I hug my sister goodbye and walk outside of the Mandalay Bay and into the blistering Saturday heat. I wait for my ride to pick me up. Amidst the sea of taxis, a small red truck with a Hello Kitty figure on the hood pulls up in front of me. If you are a savvy Twitch user or have been following her modeling career, you know her as MIMI Legend. I simply call her MIMI, which I guess doesn’t sound significant enough to warrant a distinction unless you knew her as a Smasher first like I did. I hop in her car and we take off toward the West Gate Hotel.
MIMI’s a local. She drives to the hotel without directions. I’m impressed but I guess I shouldn’t be. We spend the ride catching up on the year. She tells me about her stream and I tell her about my blog. Mutual respect is shared as we encourage each other on our video game based endeavors. We park and walk into the hotel. Almost instantly, we see clusters of men with lanyards draped around their necks like jewelry. This is it. We made it to EVO.
Those lanyards were my ticket into the largest fighting game tournament in the world. I don’t have one of my own. I barely missed the registration deadline by two weeks. I planned on buying a day pass but MIMI has another idea. She sees a fellow Smasher and follows him into the convention center. She walks out a minute later with his pass. I struggle to pull it over my dreads but it feels good resting on my shoulders. MIMI and I walk into the convention together and I return the pass. Other than one brief encounter, that is the last I see of her that weekend.
This wasn’t my first rod-EVO. I first attended this event in the summer of 2009. In fact, that was the first competitive video game tournament I ever competed in. It was the final year the Vegas convention offered Super Smash Bros. Brawl among their selection of fighters. I meekly walked over to Brawl’s corner—which paled in comparison to the number of setups the other games had—and was greeted by many of the friends that I, up until that point, had only talked to online. Even though I wasn’t good at the game, I felt like a valued member of the community.
My experience this weekend is exactly the opposite. I walk into the venue like I own the place. I’m a four-time attendee, a veteran. Except this time MIMI is my only friend and now we’re separated and doing our own thing. The key difference between this tournament and all the others I’ve been to is that nobody knows who I am. And for what it is worth, I don’t know many people here either. I am a Brawl player, but this weekend is all about Melee. I couldn’t tell the difference between Melee veterans and new faces that joined the scene as I dropped out of it.
I see a girl at one of the stations using Peach. It takes me a few seconds to identify her but when I do I get excited because it meant I had another friend here. I wait until her match is over to say, “It’s about damn time.” Susanna turns around, does a double take and gives me a big hug. Like MIMI, Susanna is one of my closest friends in the Smash community. Unlike MIMI, however, Susanna and I are meeting for the first time. We don’t have much to say besides the obvious. I’m happy to see you. I didn’t know you’d be here. Who’d you come with? The conversation is short but comfortable and like MIMI we part ways.
I recognize a lot of people, most of whom used to know me as well. My first EVO, I played Mario Kart with Jason. Now I call him M2K because I don’t know him like that anymore and it seems apparent when we lock eyes that he doesn’t remember me. I keep trying to strike up conversations with the Smashers I know, but quickly realize that we have never actually spoken a word to each other. I sit against a wall playing my 3DS just inches away from where East Coast player Sphere is sitting playing his. I almost tap Ken Hoang on the shoulder before I realize the reason I feel like I know him so well is because I watched him compete on the 17th season of Survivor. I approach renowned announcer Prog but quickly back off when it hits me that I only recognize him from the countless tournament streams I’ve seen him commentate. This goes on and I think, “Why am I clinging so desperately to a community who forgot me and that I don’t actively participate in?” It is clear that I have become an outsider, even when Vegas legend SK92—he’s the reason I got dreads—waves to me and asks me how I’ve been.
I make my peace with it and sneak back into the vendor side of EVO. Not having a pass makes traversal more interesting as I dodge security guards and try to blend in. I check the stands and look for stuff to buy. I sit down to play Smash 64 with this guy and leave after he whoops me so violently that I feel victimized. The quest for something to do continues until I find the glorious indie section.
The game I see first is one I’ve had my eye on for a long time: Starwhal. It is a local multiplayer game where each person plays as a narwhal in space with the objective of impaling other players in the heart with their horn. I play the game. I gush about it to the developers. I compete in a tournament and lose my second match which came down to the last 10 seconds and the very last life. I’m shaking. I feel exhilarated.
I walk around the indie section to discover that one of my favorite indie games Towerfall has its own station. The tournament is in the semifinals when I arrive. I jump, scream, and watch with amazement as the two best Towerfall players in the world duke it out. I look over to see Matt Thorson, the creator who I know way too much about after reading a feature on Polygon about him. I experience a moment of awe and reverence when the gravity of being able to play one of my favorite games with the person who created it presses on me. I spend close to two hours playing Towerfall and I never tire of it.
The other indie titles are balls of fun too. Some games, like Nidhogg, I’ve wanted to try for months while other games like Videoball are completely new to me but leave me longing for the official release. Not every game is as polished or as fun as these titles, but overall there was a really great showing. I find my place with the indies. From the developers to the fans, it is a welcoming environment through and through.
When I am ready to leave, I text the few people I know at EVO and ask what they are up to. I either don’t get a response or the replies are too spread out to form any plans. I decide to leave and end the night early. As I wait for my ride I see Faye Mata dressed in her iconic sky blue garb. We’ve had multiple encounters online and in person at tournaments so as a last test of my relevancy I consider approaching her to see if she remembers me. I decide that it would be better to keep it a mystery.
I don’t go back on Sunday. I don’t have a pass to get in anyway, even though sneaking back in would be easy enough. I would miss the Grand Finals of Melee, but Melee wouldn’t miss me. It doesn’t sting as much as it would have a few years ago. I think…I’ve moved on.