By: Brad Manock
I have only ever been good at things that people don’t care about. People care about sports, which I have always been terrible at. On the other hand things that I AM good at are things that people don’t care about at all. I have discussed this issue in the past a bit but never in much detail. In particular I am going to tell the story about the time I entered a video game tournament for a game that I was really good at, when I advanced to the regional championship, nobody showed up to compete against me. In this article I am going to go into detail discussing why this was one of the more embarrassing experiences in the early part of my life.
The Big Tournament
I was in 8th grade at the time, this was a few years before online console gaming really became prevalent. I was a big fan of video games that nobody else really played in my area, like the “Star Wars” games or the “Dragon Ball Z Budokai” series. The other kids I went to school with would only ever play; first person shooters, Guitar Hero, and the Madden series. Games where, not surprisingly, I was terrible at all of them.
One day during my 8th grade year I was riding in a car going past a “Game Crazy” store which had video game tournaments every weekend. Most of these tournaments were of games that I had never heard of and would not care about. However during this particular week, there was a poster advertising a “Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi” tournament. This was a 1-on-1 fighting game. This was a video game that I had got very soon after it came out, and I had been playing it every day since I first got it. My heart dropped at that moment when I saw the poster. Almost like it was nerd-destiny that I saw that poster at that particular moment.
For the rest of the week leading up to the Saturday afternoon that the tournament was going to take place, I was practicing on this game every moment I could. Sure, I had homework and other things like that, however this was secondary compared to stepping up to succeed at some form of organized competition for the first time ever. I had beaten “story mode” twice over at that point. I put the CPU level to the maximum difficulty and I kept fighting the computer over and over again until I was obligated to do something else: like homework I couldn’t put off any longer or sleeping.
The Big Day
Finally the day of the tournament came, I got a ride up to this store which was about a half hour away from my house at the time. I ended up arriving at the store very early, I was one of the first people to sign up on the “sign-up sheet” up on the counter. After a tense period of time, the guy behind the counter spoke up to announce how the tournament would work. He announced that eight people had signed up, which is a perfect number for a single-elimination tournament. The matches would be best two-out-of-three, and the champion of the tournament would advance to a “regional tournament” with the winners of all eleven Game Crazy stores the following Saturday. I was not aware that there was a regional tournament until that moment, apparently every Game Crazy franchise store was involved in a huge tournament involving this obscure video game that I had loved and mastered the shit out of. I was excited beyond belief.
I looked around and sized up my competition, they did not seem to really know about the game. These people were the regulars who just showed up to the tournament every week no matter what the game was. They were looking at the cover of the game with a look in their face that said “oh hey that is a cool looking game.” I thought I had this tournament in-the-bag and that I was a lock for the regional tournament.
The first round of match-ups were announced by the guy behind the counter. I stepped up to one of the TVs with the game hooked up. I had looked to pick my favorite character, but none of my favorite characters were there, all of the “unlock-able” characters were unavailable so I just picked one of the basic characters. The “loading” screen was up, my heart was pounding, all of this practice was about to pay off but I only had one chance since it was a single-elimination tournament.
You…Piece Of Shit!!!
I started the fight, and after a second I had noticed that none of the controls worked the way I had practiced them. I spoke up immediately and said “hey the controls are not right we need to go back and reset them” but he almost seemed completely unsurprised and said “no the match started I don’t have to do that.” I said “ok then after this match we need to reset them” since it was best two-out-of-three I knew that even if I lost the first game I would still win with the correct controls. Still this guy said “no we are not changing the controls.” This guy had a small pose of friends standing behind us watching the match and they backed him up. This fucking guy had went into the system before the tournament started and switched up all of the controls so that my hours of practicing to the point where I knew the controls by muscle-memory were pointless. I had to re-learn the controls on the fly as the match was happening. This had turned into a bit of a chess match and I was hitting all of the buttons to see what each one does under the new controls. After about 30 seconds I had memorized the new controls and ended up destroying this guy.
This first win was probably one of the best feelings I had in my life up to that point. This was the big victorious moment in my life because I had to completely adapt on the fly and ended up advancing to the next round. During that match I had worried about “what if I lose in the first round” I would look like the biggest loser ever because this tournament was all I had been talking about all week leading up to this point. I knew if I lost and people in my family or at school asked me about the tournament I would say “I lost because…” and then they would cut me off before I could talk about how the controls were messed up and they would say “well you lost you don’t need to tell me your excuses” and quickly walk away before I could retaliate. If I had lost that first round because that fucking guy switched up the controls I would never talk about that tournament again. The whole following week I would have been trying to catch up on my homework and thinking the whole time “well you put off your homework for NOTHING loser, you thought you would finally succeed at something, you were wrong.”
The Remaining Foes
I know I talked a lot of thought about the first-round but the semi-finals and the final-round were so easy that I have nothing interesting to say about them. In the final match of the tournament, I had gotten a “perfect” meaning I did not take one hit the entire time. But losing that first round would have been a sadly profound hit to my self-esteem. My whole life I had sucked at everything that people cared about thinking that eventually it would all be worth it because there would be SOMETHING I would eventually succeed at. All of those moments I had felt bad about being bad at sports I had imagined some shining moment where I would be victorious at something and other people would give me recognition for it.
