Before packing my bag and heading to Orlando for CEOtaku this past weekend, I was somewhat apprehensive. In the months prior, John and I both had the privilege of playing games that would have their own tournaments at the show. However a little knowledge doesn’t always go a long way, especially among fanatical communities. I may have known about games like Melty Blood, Persona Ultimax, or Guilty Gear beforehand, but would it pass muster with the hardcore players? Here’s why I was entirely wrong.
CEOtaku is a spin-off of CEO, a major fighting game tournament usually held around the beginning of summer, right before EVO. This was only CEOtaku’s second year, but it didn’t feel like it. Even when problems surfaced, like lack of judges or missing commentators, the convention found the best solution it could. Nothing stopped the players from competing, and even as an outsider looking in, I thought that was immensely impressive.
Once each tournament started to dwindle down, the top 8s started streaming, and the hype machines spun up. If you’ve ever watched CEO or EVO before, you probably know how exciting and amped up a fighting game crowd can get. With each passing game, the crowd would grow, and the reactions would get more vocal. Melty Blood, a personal favorite of John and myself, set a streaming record and had a loud audience cheering on their favorites. Seeing a small community develop its own culture around a relatively unpopular game made me proud to even know about it. To understand what was happening on screen was like being a part of a secret club.
The games I could understand. Even with a novice’s amount of playtime, I can grasp what I’m seeing. However, to walk around an entire community filled with some very good players is another thing entirely. Call it social anxiety, call it impostor syndrome, call it whatever, I was worried I’d be seen as, and treated as, an outcast. The opposite was true. Everyone we met or I was introduced to was happy, inviting, and just excited to be at CEOtaku. It didn’t matter you weren’t very good at their game of choice; they just wanted to play.
In one instance I played Persona 4: Ultimax with someone for a few rounds, losing handily. The other player didn’t mind how poor I was doing, didn’t seem to notice or care I was using a control pad, and just wanted to play a few rounds of one of his favorite games.
Pick a game, pick a station, and have some fun. Most everyone was there to celebrate and enjoy one thing: fighting games. Few were there to belittle or harass anyone, and everyone was mostly accepting of everyone else. The core enjoyment and happiness around this one genre of video game must be what intoxicates so many. It’s the driving force that flies players from around the world just to hang out and compete.
Puyo Puyo Tetris
It never hurts to win, and if you want to win, you want to play John Michonski in Puyo Puyo Tetris. Along a small stretch of monitors and CRTVs were set-ups for all kinds of games. From Jackie Chan, to Virtual On, to the illustrious Puyo Puyo Tetris. And it was along that row that I bested John, over and over, until he submitted to my prowess and skill.
Watching those weird, quirky, and baffling games being played with a great amount of skill and knowledge was surreal and wonderful. Passion can be hard to find day to day, and seeing it gleefully shared is part of why I love games so much. Getting to share a game you love and watch someone else light up as they play feels amazing. Knowing you’ve made someone else happy by sharing something that already makes you delighted is remarkable.
At the foundation of CEOtaku was an earnest affection for games. A love of competition brings everyone together, and the sense of community keeps them all there. Unlike other conventions, I felt that nearly everyone there was positive and uplifting. We see a lot about the culture of video games, and while the fighting game community may not be the poster child of acceptance 100% of the time, it’s great to see CEOtaku be a welcoming place to someone like me.