I'm sitting in an empty function room surrounded by hundreds of empty chairs. Next to me, a small team is bustling energetically, drawing measurements and fine-tuning their floor plan. One of them is in the sound box checking switches; another is marking out the available power points around the large space. They take to their work with such enthusiastic fervour that I am content just to watch them.
What were they working so hard on? They were planning the tenth run of Australia’s longest running Fighting Games Tournament, the OzHadou Nationals (OHN), and they intended on making it the best one yet.
Nothing creates hype quite like fighting game tournaments. Fast paced and flashy, the effects on the crowd are instantaneous. Even those unfamiliar with the genre are able to quickly grasp the premise, and it's testament to the excitement leading up to the event that registrations sold out and had to be closed early as interest in the event surged.
Fast forward to February and I’m in the very same room - this time joined by over two hundred competitors and a hefty amount of spectators. Rows upon rows of consoles loaded with various fighting games lined the room, flanked by large projectors for spectators. The titles with the largest amount of sign-ups included Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
As a competitor, participating in a tournament that runs smoothly is a dream. It is no longer just about playing games; competing possesses a certain thrill about it, a rush of adrenaline as you feel the spotlight center on you. Failing that, watching high-level players duke it out in front of a crowd is always enthralling.
However, the real highlight of the event went to player Arnold “ArnoldDesu” Samau – victor of the Ultimate Marvel Versus Capcom 3 (UMVC3) tournament. A relatively unknown player from Sydney, Arnold astonished everyone when he took out experienced competitors Michael “ToXY” Guida and Thomas “Nefelious G” Body. His incredible win was accompanied by an eardrum-bursting explosion of cheering from hundreds of spectators, many of them wanting to know - who was this new player and where had he come from?
When I sought out Arnold to answer these very questions, I found him relaxing and playing a piano in a quiet corner with a friend. He was soft-spoken and nervous, smiling shyly as we talked about his victory. He revealed that it was quite a surprise for him to win the UMVC3 tournament and that he had entered with the last of his money.
Had he learnt from the professionals?
I asked who taught him how to play the way he did - executing impossible combos and performing moves with incredible accuracy.
"Me?" He replied, shy smile back in place. "I just play with my nephew at home."
My mind was boggled.
"I’m really happy," he said politely, "I’ve been saying this a lot and even now; my experience with the top players is very limited"
Placing first in the UMVC3 tournament was no small feat, and the talented player is sure to have a enthralling run ahead in the competitive scene. Whatever happens, all eyes will certainly be on ArnoldDesu as he carries the hopes of Australia on the international stage at EVO 2012.
Meeting fellow players like ArnoldDesu is one of the many factors that make tournaments appealing; players travel from interstate as well as internationally to participate. You have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.
The event would not have run as smoothly as it did without the direction of Andrew “Ziggy” Ziogas – one of the founding fathers of OzHadou and long-standing respected member of the community. When I sat down to speak to him, Ziggy admitted to being very meticulous and prepared for the worst case scenario.
"We’re a pretty pessimistic bunch," he joked. "We certainly weren’t expecting to hit the levels we did"
It was easy to see how prepared they were – even at the admin table I was surrounded by endless spreadsheets and charts. Some laptops sat amongst the papers, one with multiple tabs of social media open and the other displaying player brackets and tournament progression.
It was evident that an incredible amount of effort had gone into planning. Ziggy further explained that each console was tested prior to the event – DLC content, live streaming, patches – all components were made ready for the OzHadou Nationals weeks in advance. This team had tournament organization down to a fine art.
Unfortunately, some technical and timing difficulties occurred on the day which delayed the Tekken tournament, much to the disappointment of the Australian community. The results prompted a back-lash that was addressed by the organisers themselves, who were quick to respond to all player feedback.
It is efforts such as these that contributed to the success of the OzHadou Nationals. With their sights set on higher goals, one cannot help but hope that the hard work of the communities combined will grant the eSports scene in Australia the much needed growth it needs and launch us to an international level of representation.