Next to me stood Josh, the audio engineer and musician from South Central Los Angeles. A little further down the line was Adam, a web programmer from San Diego. And then there was me, the video game journalist who’s secretly terrible at video games.
Our mission: in six minutes, twenty-one seconds, make gaming history and win a spot at the upcoming Nintendo World Championships. Our battleground was the Torrance, California Best Buy, conveniently located just off the Pacific Coast Highway. Our weapon of choice: brand new 3DS’s armed with a copy of NES Remix. The rules were simple: collect 50 coins in Super Mario Bros., grab 25 coins in Super Mario Bros. 3, then use any remaining time to rack up as many points as possible in Dr. Mario. Hold the highest score in the store at the end of the day, and move on to the Los Angeles-based finals.
While Nintendo’s marketing materials made it sound like Best Buy’s Nintendo World Championships qualifying events would be epic, day-long showdowns, in reality, it was a lot more relaxed. Participants signed up at a table staffed by disinterested Best Buy employees (when I asked how the event was going, they just shrugged; one woman said, “We’re from marketing,” as if that explained everything), and then stood in line for a few minutes. Nintendo reps herded players ten at a time to the table of 3DS’s. Contestants took their shot, grabbed some cheap swag, and then moved on. The whole thing lasted less than ten minutes.
Of course, I got there in the afternoon; it sounds like the morning was an entirely different scene. According to Best Buy representatives, there was already a huge group of fans when the manager opened the building at 6:00 AM. According to some, the line stretched around the building.
But the crowd was pretty small by 1:30 PM, and some people got to try to qualify multiple times. After competing, nobody seemed quite sure what to do. A big-box retailer isn’t the best place to socialize with strangers, but nobody really wanted to leave, either. Best Buy was full of people wearing Nintendo-themed t-shirts, and the Super Smash Bros. display case was surrounded by motivated, quietly intense fans. Despite the lack of fanfare, a quiet, awkward sense of community emerged; people weren’t talking, exactly, but there were a lot of knowing looks and shy nods as fans passed each other in the aisles.
I met Josh during my brief stint in line, where we chatted about old-school Nintendo games while waiting for our turn at competition. Josh is an avid gamer, but he gravitates towards social titles like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart – things you can play with friends while sharing a couple of beers. He used to be into longer single-player games – especially RPGs like Final Fantasy – but he doesn’t have the time any more. At 31, Josh has other concerns: building skateboards. Working. Hanging out with his girlfriend.