Seriously, that guy who messed up the controls during that first round of the tournament, I hope he fucking died of aids. I hope he went to go have sex with a girl but then the controls were messed up so he accidentally fucked a guy instead who had aids and then he died of aids. Is that a little harsh for someone who played a little trick in a video game tournament for an obscure game nobody cared about eight years ago? Nah, death by aids sounds about right.
Advance To Regional?
After I had won that tournament, the guy behind the counter gave me a red “Atari” shirt that I was supposed to wear at the regional tournament, all of the regional qualifiers were going to wear this same Atari shirt as proof that they qualified. The regional tournament was going to take place in a suburb of Milwaukee which was about two and a half hours away from my home. On the ride home from the tournament I begged to have a ride to the regional tournament the following week. I was ecstatic about this huge opportunity to play in the regional tournament.
The following week leading up to the regional tournament, I practiced even more then I had. The tournament was all I talked about or thought about. This was finally my opportunity to win at something. There was even one night where I had a dream that I overslept and missed the regional tournament and felt this dread that I had missed the biggest opportunity in my life to that point. I thought this was going to be a huge tournament to the point that I though “I’m probably going to be in the newspaper if I win.”
The Regional Tournament
The Saturday of the tournament finally arrived. My skills were as polished as they could possibly be and I had practiced every situation imaginable so that I don’t get blindsided by someone messing with the controls again. My step-dad took me to the tournament, the entire ride there, for two and a half hours, my heart was racing. I just kept talking about the tactics of the game and discussed where the national tournament might take place if I advanced to yet a larger tournament. This must have been agonizing for him, my step-dad is the classic: blue-collar, middle class, white guy who thinks that this was a waste of time even though he never actually said that.
The tournament started at 1 P.M. that Saturday afternoon. I arrived an hour early, at around noon, so I could sign up and size-up the competition. I had been wearing the red Atari shirt that was given to me for winning the first tournament. I was looking for other people wearing the same red shirt. The minutes ticked by and cars kept coming and going from the parking lot, I kept looking for someone with the same red shirt to step out of a vehicle. Nobody else ever showed up.
There were three guys behind the counter, this was a bit of a larger store. There were many awkward silences when there were no other customers and I was just standing there waiting in the middle of the sales floor just staring out the front window at the parking lot. One of the guys working asked me which store I had won at, I said “Stevens Point” which is the city of the tournament I had won the previous week. That guy said “…wow you sure came a long way” though at the same time he gave me a look like “why the fuck did you come so far.” They never knew what this tournament meant to me and were baffled that I would even show up. I was told that there were eleven stores in the region so there should be eleven champions showing up for regionals.
Dude… Where Is Everybody
At about 1:45 P.M. one of the guys behind the counter came up to me and said “…look, if ANYONE else had shown up I would have started the tournament, I feel bad that you came so far for nothing so here are some t-shirts.” He gave me a paper bag full of video game themed t-shirts and I went home. That was it, there was no national tournament after regionals, and it was apparently only a thing going on with the regional Game Crazy franchises. This was the “Super Bowl” of my life up to that point and the opposition did not even care enough to show up.
You Are Still A Loser
Needless to say, that was the longest and most awkward car ride home ever. After hyping up this tournament every waking moment during the previous week, I had to explain to my step-dad how none of the other ten local champions gave enough of a shit to even show up. I tried to logically explain that I was the champion because I won by forfeit, but really I knew I was the biggest loser ever.
During the following week, people would ask me how the tournament went. I would say “I won” but then the conversations would slowly disintegrate as I explained what really happened, that nobody else showed up for the tournament I rode two and a half hours and practiced for so many more hours to compete in.
Fuck You, You Are Not Getting A Prize
The official prize for this regional tournament was an autographed copy of “Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3.” I never got this prize. A couple days later my grandmother asked me about what prizes I got for “winning” the regional tournament. I told her I was supposed to get an autographed video game that I could, perhaps, sell on Ebay to at least get some money for my effort. My grandmother told me that I needed to call the store near Milwaukee where the regional tournament took place and demand my prize. I looked up the number online and the phone began to ring, my grandmother said to me “sound angry when you’re calling them.” This was a disaster, my grandmother was coaching an awkward, fat, 8th grader with a lisp on how to sound angry on the phone. They guy who answered didn’t seem to know what I was talking about and acted like I was making shit up and my attempt to get a free game to sell on Ebay was wildly unsuccessful.
So perhaps this tournament was not my nerd-destiny after all. I eventually chose to get into stand-up comedy since this was one of the only things in my life where there was overlap with skills I have and skills that other people might care about. There was even a period of time immediately after high school where I would be in job interviews and I seriously thought about talking about my “regional championship” as my “proudest moment.” Of course I never actually brought that up in a job interview because that would be stupid.
Of course, now there are online video games where you can compete against people anywhere and I get thoroughly obliterated every time I try to play a popular video game. But I had that one shining, embarrassing, sad moment where I was the champion. It taught me that I will probably never have that one true moment in the spotlight and that I need to work on things that other people care about for anything I am given instead of just focusing on what I am good at.