I was half-decent with him. I won once, mostly on a fluke, but it was nice to warm up.
Finally the first matches got under way. There was only space enough for eight stations, so we went with the left-hand bracket first. This meant for a short time, I would be playing the role of Riotwing Cheerleader.
Nothing overly exciting happened, but there was a small flicker of hype during Davis’s match-up when during the second set, both combatants mutually K.O.’d each other, dragging the match into sudden death, where Davis advanced without a flourish.
Comet fought valiantly, but was clearly outmatched and lost back-to-back sets against Miikii. This tourney didn’t have a loser’s bracket, so she was conclusively out of the running, turning my nerves into wet clay.
Jordan ‘Burndaddy’ had a good trade-off with ‘pink’, but ultimately won out, if only because his air-game was far superior. I logged away for future reference that he was also good with Shiner, as that was his avatar of choice for this battle. So two of his seven primary characters were Brave and Shiner, with one of his three projects being Lady Thrice.
God, that’s insane.
Iso completely and unceremoniously dominated both sets against FEAR, only losing two of his cumulative six stocks.
Once the left side of the bracket had finished, the right side was up to bat, meaning it was my turn. Willing my hands not to sweat, I took a seat at the station where it was announced I’d be having my first showdown.
Dougie filled in the seat beside me and began unwrapping his controller cord (any serious anarchist brought their own controller to tournaments). The most immediate thing you need to know about Dougie was his size. This guy had to be weighing in at about two-forty, and we’re not talking some fluff-n-stuff. He was a head taller than me sitting down, and all beef. Highly unusual for somebody with any substantial commitment to video games to be that muscular, and I was surprised I hadn’t noticed him in the room until now.
He mained a very balanced character named Wingull, who also heralded from Seeds of Victory just like Brave. Wingull was one of the few characters with an attack that could be charged and held for later use. It was a sort of hadoken-type move with ludicrous knockback and damage. Against Brave, an attack like that at full-power would blow away my stock at 80 DD from nearly anywhere on the stage. I needed to tread with serious caution.
As soon as the battle started, Dougie made distance and started charging the special. If he insisted on a playstyle revolving around that attack, I could use it to my advantage. I closed in on him and resurrected my inner Zoro, wielding Brave’s dual-blades with toned efficiency. Dougie fought back, but it was a very defensive mode of combat, focused on walling me out and preventing my use of grapples. He was good at this, so I quickly abandoned that tact and focused on dancing around the platforms for optimal air game.
He charged and fired that attack four times before I finally took his first stock. He only managed to hit me with the third one, but I was close enough to the far ledge that the knockback almost killed me at 62 DD. My heart and stomach had a reunion in my throat before I was finally able to settle back down.
Betraying conventional wisdom, Dougie was unrelenting in his desire to make use of the charge technique, despite my growing ability to predict and evade each projectile fired. I ran him down for his second stock and he finally killed me with a buster, which is a common term for any character’s full-tilt non-special.
Eh, I’ll explain that sort of stuff later. Basically, it was an easy-to-use strong attack, best utilized when in close-range and the opponent has high DD, as busters deal more knockback than damage. Because this succeeded and his charge attack did not, naturally a player would adapt to capitalize on this strategy.
Dougie did not do this. He turned himself into fodder.
Dougie plugged away at that charge attack a dozen more times before I got him down to the last thread of his final stock and he got a lucky shot and killed me again. I was nervous being on my last stock, but I kept my head clear enough that I was able to destroy him once more and claim the set. I sighed a small hurricane.
I won my first set in a tournament, though not the match. It was best two of three.
Dougie’s face was threatening sweat and he kept wiping down his hands on his pant leg. I noticed the lines of moisture that had formed between my fingers and copied the gesture.
Dougie leaned back and cracked his jaw. “Pretty good,” he scratched his head.
“Nice shot there at the end,” I tried to compliment to keep the big-headedness at bay, but the compliment was cheap. His shot sucked and I had a temporary moment of idiocy.
“That was more you than me. You jumped into it on accident.”
“Still,” I said, trailing off.
Dougie stretched briefly and settled back, “Ready?”
Set two. “Yep.”
We started set two, and guess what? Screw Dougie. Screw that guy.
He totally played me. Like a freaking harp.