It’s one in the morning on Sunday when the last match of the first major tournament for Super Street Fighter IV goes down. Only a small anxious portion of the knocked-out players remain, staving off sleep long enough to witness this last stand between West Coast stalwart Alex “calipower” Valle and the Midwest’s own Ari “fLoE” Weintraub. The exhausted air in the ballroom from a day filled with non-stop action ignites into pure excitement as the two players duke it out; Alex gives it his all with series favorite Ryu while Ari squares off as Juri, one of the newest characters. After a series of close games, Alex emerges from his seat in victory, his compatriots high-fiving him and crying out “West Coast! West Coast!” to celebrate the first victory for the region in this game that’s still hot off the presses. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the newly-organized Midwest Championship.
The Midwest Championship could best be described as the gateway to the summer tournament season, a road that ends at Evolution—the Super Bowl/Wrestlemania/Daytona 500 for fighting game enthusiasts worldwide. Having been held years prior at the Nickel City arcade in Northbrook, IL, this year’s MWC was held at the area’s Crown Plaza Hotel. It was thought to be larger than the previous venue, but this preconception was shattered almost instantly thanks to the 300+ people that appeared to play. The space was initially planned for 200-250 attendees so staff had their hands full trying to keep up with match reports and maneuvering through the crowd. Adding to the chaos, there were problems with Tonamento, the online bracketing system that notifies players via cell phone of their matches starting. Certain wireless networks were unable to receive signals inside the building, rendering it useless unless you had a working smart phone to see the brackets. This also meant that you couldn’t really leave the ballroom for extended periods of time lest you risk missing your match. This all made the atmosphere hectic, slightly claustrophobic, yet fun.
While that assessment may sound like delirium finally taking its toll, it couldn’t be more accurate. When you weren’t playing matches, you were watching them. When you weren’t watching matches, you were talking shop with friends. If you weren’t with friends, you instantly made new ones. Much like what I encountered at the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention last year, what made and kept MWC together was the true sense of community. While I could prattle on about all the great instances, the best example that comes to mind: a local player I know had his arcade stick break during a match, and almost instantly, somebody let him borrow theirs to finish the set–even one of the staffers was kind enough to let him borrow their tools to fix it. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be associated with. (A very special thanks goes out to the individual who will be forever remembered as “Chips Ahoy” for making things even more enjoyable that weekend.)
Speaking of groups, it was amazing how many things were going on in that cramped ballroom. Over the course of the weekend, there were also events for games like BlazBlue, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Melty Blood: Actress Again (soon to have a spotlight at this year’s Evo), Windjammers, and even a “Mystery Game” tournament where the game changed every round. According to Keits, the organizer for this year’s MWC, that particular tournament may have been the biggest one to date. “The biggest Mystery Game tournament ever run,” he told me, “was $5 entry, 32-man. I was like, ‘I’m going to up it to 10 bucks, no way we’re going to get more than 30 people.’; 71 people entered! 71!”
Rivaling the madness of the Super Street Fighter IV tournament was that of Tekken 6, a branch of the fighting game scene that’s been somewhat quietly picking up speed. Since its recent inclusion into the Major Gaming League line-up, the community has started to grow. That weekend it showed, with people flying in from Kansas City, Nebraska, New York, and beyond to play in the 40-man bracket. The players I talked to about it knew that while Street Fighter sort of ran the show at MWC, things were only looking up for them from here: “When you’ve got Koreans flying in to play Tekken in America, it’s obviously saying something.”
“Next year, we need bigger space!”, says Keits, who admitted that there were a number of people who thought that he wouldn’t be able to pull this weekend off. “I’m not the best at fighting games; I’m [one of] the best at this. This is definitely where my talent in the community lies.” I can vouch for how talented he truly is in this regard when I say the universal sentiment towards MWC was “This was awesome.” Even in spite of the problems, there was nothing but love for it all across the board. As one attendee observed, “It was a five-hour drive to get here, and it’s been worth every second”. This would go double for me as this was my first ever major tournament. Sure, I ended up losing 1-2 but it was still a hell of a time. I doubt if I will be able to attend Evo but this was more than enough of a sampling of major tournament action to hold anybody over. If you can make the trip and you’re itching to see where you stack up in Street Fighter, Tekken, or any sort of fighting game, the Midwest Championship is where it’s at.
To watch video archives of the matches at MWC check out the stream archives via LevelUp: